That is why you should always check the expiration date of your passport before traveling.

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What you don’t know can’t hurt you? I do not agree. What you don’t know can kill you, like illness for example, or not knowing which way to look when crossing the street.

It may also have lesser effects, but still painful. Like when you are making travel plans. Expensive travel plans. Surprise travel plans. Plans for someone’s 40th birthday. In this case, mine. The truth is, what you don’t know can hurt your wallet and your heart too.

No one likes a big effort surprise to be foiled after all the preparation and anticipation that goes into it. I took pity on my husband. He had tried so hard to surprise me when I was 40, and just days after Christmas too. Vacations alone can make you feel like a stranded, breathless whale. Throw your wife’s 40th over it, and it could lead to sudden death for even the best of husbands.

But not my husband. He went above and beyond. He had booked a surprise trip to Paris for the three of us, and everything was going! The bags were labeled and our boarding passes were being printed. I was wondering what movies would be on the plane when the woman at the check-in counter stopped printing and said there was a problem with our daughter’s passport. A supervisor had to be consulted before our passes could be released.

Of course, I panicked. What’s wrong with our daughter’s passport? It had not expired. It only expires at the end of the month, January 24. We would be back a week before.

I racked my brains. It would have to be a technical problem. Maybe the passport was torn or folded, somehow dysfunctional.

The woman has returned. “Your daughter’s passport is expiring,” she said.

“But it’s not expired,” I said.

“France does not allow travel within three months of the expiration of a passport,” she informed us.

Clearly, we should have known. We were clearly fools. But, isn’t an expiration date an expiration date?

Not when it comes to passports, apparently; they deteriorate three to six months (depending on the country) before their “consumption” dates. Europe, Asia and the Americas (except Canada and Mexico) all require six months validity.

I have since read that these rules are in place for various reasons in order to avoid accidentally exceeding the allotted travel time in another country by traveling too close to the expiration date of your passport. Most of these reasons suggest an illness or physical accident that could occur during your trip that would keep you in the country you are visiting after your passport expires. All kinds of complications can ensue, the worst case being deportation and then the inability to re-enter that country.

But come on. A runaway terrorist can go from Berlin to Paris to Chambery to Turin to Milan before being finally arrested, and my five-year-old daughter cannot travel with her parents from Australia to France for a week because her passport expires in a month ?

Nope. She can not. After two hours at the check-in counter and frantic calls between the travel agent, the airline and my husband, it was clear that a resolution to this issue was not going to happen in minutes or hours but rather in days… or worse.

The travel agent told us to go to the US consulate immediately and get an emergency passport for our daughter so that we can book the trip as soon as possible and not waste much more time or money in the process. The consulate closed in an hour so it was a mad rush from the airport, luggage in tow, but we made it.

See also: “Unauthorized”: how I lost the right to enter the United States without a visa

A passport photo was obtained, and within minutes we were raising our right hand, signing our names, and getting him an “emergency” passport. Then we had to book our tickets.

At that point, the man who had sworn us in and processed all of our paperwork, concluded by saying, “By the way, some countries don’t accept travel with emergency passports.”

“Well, is France one of them? I asked, resisting the futile urge to pounce on the glass between us. “I don’t know. You’ll have to check online or call the embassy. You might need to get a visa or something.”

Why he didn’t tell us this before we had spent the time and money to get the emergency passport remains a mystery.

The French Embassy in Melbourne has been closed. The American Embassy in France did not open for three hours. What was going to happen was not going to happen today. It was time to go home.

After talking to someone on the phone at the US Embassy in France later that night, it turns out that France, as a party to the Schengen Agreement, does not accept emergency passports or temporary. If we had arrived in France, we would have been returned and sent back to Melbourne straight away.

It is the responsibility of the passport holder to know the rules of the countries they are visiting, but shouldn’t that be better known? I asked around. Most of those in the know have learned that in a case like ours, where what you don’t know can actually cause a lot of trouble.

The best advice the internet can offer to avoid such a situation is to recommend that all potential travelers check the websites of the embassies of the countries they plan to visit before booking their travel plans. To this I would add: also check the expiration date of your passport. It might turn out badly.

See also: Border force – the toughest customs and immigration in the world

See also: The most powerful passports in the world

Listen to: Flight of Fancy – the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

Things that will surprise first-time visitors to Europe

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