U.S. passport renewal

A couple of nights ago, I returned to Zürich after a lovely long weekend in Stockholm. After packing my bag and getting ready for my trip to Austin, I went to Delta’s website, and attempted to check in online. Delta refused to let me check in online because the expiration date of my passport was within 90 days. I checked in at the airport the next morning, and my trip to Austin (via Atlanta) went smoothly. Before leaving Zürich though, I made a comment on Twitter.

Yesterday, the comment drew some replies on Facebook (to which my tweets are automatically copied). A friend explained that Delta was just making sure that people didn’t leave the U.S. without having a valid passport for their return. The website, he said, must not have made a distinction between those traveling from the ’States and those traveling to the ’States. Later, another friend warned me that I might have trouble when I return to Switzerland at the end of the month.

My U.S. passport expires in February, so my original plan was simply to return home to Zürich and apply for a passport via the U.S. embassy in Bern. However, my friend explained that U.S. citizens traveling abroad are often required to have a passport valid for a period of time beyond their stay abroad. The U.S. State Department’s page for Switzerland states that for travelers to Switzerland, “the passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.” Some folks are turned away at the airport, my friend told me. Others are refused entry into their destination country once they arrive. Yikes!

I then thought I would just renew my passport while in the U.S. However, the normal renewal by mail takes four to six weeks, and I’m going back to Switzerland at the end of the month. To obtain quicker service, one must pay an extra sixty dollars over the standard renewal fee of seventy-five dollars, and one must submit the form in person at a passport office. The nearest passport office is in Houston, and I didn’t really want to take time away from family and friends just to drive down to Houston for a day.

My friend suggested ABC Passport Express, a company here in Austin that assists with passport applications and renewals. For an additional $195 over the $135 charged by the State Department, ABC Passport will drive down to Houston, submit the paperwork, and return with the new passport. That would mean $330 just to renew my passport a bit quicker. I wondered if there were another way.

I called the State Department and asked if there were any rules that would prevent me from boarding a flight to Switzerland if my U.S. passport were to expire within 90 days. There are no such rules, I was told. I contacted Delta and asked them the same thing. I was told that they didn’t have any policy on the matter, and simply followed the advice of the Travel Security Administration. I then contacted the TSA and asked them the same thing. Once again, I was told that as long as my passport was valid, I would be allowed to travel.

Still, the entry & exit requirements on the State Department’s page caused me a bit of concern. But then I realized: this page states what Switzerland requires of visitors, not what the U.S. requires of departing travelers. My Swedish passport and Swiss residence permit are valid several more years; and because I’ll enter Switzerland using my Swedish passport, I should not have any problems at the border.

Being a dual citizen and a frequent international traveler is at times a bit challenging!

No comments: