passportairlineticket_istoc.jpgExhausted but excited, I headed to the airport to meet my friends and catch a super-early (6.07am) flight to Panama. The last thing anyone expected to hear when I handed my passport to the ticket clerk was an emotionless, expressionless “hmm . . . your passport expires in 2.5 months and you need 3 valid months to enter Panama. You can’t fly today.” Say what! Needless to say, sheer panic set in and the next few hours were sprinkled with sporadic anxiety attacks, over a dozen phone calls to the New York Passport Agency (an automated appointment system makes you want to hit something – it also makes it impossible to get an appointment the day you call, never mind sometime that week), and angry thoughts directed at myself for the colossal oversight. (Nice going, travel expert!)

The New York Passport Agency might as well be Fort Knox so my only hope was RUSH Passport Agency, a Godsend in Midtown Manhattan where you can expedite your passport renewal within 10 hours. Thankfully, the pretty painless process (get there by 7.30am, fill out your paperwork, bring a copy of your already booked flight, your old passport, a check, and cash, and they’ll take care of the rest), albeit pricey ($375 on top of the standard $155 fee; I did also get the passport card which upped the price slightly), had me holding my new, valid passport by 4.30pm that day, and I was on the next day’s morning flight to Panama. Crisis averted . . . sort of (I was popping Prilosec like candy to ease my nervous stomach and had basically doubled the cost of my trip, thank you Copa airline fees and expediting costs). Note: Airlines, Copa, in this case, make no mention of passport restrictions on their website or in the fine print of online tickets.


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The moral of the story: Always double check the passport restrictions of your intended destination ahead of time on the U.S. Department of State’s website, and renew your passport at least six months before it expires just to be safe. Passport restrictions are not obvious – the airlines don’t say boo, they just want your money, and research on the destination generally won’t turn up such information. We clicked through the entire list of entry/exit requirements and here’s a breakdown of countries with passport rules for U.S. citizens:


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PASSPORT MUST BE VALID 3 MONTHS BEYOND THE PERIOD OF STAY:
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Greenland
Faroe Islands
Estonia
Germany
Greece
Finland
France and Monaco
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
The Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovack Republic
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Netherlands Antilles
Fiji
Panama (Panamanian law also requires that U.S. citizens must either purchase a tourist card at the airport before clearing customs or obtain a multiple entry visa from a Panamanian embassy. FYI, I did not have to do either to enter Panama)

PASSPORT MUST BE VALID FOR AT LEAST 6 MONTHS AFTER THE DATE OF ARRIVAL:
Bahrain
Bolivia (visa also required)
Botswana
Ecuador
French Polynesia
Honduras
Indonesia
Iraq (visa also required)
Israel (a 3-month visa may be issued upon arrival)
Madagascar (visa and at least one blank page in passport required)
Malaysia
Mauritius
Namibia
New Caledonia
Nicaragua (there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement but U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their intended stay)
Oman (visa also required)
Philippines
Saudi Arabia
Singapore
Taiwan
Thailand
Uganda (visa, evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, and a polio vaccination for children under five required)
Ukraine
Venezuela (visa or tourist card required; passport must also be in good condition – meaning not torn or too weathered)

PASSPORT MUST BE VALID FOR AT LEAST 30 DAYS AFTER ARRIVAL:
Costa Rica (roundtrip ticket is also required)
Hong Kong (adequate funds and onward/return ticket required)

PASSPORT MUST BE VALID FOR 30 DAYS BEYOND INTENDED STAY:
Macau

PASSPORT MUST BE VALID FOR 120 DAYS BEYOND THE DATE OF ENTRY:
Micronesia

PASSPORT MUST HAVE TWO BLANK (UNSTAMPED) VISA PAGES:
South Africa
Cambodia

Note that while entry to most European countries (listed above) requires U.S. citizens to present a passport with a minimum of three months valid (due to the Schengen Agreement), the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) has no minimum passport requirements.

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