In February, an Australian tourist was arrested at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, and interrogated by immigration officials.
The reason? A thumbnail-sized tear in his passport.
After reading a statement confirming that his passport was “of poor quality and/or a fake,” the tourist was finally allowed into Bali.
But the incident raises an important point: while you might be ready for international travel, your passport might not be.
Indonesia has some of the strictest passport laws in the world.
Your passport is expected to be in near-perfect condition with no tears, stains or water damage. In some cases, airlines are even fined up to $5,000 for allowing passengers with faulty passports to travel.
Indonesia is an extreme case, but it’s not the only country with these kinds of laws. And the best way to avoid costly mistakes is to find out about potential passport pitfalls well in advance of your trip.
Here are a few things you need to know about your passport before you travel.
Is your passport in good condition?
Do a quality check on your passport to make sure it’s in good condition, especially if it’s been gathering dust in the last three years of the pandemic.
These are the main things to look out for:
- Is there any obvious damage? Are pages torn, cut, peeled, stained, water damaged, moldy, etc.?
- Are your passport details decipherable?
- Is the personal data page in good condition? Is there discoloration? Any damage to the lamination?
- If it is an e-passport, is the chip exposed or damaged?
Some wear and tear is to be expected, but unfortunately each country has a different definition of how much wear and tear is acceptable.
It’s a good idea to keep your passport in as perfect condition as possible, and to brush up on the rules and precedents for refusal that apply in the country you intend to visit.
If your passport is not in good condition, you must renew it at your own expense prior to travel.
When was it issued and when does it expire?
You need to know your passport issue date, expiration date and passport validity requirements of the country you intend to visit.
For example, to visit the EU, your passport must have been issued within the last 10 years. It may expire no earlier than three months after leaving the EU.
Some countries, like Australia, Mexico, Japan and Barbados, only require your passport to be valid for the duration of your stay, while others, like Egypt, Singapore and Thailand, require a six-month passport validity.
Passport validity requirements vary from country to country, but it’s a good rule of thumb to assume that all countries require one year of validity before expiry.
If you have a choice when applying for or renewing your passport, it is best to opt for 10 years validity. It just means you have less to worry about issuance and expiry dates.
US passports are generally valid for 10 years. With Canadian passports you have the choice between a validity period of 5 or 10 years.
How many blank pages do you have left?
Make sure you have enough space or blank pages in your passport before heading out, especially if you plan to visit multiple countries in one trip.
You’ll need at least enough free space to get entry and exit stamps, assuming you’re only visiting one country.
When visiting a country that issues visas on arrival, such as Vietnam, be prepared for the visa sticker to take up a full page of your passport.
Different countries have different rules about how many blank pages your passport must have for you to be allowed to visit. For most places it is one, but some countries, such as Namibia and Brunei, require six blank pages.
In the past, immigration officials may have only overwritten old stamps, but with increasingly stringent regulations and controls, that’s less likely in 2023. If you run out of blank pages, you will need to renew your passport early again, at your own expense.
When applying or renewing your passport, choose the maximum number of pages possible, if you have the choice.
The standard US passport has 28 pages, 17 of which are blank for immigration stamps, but you can also apply for a 52-page passport with 43 blank pages at no additional cost.
Canada used to give you the option to choose how many pages you wanted in your passport, but now all Canadian passports have 36 pages.
What stamps does your passport currently have?
Your itinerary may affect your ability to visit a country. A passport stamp from one country can prevent you from entering another if the two countries do not understand each other well.
For example, if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, you cannot travel to certain Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon and Kuwait. A luggage tag or sticker with reference to a stay in Israel can also cause problems.
On the other hand, if you’ve been to certain Middle Eastern countries, you may be subject to stricter immigration screening when attempting to visit Israel.
Visiting Cuba may affect a non-American or Canadian’s ability to qualify for ETSA. If you have been in Cuba since March 1, 2011, you are disqualified for ETSA and must apply for a full visa instead (at a much higher cost than ETSA and including an in-person interview).
Other things about your passport to consider
- Is your passport scannable? Depending on how old your passport is, it can be a regular passport or an electronic passport. The latter contains a chip that stores your personal information (name, date of birth, etc.) and can be scanned at certain border checkpoints, helping you save time on entry. You can tell if you have an e-passport by a small square icon at the bottom of the front of your passport.
- Did you get your passport back? It may sound obvious, but if you’re travel-weary and shuffling lots of documents, you can easily walk away from the immigration kiosk without your passport in hand.
- How many days are you staying and which areas of the country are you visiting? Immigration officers can fill in your passport stamp with the number of days you wish to stay in the country, meaning the stamp has a limited validity. It is best to tell the immigration officer that you will be staying for the maximum number of days permitted by a tourist visa. If you are visiting multiple areas within the same country (such as mainland Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands), be sure to include the time spent in those areas when telling the immigration officer how long you will be staying.
- Do you have an emergency or temporary passport? If you lose your passport abroad, you can usually get an emergency passport from the nearest consulate. In the case of Canada, a temporary passport is valid for one year, in the case of the United States, only six months. Don’t try to plan long trips with multiple trips with emergency or temporary passports.
Your travel reason could be another unexpected reason why you are denied entry at immigration. If you say you are speaking at a conference, for example, but try to enter the country on a tourist rather than a business visa, you could be refused entry.
Lack of cash is another reason you could be turned away at immigration. Some countries require you to pay for a visa upon arrival, and in some cases you will need to pay in cash. Vietnam, for example, requires its stamp duty, which can range from $25 to $135, to be paid in cash.