Avoid passport glitches

The letter “Missed Cruise Due to Visa Snafu” (June ’07, pg. 32) highlighted the potential danger in not having sufficient blank pages in your passport. A couple was denied boarding in Frankfurt for their flight to South Africa because they each did not have a full page remaining in their passport for the required visa on arrival (they had booked the cruise and flight through Princess Cruises). They, like many travelers, were unaware that a full blank page was needed.

Because of the unique destinations to which my company organizes tours, we have always insisted that travelers have at least one blank page for each country to be visited. While many destinations (such as the European Union) may require only a single square, a casual review of my current personal passports showed the following full-page visas from recent travels: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India (a second page is required if traveling to Sikkim and the Andaman Islands), Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Madagascar, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sudan (another half page is needed for the Central Registration paste-in stamp), Togo, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

I also found half pages required for visas to Cambodia, Nepal, Seychelles, Somaliland and South Africa, and the stamps of some other countries exceeded the dimensions of one square (such as Japan).

This list is certainly not all-inclusive, plus it does not take into account the additional entry and exit stamps, which also require at least one square, usually in close proximity to the actual visa. The best precaution is to contact each country’s consulate or embassy before your trip and ask about the requirements regarding passport pages for visas.

Such visa requirements hold even if you are cruising and the ship has agreed to handle visa requirements. Many, if not most, countries make no exceptions for cruise travelers and extract payment for the full price of a tourist visa even when the traveler is there only for a few hours.

If you are running short on blank pages but are not ready to get an extension for whatever reason (you cannot spare your passport long enough, etc.), I suggest reserving some of the pages by using sticky notes with comments like “Please do not use this page.” All too often, a harried Immigration official will take the first blank space he finds to stamp your entry, effectively wasting an otherwise blank page.

Additional visa pages can be obtained at no cost from the U.S. Department of State by submitting Form DS 4085 along with your current passport. The form along with instructions can be downloaded from www.state.gov/documents/organization/80120.pdf or obtained from most major post offices. The National Passport toll-free number is 877/487-2778. I have received up to five 24-page supplemental visa extensions in one passport.

Another common mistake we see is that people forget they should have six months remaining on their passport after their scheduled return home. The U.S. State Department webpage http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.html has the following note: “Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your trip and/or have two to four blank visa/stamp pages. Some airlines will not allow you to board if these requirements are not met.”

That same website has a link to download the DS 82 application for passport renewal, which can be done by mail as long as your passport is not mutilated, altered or damaged and there has been no name change. You can request a 48-page passport instead of the default 24-page booklet.

According to information I have received, the passport agencies currently are backlogged, so normal processing can take at least 10 to 12 weeks. Expedited service is available at an additional cost of $60 per passport, but even that can take at least two weeks. It is no longer possible to walk into most passport agencies without first making an appointment.

If you are applying for visas but must renew your passport, wait until you receive the new passport, since the issue date and expiration date for the passport are essential information on the visa application.

We strongly recommend that whenever you send your passport to the government, tour company or a visa service, you use traceable means. FedEx, UPS, DHL, USPS Express Mail or even registered mail all allow you to track the location of your passport when in transit, although no method can guarantee it will not get lost or delayed.

You should also pay for return shipment by traceable means. If a prepaid envelope is not included for each passport, the government uses Priority Mail, which is nontraceable.

Take the time to review your passport for its expiration date and the number of blank pages remaining. Happy traveling!

BOB PARDA, Advantage Travel & Tours, 12625 Gate Dr., Poway, CA 92064