Your flights are booked, your hotels are paid for, and the excitement of an international trip is getting real. But are you sure you’re ready to fly? Before you pack your bags and head to the airport, you might want to look twice at the expiration date on your passport. Even if your passport hasn’t yet expired, it still might not be valid for foreign travel. Follow these essential tips to ensure you’re fully prepared for your next international trip.
What Is the Six-Month Rule?
Before you travel, it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure your passport’s expiration date is six months beyond the date of your intended stay in your foreign destination(s). For example, if you plan to depart your destination on March 30, your passport should be good through at least September 30. Why six months? Some countries applied this rule to ensure travelers’ passports don’t unexpectedly expire while abroad if they have to extend their trip. If this were to happen, it would take significant time to get a new passport or extend a visa, and remaining in a country longer than you anticipated can lead to a strained and difficult financial situation. The six-month rule provides a buffer that helps avoid a potentially unwanted situation.
Check the Fine Print
It’s important to check each country’s requirements carefully before you travel, as there are some nuances to the six-month rule. Most countries in Asia and South America — like Peru, Thailand, and Turkey — require six months of passport validity from the day of arrival. However, the requirements for Vietnam state your passport must be valid for six months beyond your stay. Others, like Jordan, don’t specify. To be safe, it’s wise to travel to these countries with a passport that’s valid for six months beyond your intended stay.
There are also plenty of exceptions to the six-month rule — so, a good rule of thumb is to carefully check the entry requirements for each country on the State Department’s website.
What Is the Schengen Agreement — and What Does It Mean for European Travel?
One notable exception to the six-month rule that many U.S. travelers will come across is the border-free zone called the Schengen Area. Travel to Europe is relatively seamless for U.S. passport holders, but for all 27 Schengen countries (which include popular destinations like Spain, Italy, and Greece), you do need a passport that’s valid for three months beyond your intended departure date. Travelers are permitted to stay in these countries for up to 90 days without a visa. So, if you plan to stay in the Schengen Area for the entire duration of the 90-day tourist visa, then you’ll need to make sure your passport is valid for six months from your intended departure.
But in general, the State Department recommends sticking on the safe side and traveling with a passport that’s valid for six months beyond departure. Also, the department’s website notes to carefully check the passports of any children you’re traveling with under the age of 16, as those are valid for five years instead of the full 10 years for adult passports.
Other Exceptions to the Rule
Some countries take a more lax approach to passport validity requirements. If you’re itching to travel but notice your passport is about to expire, consider destinations such as South Africa and Hong Kong, which both require 30 days of passport validity beyond your intended date of departure. There are also a few countries that will welcome you and your passport at nearly any time: Costa Rica, Australia, U.K. and Ireland, the Bahamas, Canada, and Mexico only require your passport to be valid for the duration of your stay.
My Passport Has Expired — Now What?
If you have travel plans and realize your passport won’t be valid for your upcoming trip, you should renew your passport as soon as possible. Passports can only be renewed by mail (online renewals are currently paused as of early 2024). If you answer “yes” to all five eligibility questions here, you can submit a renewal application by mail. Routine processing time is seven to 10 weeks. If you want your passport back quicker, choose the expedited service, which add another $60 in fees. You should receive your new passport within three to five weeks.
What Do I Do With My Expired Passport?
Additionally, you can still use valid visas in expired passports. For example, if you have a five-year, multiple entry visa for India in your expired passport, be sure to carry both your expired passport with the valid visa and your new passport when you travel.
After you get your new passport, you’ll also receive your expired passport back with either a hole-punch on the cover or the corner cut off. This indicates the passport is invalid. Although the invalid passport can’t be used for travel, it can be a fun keepsake of stamps and visas from the different countries you traveled to.