My job often takes me abroad, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to experience many countries and cultures. There is one aspect of travel, however, that can frustrate me to no end. And I’m not talking about security check points or flight delays, which can both be mild annoyances at times. No, I’m talking about passports.
I was born in Scotland and carry a U.K. passport, as do my daughters. My wife is South African, and my son is a U.S. citizen. Over the years we’ve become nearly expert at navigating the rules, regulations, and forms required for passport renewal. It can be quite an experience.
As I was scheduling a recent trip, I discovered that my passport had less than 90 days remaining on it. That meant I couldn’t plan any overseas travel until I had renewed my passport. It was yet another addition to the growing list of passport tips I’ve compiled.
Tip #1: Make sure you begin the process of obtaining your passport at least six months in advance. Expediting a passport can be expensive, though in my experience, if something can go wrong, it will when it comes to passport renewal. So, always plan ahead – far ahead – and be prepared to wait longer for the new passport to arrive than you might think.
Tip #2: Create a checklist. Governments can be quite persnickety when it comes to how passport forms are filled out. Make sure you give them everything they ask for, just like they ask for it.
Tip #3: Get your photo right. Each country has varying photo guidelines that accompany the passports they issue. So, take care to make sure your photos are properly formatted. (The U.S. even gives you this helpful guide for photos.)
Tip #4: Check everything thoroughly when you get your passport back. Passport mistakes are not out of the ordinary, and occasionally the passport agency will make an error. One wrong keystroke and you can land on a no-fly list or arrive at the airport and discover your passport is invalid. My birthday was once keyed in wrongly during a passport renewal process and I had to prove my birthdate all over again – even though it wasn’t my mistake. Correct these problems before you head for the airport.
Tip #5: Research requirements for where you are going. Many countries have different policies about entry and exit. New Zealand, for example, requires that you take the equivalent of $1,000 per 30 days you are there. Other countries require certain immunizations. Some countries require visas, while others don’t. Yet some countries do require visas for those staying longer than 30 days. It’s important to investigate these details properly so you don’t have your plans spoiled by inattention to detail.
Tip #6: Make several copies, and upload a digital copy you can access. In countries where crime can be a problem, having your passport stolen is a real possibility. To keep this annoyance from ruining your trip, always take an extra paper copy with you and store it in a separate place from your passport. It’s also helpful to scan a copy and upload it to a website that is accessible online from any computer connected to the Internet.
Tip #7: Create a passport renewal calendar for your family. Since children’s passports require renewal every five years, while adult passports are good for ten years, I keep a calendar with each child’s passport expiration date and back up 180 days (it used to be only 90 until my latest lesson learned) to ensure ample time to get the passport renewed.
The opportunity to see new countries and cultures can be a lot of fun, but you can lessen the stress of foreign travel through proper planning and careful attention to detail.