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February 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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You’d Better Have Blank Pages in that Passport

from the February, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Perhaps the most important item you carry with you on your international dive trip is your passport. Without it, you're going nowhere. But, even if you're carrying a valid American passport, you may still not be admitted to your destination if it expires in six months or doesn't have enough blank pages. Let us share a case we reported in 2011:

"It's a good idea to read up on immigration and customs laws for each country you're visiting. Before traveling to Indonesia's Raja Ampat to go diving, Margaret Howerton (Vacaville, CA) had made sure she had at least two blank pages in her passport, a rule facing travelers. 'But when I arrived at the Manado airport, I was ushered into a back office where I was told I didn't have a blank 'visa' page in my passport. Neither of the two last empty pages were labeled 'visa' at the top. (When I returned home, I checked the website for Indonesia's passport requirements, and sure enough, blank 'visa' pages are required.) The immigration officials didn't permit me to call the U.S. Embassy, use their telephone or their computer. I was told I would need to return to Singapore or fly to Jakarta (to get my passport amended by U.S. officials). Finally, another official told me I could pay $200 and be processed through. After agreeing to a discounted bribe of $100, I was promptly on my way." She was lucky.

We've reported cases where divers have, indeed, had to fly elsewhere to a U.S. embassy to get empty pages put into their passports, but perhaps a Franklin or two would have helped them avoid the lengthy hassle.

Frequent travelers will know how quickly their passports fill with visas stamps and stickers. Some countries require your passport to have more than one blank page to affix an entry visa (Egypt and Indonesia are two examples), yet at the same time, new passports are being issued with just 28 pages as standard, down from the original 52 pages as in the past. You might need a blank page for every country visited on a trip.

You can no longer add pages to your passport -- you need to apply for a new one. If you do, request the 52-page passport, which is available at no extra charge.

Furthermore, many countries we travel to for diving require that you have at least six months left before your passport's expiration date to be granted entry. Without that, you might unexpectedly find yourself on the next plane home.

At one time you didn't need a passport to travel to Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2007 changed all that, and as a result, 18 million new 10-year passports were issued that year. However, these are all due to expire this year (2017), and the sudden demand could cause wait times for renewals to jump to a couple of months or more.

So, before you start thinking about a foreign trip, check your passport for empty pages and expiration date. Renewing by mail costs just $110. If you need a passport in a hurry, the government will expedite it for an extra $60, but there are private companies that, for a hefty fee, can get you a passport in just a few short days. You can find more info about passport requirements and how to expedite your application at http://travel.state.gov.

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