travel

'The passport rule I'd never heard of, that almost ruined my holiday.'

When airlines send a reminder to check your travel documents before flying, how many of us think to look at expiry dates? Avoid the last minute scramble for passport renewal forms with Skyscanner Australia’s country-by-country guide to the requirements for travel.

Imagine if you purchased an annual gym membership only to find out it’s actually only usable for 11 months. The swipe card is still yours for that final month, but they’re not going to let you in.

Well… you’d probably feel rather cheated, report them to Consumer Affairs and storm off looking for another gym.

It’s a similar scenario with passports – but unfortunately we have no choice in the matter! Passports all have a use-by date, but seeing as most countries require at least six months’ validity to allow entry, its actual expiry date is rendered useless. Instead of a lifespan of 10 years, you have nine and a half.

This is a lesson our Deputy Editor Valentina Todoroska recently learned the hard way when she was due to travel to Singapore and found out three days before that she required at least six months validity to fly.

“I had no idea about the six month passport rule. I only came across it when looking at the Smart Traveller website the weekend before I was due to fly.”

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team share their travelling horror stories – most of them period-related. Post continues after audio.

“I thought it best to follow up and confirm as I had five and a half months on my passport, I was sure it’d be okay. As it turns out it wasn’t. I spent almost half a day on the phone to the visa office and Singapore embassy before calling the Australian passport office and being told I needed a new passport or I wouldn’t be able to fly.”

“Thankfully I was able to get a straight renewal as my personal details hadn’t changed and my passport hadn’t yet expired. It was still incredibly stressful though.”

“I needed to book in a time to go to the passport office (thankfully I managed to get a time the following morning which I know is rare), go to the post office to get new passport photos and get my employer to write me a letter explaining why I needed to travel. I also had to pay a priority service fee so overall it cost me close to $500.”

“I was incredibly lucky to be able to pick it up within a few hours of my interview with a passport officer. It was a very close call.”

So why do passports need a buffer for travel? This is mostly to do with visa precautions – ensuring that you have valid national identification documents once your visit draws to a close and you need to depart the country.

It’s a bit of a pain for travellers, but governments tend to err on the side of caution with these things, factoring in any unforeseen circumstances that may cause you to extend your stay. This is why some countries are more conservative than others when it comes to buffer times – most Asian countries require 6 months from departure date whereas Canada only needs your passport to be valid for the duration of your stay.

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The rule of thumb is to renew your passport at least nine months before it expires but it’s always good to know how different places operate. Here’s a country-by-country guide to travel requirements – visas included!

Travel requirements for different countries
Oh New Zealand, how we love you! Visiting our Kiwi neighbours is an incredibly simple process. (Image: Unsplash)

Valid on the day of arrival

New Zealand - Oh New Zealand, how we love you! Visiting our Kiwi neighbours is an incredibly simple process. No visas are necessary, and Aussie passports only need to be valid on the day of arrival.

Valid for duration of stay

Canada - Heading to the land of maple syrup, ice hockey and incredible mountainous scenery? Lucky you. Just make sure your passport is valid for the duration of your stay, and organise an electronic travel authorisation (eTA) prior to arrival - a relatively new requirement that was introduced in March 2016.

USA – Sure, the thought of navigating American immigration bureaucracy is enough to cause a mild anxiety attack. But Australians visiting the United States for under 90 days can breathe a sigh of relief because (hooray!) you qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. All you have to do is apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), costing 14 USD. Your passport doesn’t need to be valid for six months either, just for the duration of your visit.

The American government has placed travel restrictions on certain countries in the Middle East - so if you hold dual citizenship or have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 2011, different rules may apply and you’ll need to consult the American embassy.

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Travel requirements for different countries
Australians visiting the United States for under 90 days can breathe a sigh of relief because (hooray!) you qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. (Image: Unsplash)

Valid for six months from return date

Schengen Zone – Thanks to the Schengen Convention, you have one less thing to worry about when planning a grand tour of Europe! The Schengen Zone is made up of 26 European countries, providing visa free travel for tourists planning to spend less than 90 days in the area. You could fly to Paris and spend the next couple months hopping between member countries - perhaps a week in Berlin… or two in Barcelona? Just ensure you have a date stamp marking your first entry into the Schengen, and that your passport is valid for at least six months after you intend to return home.

After that, all of Europe is your oyster… or at least the following countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

United Kingdom - The UK isn’t part of the Schengen Zone, however a similar mechanism is in place requiring six months validity on your passport. On the plus side, Australians travelling to Great Britain for up to half a year don't need visas, so long as you're just going as a tourist!

China – To enter China, you’ll need to check a few boxes. First, your passport needs to be valid for six months after your intended departure date. Secondly, you’ll need to organise a visa unless you happen to be in transit. In that case, arrangements exist for Aussies (with strict conditions attached) to remain in designated international airports so long as you have proof of onward travel within a specified time limit.

Vietnam - Before you head off on a pho-fuelled trek through the famous rice terraces and limestone karsts of Vietnam, you'll need to make sure you hold the appropriate visa! The government's immigration site will point you in the right direction. The most common arrangement is visa on arrival - for that you'll need a letter of approval, USD or Vietnamese Dong to cover fees, and a passport that is valid for at least six months after your flight home.

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Travel requirements for different countries
Before you head off on a pho-fuelled trek through the famous rice terraces and limestone karsts of Vietnam, you'll need to make sure you hold the appropriate visa! (Image: Unsplash)

Fiji – You don’t need to prearrange a visa to holiday in island paradise! Visitor visas are granted on arrival, provided your stay is under than four months, your passport has six months left on it and you have proof of a return ticket. Fair enough, Fiji… otherwise most travellers would stay forever!

Singapore - As Valentina Todoroska learned, Singapore requires all travellers (even those just transiting) to have six months' validity on their passports.

Indonesia - Off to Bali? The Indonesian government grants visa-free visits for holidays under 30 days, but before you get your brunch n’ beach on in Seminyak, double check that your passport is valid for six months from your return date.

Thailand – Thailand operates on a similar system to Indonesia, with 30 days of visa-free travel and a recommended six month validity on your passport.

Fortunately, Australian adult passports have a lifespan of 10 years so you shouldn’t run into this issue too often. But if you have travel plans coming up and your passport is about to expire - it’s time to get it sorted, and quickly! You can find the passport renewal application form here. DFAT takes roughly 3 weeks to process applications, so allow yourself ample time to avoid shelling out for an emergency passport - you don't want to blow your budget before you've even reached the airport.

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