For those long time followers of The Crew, or even those who have just watched the youtube trailer, will know that we have spent a lot of our time traveling the world. Along the way we’ve picked up a few useful travel tips that we share with you here on this channel (What does SSSS mean on your boarding pass and What to pack for Antarctica). But there’s nothing worse to a traveler than being denied entry into a country… so BEFORE you travel, here are some must know facts about your passport that’ll smooth the journey and ease the anxiety of traveling.
1- PASSPORTS EXPIRE BEFORE THE EXPIRY DATE
Yep, seems pretty redundant then to even put an expiry date, one could even argue misleading.
The vague “expiry date problem” lies in the varying entry requirements for each country. Just because you have a passport issued in Australia doesn’t mean Brazil has to honor that passport. Your passport only guarantees you safe entry back into the country of your passport. They are the only country that will recognise your expiry date.
You see, most countries don’t want your passport to expire in their country… effectively leaving you in a sticky situation trying to get home… or trying to claim refugee status. So most countries require that your passport be valid for a certain time after you arrive. European countries under the Schengen Act, require 90 days after entry, but the safer rule is to allow six months, which is the length of time required by Russia, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and others.
So, for example; if your holiday in France is from May 1 to May 15 and your passport expires on May 29… you will not be allowed into France, even though you will have left France by the time your passport expires. You will need a passport with an expiry date of at least August 15.
Many travelers have been caught out as this issue isn’t usually identified until you get to the check in counter at the airport, by this point it’s too late to get a new passport (even the fastest expedited passports are 24 hours… and expensive!).
This is a similar case for visas. Some countries will not issues visas into passports with less than 6 months left on their expiry date. ALSO, some countries will not issue visas into passports with less than 2 pages left! (1 page is one side of a page and number of blank pages required varies from 1-6 depending on which country - here’s a guide for US passport holders: https://www.us-passport-service-guide.com/passport-pages-for-visas.html)
2- SELFIES NOT ALLOWED
Passport and visa photo requirements are notoriously stringent and completely different for each country. Although you can find official photo guidelines online, they will not accept “hand-held self portraits”. So unless you have good photography skills and equipment to meet the lighting, framing and quality requirements, take yourself to your local pharmacy or drugstore that will take a proper passport photo for you. There are also passport photo apps available now.
A pro tip is to get several copies of these (usually they give you at least 4 copies). And keep them handy for when you apply for visas. Erik, our Executive Producer on The Crew carries a spare with him along with a photocopy and his yellow vaccination booklet.
3A- TYPES OF VISAS
For both the world weary explorer and the first time tourist, visas can be an anxiety inducing process. Although there are a lot of countries you can visit without a visa, this ultimately depends on what passport you hold. US citizens can enjoy passport free travel to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. However not an Australian… and so the anxiety starts.
It’s also further complicated when you go online and find there are various classifications of visas (this should help clear a few up):
Visa-free: You do not need a visa to enter these destinations
Visa on arrival: You need a visa to enter these destinations, but you can apply for and receive the visa upon arrival at the airport (no pre-departure approval necessary)
e-Visa: You need a visa to enter these destinations, but you can apply for it online, and the visa you receive is electronic (pre-departure approval necessary)
Visa required: You need a traditional visa to enter these destinations, and you need to apply for it in person (this would be the case if you’re entering a country for work, study or residency)
3B- VISAS ARE NOT RECIPROCAL
In 2016, as an Australian citizen, I walked through Kyrgyzstan immigration without a visa. A Kyrgyz citizen however cannot enter Australia without a visa...
What seems unfair is the product of a complex web of international relations, but the point for you here is not to make assumptions about your visa requirements. Visa requirements also change over the years as new governments are elected so, be on top of what visas you require for where you’re going based on what passport you hold.
3C- VISAS TAKE TIME
Visas, unlike your passport, are issued by the government of the country you’re traveling to. Seems obvious, but the point here is that you’re at the mercy of their processing time. So, allow plenty of time (up to 3-4 months for some work and study visas… US work visas can take up 8 months). If you’re a spontaneous traveler or travel for work, then you’ll have to fork out the expediting fees.
If you’re applying for several visas (such as a tour around Africa which requires multiple visas for different neighboring countries) then you’ll need to plan ahead, allowing time for each one.
Note that when applying for visas you may be asked what other countries you have visited… not all countries are best friends and they may hinder or block your entry if you’ve been to nations they’re not a big fan of (Yemen and Sudan are red flags for entering the US).
(There’s not much you can do about this if you’ve already been but see point 13!)
3D- CONSULATES TAKE YOUR PASSPORT
After being approved for a visa, there will be a period of time where you’ll be without a passport as they physically stick your visa in your passport.
Tips for this process:
Take photocopies of your passport before you hand it in
If you can’t hand it in in person at a consulate or embassy, then use a secure and tracked courier service like Fedex.
If moving through checkpoints like we did in India and China, you may also be required to hand over your passport for inspection (see point 9 about keeping your passport on you at all times).
3E- NEW PASSPORT, NEW VISA!
Visas expire with your passport. You cannot transfer a valid visa from an old passport to a new passport (refer to the first point in this blog! … this is why they want you to have a enough validity in your passport and enough pages to survive the length of your visa).
There are a few exceptions that will allow you to validate a valid visa in an expired passport with a new passport… China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
Also, if you overstay your visa… well depending on the country and how often you do it, this could be a serious issue (it is in the US), but when we visited Nepal, all we were asked to do was a buy a new visa at the gate upon departure!
