Your Passport ‘Expires’ Before the Expiration Date

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It’s pretty common knowledge that in most cases US passports for kids under 16 expire every five years and those for adults expire every ten years. It is amazing how quickly five years can go by, and in fact we are at the point that our oldest daughter’s passport already needs renewing. Not only can five years fly, but 4.5 years goes by even faster and that is exactly the real timeframe to keep in mind when renewing your kids’ passports.

I’ve written previously about getting a young child’s and infant’s passports before (including how to get an infant’s passport photo), but I think this issue of needing to renew more than six months before the printed expiration date can’t be emphasized enough as it sneaks up on even experienced travelers.

Baby S with her passport at 1 month old

Baby S with her passport at 1 month old

As you may already know if you frequently travel internationally, the magic date isn’t really the expiration date on your passport, it is six months before that. While your passport is still valid in the eyes of the United States until it actually expires, dozens of countries will not permit you to enter unless you have at least six months remaining on your current passport. They do not want to risk you overstaying your welcome and then ending up with an expired passport.

Not every country in the world requires you to still have at least six months until your passport’s expiration date in order to enter. Some require three months beyond your planned travel dates and some just require it to be valid for your specific dates of travel, but enough have a six month requirement that I highly recommend you consider your and your children’s passports expired six months before the actual dates.

Not only do you have to contend with the actual policies for the countries you plan to visit, but the airlines also play a role in this game. I have heard multiple stories of agents and airlines wanting your passport to be valid for at least six months from the date of travel, even to destinations where the country itself does not carry that same requirement. As an example, Mexico does not currently require your passport to be valid for six months beyond your date of travel, but I have heard of many instances where the airline required that extra validity period and even denied boarding to those flying to Mexico who did not meet the extra six months mark. In fact, American Airlines even has that “6 months rule” on their website despite it not applying to all countries.

If you are in the miles, points, and travel deals hobby where unexpected opportunities pop up quickly then there may come a time when you are kicking yourself for not renewing your passport earlier if it causes you to miss out on a ‘spur of the minute’ travel opportunity. There are too many countries and airlines who are particular about the passport lasting at least six months beyond your travel dates to risk trying to travel on it in those final few months.

Going to look much different in her next passport photo

Going to look much different in her next passport photo

When you get a free minute, take a peek at the expiration dates for all of the passports in your family and make sure you don’t accidentally sail past that final six months mark. Also factor into that equation that children’s passports must be renewed in person with both parents appearing, or with one parent appearing and the other completing a notarized DS-3053. In other words, the logistics of renewing a child’s passport often require a little bit of planning.

Have you ever been bitten by trying to travel on a passport in the final few months before it expires?

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  1. I did read somewhere that a good strategy if it’s possible, is to not get an infant passport until the baby is 1 years old. That way, you get 5-year passports at 1, 6, 11 and then a 10-year starting at 16.

    • Sounds reasonable to me if you don’t need it before 1 – ours had a couple international trips in the first 12 months. Our first daughter didn’t get hers though until she was 2, so she will need it at roughly 7, 12, and then 10 year at 17 ish.

    • I used to subscribe to this theory, but with the 6 month lead time you actually wind up doing something like age 0, 4.5, 9, 13.5… and then adult the next time.

      Also, keep in mind that a child’s passport is effectively a new application every time. There is no mail in ‘renewal’ or reduction of fees for renewal. It probably makes no difference if you get a passport at age 1, then wait until age 7 if you don’t really need it, etc.

      We keep our kids up to date for convenience. We had planned an AI in Mexico when they were toddlers, but didn’t wind up executing on that. Ironically, they’ve been on 12 or 13 cruises, but have only ever *legally* needed the passports on a bus tour into Canada from an Alaskan cruise. I also like having the (additional) passport card as a form of photo ID for the kids.

  2. I usually renew passports between 12 and 6 months to expiration just to be on the safe side. Also, since my kids have 3 passports I make sure they were issues with severals months apart (no rush to have them all at once) so they always have one that is valid for a long time before another one expires.

  3. Not sure if the info below is correct;
    I did an emergency rush passport because I had 60 days left for a 7 day trip to germany.
    The person the the NY Passport office ventured a guess that my carrier would have never flown me but had I gotten to germany they would have allowed a short visit, with a less than 6 month permitted stay.

  4. Data point. Had 2 months validity on US passport. Was able to enter Japan, Qatar, and Maldives fine this fall.

    Surprisingly, the Japanese entry visa had an expiration data *after* the passport expires.

    Our concern wasn’t about entering the country, but with AIRLINE staff. Customs agents have some discretion about who they allow to enter.

    But airline check in and gate agents can be stricter, or sometimes make up their own interpretation of passport and visa rules.

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