June 11, 2007

Passport pains: The arcane rules that can trip up a journey

If a foreign country says you need a passport to enter, you'd think any valid passport would do. Not so. Some countries put additional conditions on passports. And if you aren't aware of those limits, you could be turned away from your international flight or turned back at your arrival airport.

A friend recently learned this lesson the hard way. He bought tickets on South African Airways (SAA) for a three-week trip to South Africa, booking his flights online. He'd been to South Africa several times before; he had his valid U.S. passport, and he knew he didn't need a prior visa. When he arrived at the SAA check-in desk at Dulles in Washington, however, the ticket agent told him he couldn't get on the flight. Why? Because his passport did not have a full visa page with no stamps.

My friend was, of course, outraged. He'd never encountered this requirement before; he found out later it was put into effect after his last visit. And he was even more outraged that the SAA Web site made no mention of this arcane requirement.

Although the basic source of his problem was the South African government, not SAA, I agree with him that the airline was seriously at fault for not including a warning on its Web site. (Delta, which also flies to South Africa, does post a warning.) This is an extremely weird requirement and one not even a seasoned traveler would expect. In fact, on a quick check of the U.S. State Department's Web site, I found no other country in the world with a similar requirement.

SAA also made a mistake: It sent his bags through to Johannesburg, even though he wasn't on board the plane. That's a breach of security rules.

Clearly, my friend's problem was a rarity. Lots more travelers, however, might get caught by a more common problem: countries that won't let you in unless your passport has at least six months validity beyond your planned departure date. On my check of the State Department's Web site, I found a long list of countries with a six-month rule, including Brazil, Ecuador, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Malaysia, Malta, Philippines, Romania, Singapore and more than a dozen others. A few other countries had similar requirements, but for less than six months.

Many countries also require that visitors show enough cash (or a credit card) to cover expected expenses while in the country, return or onward air tickets, or both. Some countries require vaccination certificates for travelers who have previously visited certain countries where specified diseases are prevalent. And quite a few countries require that you arrange visas before you leave the United States.

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Media Services
Read the rest of this article's from the source: www.chicagotribune.com

No comments: