Valid Passport, Think Again
I’m getting together my travel documents, and pulling out my international chargers and adaptors when I realize my passport is expiring pretty soon. I had checked it 9 months ago when I booked the trip but the expiration was at least a year away then, so I wasn’t alarmed. It’s now expiring in a little over a month–soon after I return.
I only have a few days until I leave for my trip to France so I decide to renew it after I get back, since the process takes longer than the week that I have. I head to the airport a week later, bags packed, hotels booked (or Airbnb in my case), ready for my adventure!
Then, the unthinkable happens.
I hand my passport to the airline employee at check-in, who frowns and shakes her head, ‘”No. We have a problem with your passport expiration.”
For a few anxiety ridden moments, it looked like I was going nowhere.
I cock my head. “No, it doesn’t expire for over a month! I know it’s a bit soon, but I don’t have time to renew it before my trip. Still, we are a ways off from the actual expiration date.”
She shakes her head dismally. “No, for France, you must have a passport valid for at least 3 months after your arrival (other European countries have different rules but 3 months is most common in Europe). You will not be able to continue to France if you take this trip, and therefore we cannot allow you on the flight.” (Apparently airlines and cruise companies are even stricter than the actual countries in many cases).
“Quel nightmare!” My heart almost stopped. No trip? No France? My hopes and dreams seemed to crash down around me as I thought of not only the money I’d already spent on non-refundable plane tickets, language lessons, and expensive train tickets but the dismal summer ahead of me, if my European adventure came to an end before it started. Before this, I’d never heard of a passport being invalid before its expiration date. Of course, since a passport is good for a decade, most people rarely think about their expiration dates. Since I had started traveling in my 20’s, I hadn’t had to consider these rules yet, and travel companies don’t really talk about them.
But at that point, in the airport, as I stood dejectedly and sorrowfully in front of the airline check-in agent, none of this really mattered. For a few anxiety ridden moments, it looked like I was going nowhere. Then, remembering that I was not someone who ever takes things at face value and pretty much always tries to find my way around tricky situations, I started thinking creatively.
‘What’s the passport rule in the UK?’ I asked.
“Let me see,” she says. “Well, the U.K says it is okay for you to enter up until the actual expiration date on your passport.”
In other words, the UK honors the actual expiration dates? What a novel concept. I’m thinking to myself now, “Good catch, Brooke! Haha, you are such a smartie.” Here was my solution! I just had to convince this woman to change my flight to one with a final destination of London, without charging me a fee (which, in my opinion, any airline should do in this situation since they didn’t even bother to warn their passengers about these rules).
But how would I solve the rest of my problem? What about France? Didn’t I have paid reservations and a whole trip planned? Yes. Here’s the thing. I was in a unique situation, which I only at this point started to truly appreciate. I happened to have a second passport (British)!
So, why didn’t I just use my UK passport in the first place, right? It’s a long story. My UK passport is something I have not needed to use very often. I only got it when I was 23, and have only used it during the year that I spent working legally in Europe. Aside from that year, I’ve lived in California for my entire life. So, I had let my expiration date slip by!
Yet, I had brought my expired passport with me on this particular trip, because I had scheduled an appointment with the 24-hour passport office in London during my travels.
Then, remembering that I was not someone who ever takes things at face value and pretty much always tries to find my way around tricky situations, I started thinking creatively.
So, re-booking my flight to end in London versus France was the solution to my problem. I knew that as soon as I had my nice, new, UK passport in hand, I could get into France. I had a moment of panic considering what might happen if my passport wasn’t renewed on the same day as my appointment, but I decided to put my trust in the efficiency of the British system. If any country can be counted on to get something done on schedule, it’s England, right? And luckily, I was right.
I’m sure that many people who end up in this situation don’t have the same luck as I did. So be sure to check the passport expiration date rules for each and every country you are traveling to if your passport is expiring in less than 2 years (some countries require 9 months to 1 year after the expiration date!). But, if you do end up in a situation like mine, don’t just give up and go home. Figure out where else you can fly!
Because in my opinion, somewhere is better than nowhere when you are packed and ready to travel.
Top Photo By Chris_Ford