What happens if you run out of passport pages abroad – what NOT to do

My emergency passport on the left – Matt’s normal passport on the right

Never get an emergency passport if you plan on traveling the world.

I got royally (or democratically?) f***ed over by getting an emergency passport at the U.S. Embassy in Frankfurt, Germany, 9 months into a yearlong trip around the world. This emergency passport is the reason I’m on a plane headed home just 10 months into the trip (although I’m hoping I can get back up in the air and on the road again ASAP). The United States emergency passport has cost me thousands of dollars due to the travel changes, cancellations, and new bookings I’ve had to make. World travelers, don’t let this happen to you!

I want to save other globetrotters by giving solid information that I wasn’t told or able to find anywhere beforehand and have learned from personal experience (the hard and expensive way). If you are a traveler hoping to avoid this fate, read on.

If you want all the gory details recounting my long list of recent, terrible travel misfortunes related to the emergency passport, then I’ve got three posts for you. Read about: Indian visa denieddetained in Bali, Chinese layover mishap – aka #travelfails.

For those who are unfamiliar with U.S. emergency passports, they are valid for a year from their date of issue, unlike a regular passport which is valid for 10 years. They are granted in situations where you have immediate international travel and you need a passport (i.e. you would receive one if your passport was lost, stolen, or damaged, or in my case when you don’t have sufficient blank pages for travel).

USA passport with international stamps
Running out of passport pages…

You might ask, why didn’t I just add pages to my passport? Which is what I thought I could do too, but through a quick search online, I discovered as of January 2016, U.S. citizens are no longer able to add pages to their passport. The only option is to get a new passport, and if you have limited time (depending on the embassy, if it’s less than the 10-day minimum it takes to receive an expedited passport abroad), you will receive an emergency passport.

One thing I highly recommend before leaving on a world trip if you are a hardcore world traveler is to get a new passport. When you do, get a 52-page U.S. passport book. There is no difference in price between a 52-page book and a standard size passport, which is half the size (28 pages). An emergency passport only has 12-pages (only 6 for stamps and visas, if you will even be granted them).

When I received my U.S. emergency passport, I was under the impression that it worked just as my regular U.S. passport did (except with a shorter lifespan). This is NOT true. Several countries where a visa is required (even visas that you are granted upon entry like Indonesia) won’t accept an emergency passport, also known as a limited validity passport. I previously believed “limited validity” only meant it wasn’t valid as long, but that is not the case. You would think the man working at the U.S. embassy who gave me my emergency passport, or the documentation that came with it, would have mentioned this somewhere, but spoiler alert, it didn’t.

There is no information or list online that states which countries won’t take accept a U.S. emergency passport. You will need to try to find this information for each country individually. How each country will respond to it is up to their discretion, and it is not always easy to find this information online. The other alternative is to get in contact with/visit the country’s embassy in person to determine if you can travel there with an emergency passport.

If you plan on traveling the world with a United States emergency passport, my best advice is don’t. It won’t get you very far, and you are only guaranteed for it to get you back home (but make sure the flight is direct, or doesn’t stop in a country you are not allowed to enter). It is still crazy to me how powerless this passport is.

Rather than attempting to travel the world with it, you are better off going home or somewhere with a U.S. embassy where you can spend at least two to three weeks in that country while you wait to get a passport expedited. In a major U.S. city (like Seattle), I was able to get a passport expedited in as little as three days. In my hometown outside of Seattle, I was told the fastest I could get an expedited passport was in 2-3 weeks. Heading into a metropolitan city is definitely the way to go if you need a passport quickly.

Received an expedited normal U.S. passport (with 52 pages) in 3 days in Seattle

If you are waiting for a new passport in a foreign country, make sure you don’t overstay your granted time in the country, as many countries only allow you to stay 30 days without penalty. From personal experience (as of October 2017), I know you are at least allowed into Singapore with a United States emergency passport and you can stay in Singapore for up to 90 days.

Do your research. I should have extensively looked up “can I get into Bali with an emergency passport?” which doesn’t show up clearly, and that isn’t something I would have even thought would be an issue – because I believed my passport allowed me the same access as every other traveling U.S. citizen.

Something else I’ve learned – don’t accept the first result that pops up on Google to be the truth. When you ask a question (especially one that is frequently asked) Google will sometimes give you an answer directly on the search page. For instance, “do I need a visa for a layover in China as a U.S. citizen?” It will tell you no if you meet certain standard requirements. But there are always exceptions that aren’t on that first page. Check official sources and multiple sources. Because out of the dozens of airports in China, there are four that do not accept the 24-hour no-visa layover rule. Two of those airports are the two airports we had layovers scheduled in (Fuzhou & Shenzhen – read more about this here).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.