5 Passport Myths Every Traveler Can Forget

Passport stamps, last-minute travel, and renewals may be easier than you think

Why are so many people applying for a passport in 2016?
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News

Before travelers take to the skies or seas to see the world, the one thing they all have in common is the requirement of a passport. Without this ever-important book or card, travelers could be subject to additional questioning, detention, or even expulsion when trying to enter a new destination.

Although all travelers know the importance of holding a passport before traveling around the world, what many travelers do not know is that the long-accepted stories they may have heard from other travelers may not be entirely correct. This goes beyond regular passport scams that travelers may fall for but instead may have travelers thinking twice about their next trips over a stamp, or thinking very little about which photograph they use for their passport.

When it comes to passport myths, new travelers often have all the wrong information at all the wrong times. Here are the real answers to five common passport myths every traveler has heard at least once in their adventures.

Myth: The wrong passport stamp can prevent me from traveling to certain countries.

Fact: One of the most common passport myths revolve around passport stamps and entry visas. The myth starts with planned travels to sensitive parts of the world. Specifically, those who enter Cuba may be subject to additional questions when returning to the United States, especially when going on a person-to-person trip or transiting through another nation.

In another variation of the myth, those who travel to Israel and receive a passport stamp from the nation may find themselves unwelcome in other nations. Nations that were rumored to expel flyers who have visited Israel include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While these myths may have been true for certain flyers long ago, they are not necessarily true today. Travelers who make the trips to Cuba or Israel legally may not necessarily be banned from visiting other places in the world. Due to reforms towards the United States’ policy towards Cuba, travelers have more opportunities to travel to the once forbidden nation with less difficulty. However, travelers will still need to obtain a visa from the Cuban Embassy prior to travel and may be subject to other requirements as well.

In regards to Israel, travelers may not receive a passport stamp after all. According to the State Department, many travelers who have a valid entry visa into Israel will receive an entry and exit card, instead of a stamp. For those travelers who are concerned that they may require a passport stamp to enter or exit Israel, it may be advisable to use a second passport for travel to the country, as to avoid situations traveling anywhere else in the world.

Myth: I can travel around the world at any time as long as my passport is valid.

Fact: One of the most common passport myths involve the idea of travel during the valid period. Primary passports are valid for 10 years, while second passports are only valid for two years at a time. As a result, many new travelers may believe that they can travel around the world at any time so long as their passport is valid.

Although that fact may be true for America’s bordering nations (Canada and Mexico), it may not be true for travel to other parts of the world. When it comes to intercontinental travel, many nations require between three to six months of passport validity in order to enter their nation. As an example: to enter the Schengen Zone in Europe, travelers must have an empty passport stamp page, as well as three months of validity on their passport, because the Schengen Visa is valid for semi-autonomous travel across Europe for three months.

Other nations, including Russia, require six months of passport validity upon entry. Those who have more than six months of passport validity when they begin their trip, but fall below the six-month threshold when they attempt to enter, may be turned away from entry when it’s time to take their trip.

Before boarding an international flight, be sure to understand the country’s entry requirements. If a passport is not valid for the required amount of time at the start of the trip, it may be time to make a trip to the post office or passport agency to get a new, valid passport.

Myth: It is impossible to get a passport in less than one day.

Fact: For many travelers, obtaining a passport is a time-consuming process that requires plenty of patience. After filling out an application and submitting a photo, many travelers then wait up to two months to get their new, valid passport back. 

Although travelers often have to wait to have their passport renewed, there are some extenuating circumstances where passports can be received in as little as one day. According to the State Department, travelers who have a “life-or-death emergency” that requires them to travel outside the United States can get a passport on the same day at certain passport agencies. The State Department qualifies “life or death emergency” as a “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in [an] immediate family that require travel outside the United States within 48 hours.” In order to qualify for these type of passports, travelers must provide proof of the emergency.

On a case-by-case basis, travelers who have planned international trips in less than one week may be able to obtain a passport with same-day service. Travelers who need to receive their documents immediately can make an appointment at a passport agency and provide the proper documentation (including their passport application) in order to qualify for same-day service.

There are some downfalls to same-day passport service. First, same-day experience is expensive, costing $195 for renewal. Secondly, travelers may not necessarily be guaranteed same-day service, especially if documents have not been filled out or are not provided correctly.

Myth: Any photo can work for a passport photo.

Fact: Of all the common problems travelers face when applying for a first passport or renewing a passport, the biggest issue does not come in filling out paperwork or providing proof of identity. Instead, one of the biggest reasons passport applications are denied is due to an inappropriate photograph.

The U.S. State Department identifies five different reasons a passport photo may be unacceptable for use with an official document. First, those who wear glasses and submit a picture with glasses glare will be denied. By the end of 2016, all passport photos with eyeglasses will be automatically denied, in part for this reason.

Other common problems with passport photographs include photos that are too bright or too dark, photos that are too close or too far away, or low-quality photos that have a lot of shadow on them. Finally, travelers who do not submit a recent photograph will be denied, as it may not reflect the traveler as they are today.

A good passport photo is two-by-two inches big, centered on the person’s face every time, with a plain white or off-white background. In addition, travelers should not wear eyeglasses, head coverings (unless worn daily for religious purposes), and taken in everyday, comfortable clothing.

Myth: If my passport is lost or stolen while abroad, replacing a passport can be a difficult process.

Fact: Finally, many new travelers do not realize that one of the biggest targets of pickpockets is not cameras or cell phones, but passports instead. When common muggers go in for a steal, they often look for a traveler’s passport before going for anything else.

When a passport is lost or stolen abroad, many travelers begin to panic without understanding what their options are, or how easy it is to replace a passport while traveling. Stolen passports are one of the most common problems embassies deal with around the world, and emergency documents can often be provided through a simple process.

First, travelers should file a police report with the local authorities. When completing the crime report, consider the passport number, and any pertinent information about where they last remember having it. With that, travelers will need to make an appointment with their embassy to obtain emergency replacement documents prior to arriving home.

At the embassy, travelers will need to provide information, as well as fill out forms about their lost passport situation. Those travelers who packed an emergency contingency kit prior to departure may have an easier time replacing their documents, as it will have much of the information required by embassy workers to successfully create an emergency passport. Upon arrival back home, travelers will need to apply for permanent replacement documents.

While a passport can unlock the world, it can also create problems who do not understand the rights they hold with their travel documents. By dispelling these passport myths, every traveler can see the world like a seasoned professional.