Customers should be aware of passport expiration rules: Travel Weekly

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Marc Pestronk

Question: Is there really a law that requires my US passport to be valid for six months after I travel to a foreign country? If so, what law is it, who enforces it and what happens if a client does not follow it? Can a travel agency be held responsible for not advising a customer that their passport must be valid for six months? If so, has a travel agency ever been held responsible for such negligence?

A: Each country has its own entry requirements for US citizens. The laws or policies of some countries indeed require that a passport be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.

Other countries, including most of those in Europe, require a validity of three months from the date you expect to leave the country, and others have no laws or policies on the matter. Finally, to confuse matters, sometimes there are different rules on different but authoritative websites.

The US State Department lists the entry requirements for each country here, searching by country name, but there is no actual country list. The best lists I have found are here, which lists countries with a six-month rule, countries with a three-month rule, and even a few countries with a one-month rule.

Immigration authorities in each country are responsible for enforcing the laws. In at least one reported case, Panama has jailed an incoming U.S. citizen until the airline agrees to take them home.

The traveler sued the airline for negligence for failing to notify them of Panama’s six-month rule. As far as I know, the matter is still pending, but I believe the Applicant has good cause for negligence.

Airlines try to enforce the rules of each destination country, either because they are required to do so by law or because they don’t want to take you home when you are denied entry. To be on the safe side, some airlines are likely to adopt a uniform rule requiring that each U.S. passport have at least six months remaining.

To complicate matters, if you are visiting multiple countries, the counter agents in your second destination country may enforce the entry rules for your third destination country. In another reported case, an American traveler was stranded in Russia because Aeroflot agents refused to allow her to travel to France because she had less than three months left before her planned departure from France.

Travel agencies have a legal obligation to advise their clients on important information that clients would not necessarily be expected to discover on their own. While there are no reported cases against travel agencies over passport expiration issues, I am sure a judge or jury would decide that the duty would include providing such information.

However, it would be unrealistic to expect every agent in every agency to know the foreign entry requirements of every country. Therefore, I recommend that you highlight a general statement in your confirmations or an email signature.

Here are three examples of my files:

  • “Please note that a valid passport is now required for all travel outside of the United States. A “valid” passport is defined as a passport which expires more than 6 (six) months from the date of return of a passenger. “
  • “When traveling abroad, passports are required. Make sure you have at least six months on your passport after your date of return to the United States.”
  • “Many countries require that your passport be valid for six months after the date of entry. Please take a moment to check the expiration date of your passport now to allow time to renew it before departure if necessary.”


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