4- CRUISE SHIPS TAKE YOUR PASSPORT
Now this is an interesting one. Technically according to your passport, you don’t even own your passport. It is the property of your government on loan to you, and to quote the American passport: “It is unlawful to surrender your passport to anyone other than the US government or temporarily to foreign government agent” ...making the requirement, from a cruise ship to take your passport off you, illegal (although not enforceable).
We tried to argue this case quite strongly with the cruise ship on our way to Antarctica. They argued it was for the ease of processing large numbers of passengers in and out of ports… and my favorite argument of “every other cruise ship does it”. But at the end of the day we were presented with an ultimatum: give up our passports or get off the ship.
Thus making it a question of your personal decision to engage with a private company that requires you to do something technically not OK… kinda like the waivers you sign at paintball fields… your decision to play a game on private property where you get pelted with tiny balls of paint.
So, advice for this is to take photocopies/photos and printouts of your passport, keeping these on your person at all time. This won’t pass as a legal document, but will make it easier to prove your identity and get a new passport if it was lost or compromised. Carrying other forms of ID (like a drivers license as a back up is a good idea)
5- KEEP YOUR PASSPORT ON YOU AT ALL TIMES
This a controversial tip depending on your style of travel. Most tourists who have only ever traveled to first world countries will maintain it’s safer to keep your passport locked in the hotel safe than to risk it being pick pocketed.
Any traveler worth their salt who’s bounced around in the back of a beat up jeep for 12 hours, and held and searched at gunpoint at a foreign checkpoint will know you never let your passport off your person. Not even in a bag (because yes pick pocketing is a thing).
But I’m not talking in the back pocket of your jeans. Secure your passport close to your chest in an inside pocket. Ideally on the bottom layer of clothing that you won’t take off (not in jackets that you’ll remove when it gets hot) but zippered pockets in pants or buttoned top pockets in shirts. Ultimately what you’re doing is attaching yourself to the only document that will prove your identity (this is not advice for spies obviously). Being stuck in a 3rd world country with no way of proving how you got in and where you claim to be from is a living nightmare and recipe for being taken advantage off.
If you’ve put your passport in a good place on your person it won’t get pick pocketed, but having your passport on your at all times is a travel habit you’ll have to develop - treat it like cash.
Even for those not traveling to far flung regions of the planet, still get in the habit of keeping your passport with you. Hotels are not allowed to keep your passport. If they ask, offer for them to take a photocopy, and if they insist, walk out and find another hotel (much easier to do than finding another ship to Antarctica). There is no reason for them to keep your passport. Just think if one of those horrendous terrorist attacks happened or even a simple fire… you’re now running for life with no way getting home.
(Note: There’s a pretty indestructible electronic chip in most modern passports that is capable of surviving a washing machine… not mentioning names but a certain Executive Producer on The Crew put his American Passport through the wash in Switzerland…)
6- FACE TATTOO? NEW PASSPORT
Just a quick one for those out there who got a face tattoo, had facial plastic surgery or lost a lot of weight, you’ll need to get a new passport photo and passport… because, well you look different. (Cutting or dying your hair isn’t a big enough change… however, certain looks will make your passage through customs smoother… When Erik had long hair and a Fu Manchu moustache, he was constantly taken aside many times to be searched).
A Cuba stamp for example will slow down Americans coming home through Customs and Immigration. Visiting Israel can bar you from traveling to other Middle Eastern countries, even though Israel stamps a separate piece of paper outside your passport, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon will not let you in if they find any sign you've been in Israel. Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Egypt are cool.
You may also notice that you sometimes collect little stickers on the back of your passport. These are from the airport’s security contractor. The purpose is to note that you've been personally reviewed for a flight departure that day. It’s not exclusive to US airports like the SSSS stamp is, but you will find different contractors stamps from around the world - a common one is ICTS (International Consultants on Targeted Security) who specialize in aviation security services, operating airport checkpoints and electronic equipment, such as x-ray screening devices and manual devices, and verifying travel documents.
Can you take them off when you get home? Absolutely… but they leave a sticky mess (plus it’s cool to leave them on, adds to the character of a well traveled passport!)
8- YOU CAN HAVE TWO PASSPORTS!
Some countries (Australia and the US for example) will allow you to have two of the same passport (2 US passports). This is helpful for frequent travelers who need to travel while applying for visas to another country (refer to point 6), however these are not easy to come by and you need a legitimate reason.
Some countries also allow you to have 2 different passports. Australians and Americans for example (I use this example a lot because that’s what we are on The Crew! But these tips apply to a lot of other nations… a quick google search will let you know if you’re eligible) can hold dual citizenship which allows you to have an American and Australian passport. However each country usually requires you leave and enter on one passport, allowing you to use the other passport once outside the country.
(“All Australians, including dual nationals, should leave and enter Australia on their Australian passport. If you have a passport from another country you can use that for travel once you have left Australia” Smarttraveller.gov.au)
This changes regularly as governments constantly negotiate new deals, and there are few of these rankings that also include the cost of a passport (Sweden tops one of the lists for a passport that costs it’s citizens a mere $43!)
But the encouraging note from this rank (particularly for Americans) is there’s a large number of countries your government has negotiated visa free access for… so apply for your passport and explore the world!
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