Your passport, much like that driver’s license you most likely hold in your wallet, is a privilege. It’s a privilege that comes with laws, country requirements and regulations. You may not have to read a booklet, pass a written test and show anyone you can actually handle that new, shiny passport like you do with a driver’s license, but ultimately it’s your responsibility to know, understand and abide by the rules and laws when you travel.
There is no gray. There is no “but my friend got away with _, so I thought I could too and now I’m pissed.” It’s black and white.
Honestly, tired of explaining – and arguing with people – over issues like trying to get around country entry requirements and baggage allowances, we put together the five most asked questions we answer regularly about how much you can get away with when you travel.
You’re probably not going to like my answers. But it’s our job here to help you be an informed international traveler. The more informed that you are when you travel internationally, the smoother and easier the process is. And that all makes for a much more enjoyable trip.
1. I’m traveling next week and I noticed my passport expires in 3 months. Do you think this will be a problem?
Why, yes I do.
And further more, depending on the country you’re traveling to, the airline agent checking you in for your international flight and the border control will also feel it’s a problem.
Do you know why?
Many countries require that you have six months validity on your passport from your return ticket date. It’s not a gray area. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood the airline agent is in. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood border control is in. Quit being pissed off because you were irresponsible and did not verify the entry requirements for the country or countries you were planning to travel to and you did not make sure all of your travel documents were in order.
Airline agents will refuse to even check you in, and, if you somehow make it past one that just didn’t check close enough, you will be turned right around at the border. At your own expense.
Americans can check the entry requirements for every country in the world at travel.state.gov.
If you do run in to the situation in which you discover your passport is about to expire or you don’t have enough consecutive blank pages, you’ll need to expedite your passport. The State Department outlines what to do in life and death emergency situations, for traveling within 2-3 weeks and more.
2. I know my carry-on fits under the seat. Do you think the airline will weigh/measure it?
They very well might.
Budget airline gate agents in particular are notorious for their laser-eye like superpowers in spotting a bag that they just know won’t fit in that little metal measuring device that the airline didn’t install just for kicks and giggles. Budget airlines can operate on the cheap for a reason – they greatly reduce operating costs by running with the absolute minimum number of necessary ground staff, stripping out all non-essential services, adding more seats and flying only one type of aircraft.
That means that the staff knows their planes like they know the back of their hand. And a skeleton crew means higher stress in dealing with passengers, so that gate agent probably has reason to be crabby. There’s no room for not being strict, so get over it or don’t fly budget airlines.
Want to avoid those ridiculously high fees for being forced to gate check your bag? There’s a very simple solution: read the airline’s baggage policy and ensure your bag meets the size and weight requirements. Including the wheels and handles, because those parts will need to fit in that awful metal measuring device should the gate agent tell you that you need to jam it down in there.
Every airline has their own baggage rules about how many bags you can carry on, the weight and size. But just to help you out, here are some of the popular ones we regularly answer questions about:
- RyanAir Baggage Allowance
- EasyJet Baggage Allowance
- Delta Baggage Allowance
- Icelandair Baggage Allowance
Oh, and those very same baggage allowance pages on every airline website also answer all your questions about whether strollers are allowed. Amazing how the airlines put together information to help you prepare before you fly, huh?
Frankly, budget airlines aren’t always worth it if you need to travel with a load of stuff. The fees add up quickly when you need to start checking bags, so always price check both the regular airlines against budget airlines when you’re planning your trip.
3. I don’t have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Do you think this will be a problem when renting a car?
Again, yes I do. Again, do you know why?
Most countries do not recognize a US driver’s license as valid form of identification, but most will accept an IDP. And an IDP is just about the easiest travel document you can get and the cheapest to obtain.
Many car rental companies won’t ask for it when renting you the car and your friend may have told you they were never asked. But if you’re stopped by the police and asked to present your documents, you can risk fines up to hundreds of dollars.
Getting an IDP is really easy and only costs $15, so there’s no reason to risk not having it. Just print out this application form from AAA and visit their nearest office with two passport photos, your application, your valid US driver’s license and your payment. Congratulations! You will receive your IDP on the spot.
If you don’t have access to a AAA office near you, you can mail in your application with two passport photos each signed on the back, a copy front and back of your valid US driver’s license and a check or money order for $15. Mail it to the address on the application form. It takes 4-6 weeks to receive it when submitting your application by mail.
4. I received a traffic ticket in the mail. Is this for real?
The most common one we hear is receiving a ticket for not having a vignette. A vignette is a mandatory road tax sticker that is valid for a certain period of time and is used in several European countries on motorways.
Some vignettes, like in Switzerland, are only sold for the calendar year and the car rental company may include the vignette with the rental. But, just as it is your responsibility to know entry requirements for countries you plan to travel to, it is also your responsibility to know the rules of the road in countries you plan on driving in.
Toll Tickets is a great website for verifying vignettes, emission stickers and any other requirements like compulsory snow chains during specified time periods and safety vests and flares being present in the car.
Just because you didn’t check that everything that was supposed to be in the car actually was there when you pulled off the car rental lot, doesn’t make the rental car company responsible for any fines you incur when you get pulled over. And “I didn’t know” doesn’t fly with foreign police.
5. Can I use my my “no fee” passport for leisure travel?
Okay, this one really only applies to a small group of readers here but I am beyond sick of this question. You got stationed overseas with your spouse, who is a government or military employee and you were given a free special issuance passport, which many military folk like to refer to as a “no fee” passport.
Of course you’re going to travel! You have whatever country you’re stationed in right out your backdoor and traveling to other countries is almost always easier and less expensive that even crossing state borders in the US.
So go get a damn passport.
Pay the $110 and get your passport before you head to your new overseas assignment. The passport is good for 10 years for anyone 16 years and older. It’s a small investment in your new life of being a worldly traveler. Here’s how to apply and renew your passport.
I don’t care what Joe Schmoe at the passport office told you about your no fee passport. It is black and white on the Department of State website that your “no fee” passport can only be used when traveling officially to and from your official duties. It’s also stamped clear as day right in the very back of your “no fee” passport book. Yep, go ahead and get it out to check.
Your “no fee” passport is not for flitting off to Paris for the weekend. And just because you were able to drive from Germany to Austria, where the EU generally enjoys open borders, your “no fee” doesn’t cover you for travel there either.
Also, if you have both a “no fee” passport and a passport then you need to carry both when traveling outside of the country you’re stationed in. Most likely, you also have some sort of free mission support visa that was attached in your “no fee” passport and you very well may need to show that to an official to prove you haven’t overstayed your welcome.