How to Avoid Having Your Passport Stolen

March 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Stolen passports present problems for the individual who lost it, but can have bigger issues surrounding national security. They are the biggest target of identity theft and have been linked to major crimes including drugs, illegal travel, and even terrorism. In fact, it’s such a major concern that U.S. State Department officials won’t say how many passports are stolen annually due to national security concerns.

Photo of a U.S. passport. Do you know your passport expiration date?The Travel Channel tells us how we can keep our passports safe and secure when we travel.

First, before you even leave town, make a copy of your passport and leave it with a trusted person who appreciates the need for its security. They can always fax the copy to the U.S. embassy in your destination country, should the need arise. Additionally, a scanned copy in your phone is a good idea, provided your phone is password protected and secure.

Keep your hands on it. While it’s tempting to put it down “for just a second,” it’s easy to forget or someone could walk away with it. As soon as you’re finished with it, put it away.

You can put it into your bag. Our Platinum® Elite and Crew™ bags have RFID protected pockets that will store your passport to protect against loss and identity theft by rogue RFID scanners.

Wherever you do put it, make sure it has a zipper or something that ensures it closes tightly. Another idea is to conceal it in a special passport cover that doesn’t identify what’s inside. You’ll want to avoid using open pockets, like jacket pockets, which offer sticky fingers easy access.

Alternatively, you can protect your passport by keeping it in a flat wallet that hangs from your neck or over your shoulder. Just be sure it has a securing cable which would prevent snatching. Another option is a money wallet that’s hidden under your clothes. You loop it onto your belt and tuck it into your pants.

The downside? Retrieving it means going to a place for privacy, like a bathroom. If you stash your passport in a money belt or wallet, don’t let anyone see it when you’re handling the cash. These options do reduce your chances of it being grabbed.

A standard scheme for pickpockets is to jostle you or accidentally spill a drink on you, take advantage of the moment, and snatch your wallet or passport. If you do get bumped, refuse help, move away quickly, and clean up later.

Another “safe’ idea is to use the room safe in your hotel to store your passport. If there isn’t one, a TSA-approved travel lock can secure your valuable in your suitcase. While it may not be ideal, it is better than nothing, and it reduces the possibility of the impulse grab.

If you are asked to produce your passport, make sure you’re dealing with proper authorities and not someone posing as an official. Not sure if they’re legit? Look for official identification, such as a badge or photo id. If you’re not sure, say you’ll go to the nearest police station and show your passport there. Should you ultimately turn it over, keep your eyes on it at all times.

Despite all precautions, you and your passport could be separated. If this happens, immediately notify the U.S. Department of State or the local U.S. embassy in the country you’re visiting. Once it’s reported lost or stolen, the passport becomes invalid. Should you locate it, it can’t be used for future international travel. A form is needed for a replacement which can be obtained on the State Department’s website. And this is where your trusted friend can also fax or email the photocopy you left with them before you left. (Aren’t you glad you listened to us?)

How do you keep your passport safe? Do you have any special tips or suggestions? Was your passport stolen? How did you recover? Share your stories and experiences on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Passport Expiration Dates Can Impact You More Than You Think

July 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A little-known fact about international travel could snarl your plans or bring them to an abrupt halt if you don’t pay attention to it. Just like you read labels for expiration dates, you need to know your passport expiration date.

Turns out, many countries around the world, with the exception of the European nations, require passports to be valid for six months or more before your entry date. The restriction may apply to your date of entry or your planned date of departure. That is, if you’re flying home from Spain on December 31, your passport can’t expire after June 30.

Twenty-six European countries follow a lesser known law called the Schengen Agreement which allows you to enter their sovereignties, provided three months’ validity remains on your passport beyond your planned date of departure. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, no minimum validity is enforced.

Photo of a U.S. passport. Do you know your passport expiration date?The best way to know which countries have which rules is to check the U.S. Department of State’s website. It has a menu of country-by-country details.

Another thing to keep in mind when traveling with children is that their passports are only good for five years instead of 10. For one family, their son’s passport expiration date completely derailed a long-planned trip to Spain.

They were just two hours from departure when an American Airlines representative told them their son couldn’t board the plane because his passport was due to expire. Turns out a valid passport isn’t always a valid passport.

How can you keep this from happening to you? Follow these guidelines as you plan your next international excursion:

  • Check your destination country’s passport validation rules before you plan your itinerary. Do what you need to do if your passport will expire close to the country’s expiration date. Don’t try to slip through unnoticed, because they’re looking out for it.
  • Check every person’s passport expiration date before you book your flights. Remember that children’s passports expire every five years, so our best advice is to go ahead and apply for updated documents for any that will expire within the year you plan to go abroad.
  • Book your flights with points so you’ll have options. The family in the story above had purchased their flights with miles, so they were able to get their flights refunded. But if they had waited to get them refunded until after the flight had taken off, they would’ve forfeited them and the points. Ouch.

The family in question was able to rebook their flights and used points to put together a last-minute trip stateside. They learned their lesson, so let their experience be a cautionary tale.

Have you ever had passport issues when you travel? Any big problems or narrow-misses? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Five Tips for Getting Your Passport and Avoiding Headaches

May 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Passport applications and renewals are surging at an all-time high, so if you’ve been meaning to renew your old passport or need to apply for a new one, we’d like to give you some tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The reason for the surge dates back to 2007, when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative of 2007 required all those traveling to the United States from other countries to show a valid passport or approved documentation. This changed from the days when US citizens could travel between Canada and Mexico with just their driver’s licenses. In 2007, 18 million passports were issued, and now all those are approaching or have exceeded their 10-year issuance limit.

Another reason for the record number of applications and renewals is the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of phase four of the REAL ID Act. Beginning January 18, 2018, a driver’s license was no longer sufficient identification for boarding an airplane if the state didn’t comply with the mandated standards set by the DHS.

So, how can you get that little blue book in the shortest time possible so you don’t encounter any travel headaches? Here are our five tips.

Photo of a U.S. passport1. What should be obvious by now is this: don’t wait until the last minute to start. If you have a few months before your trip, that may not be enough time. Expediting is possible, but due to the glut of applications and renewal requests, don’t push your luck.

2. For you procrastinators, there is a service you can pay to handle the process for you. Called govWorks, it exists to change the way people interface with federal and foreign governments. The company can accelerate processing for travel visas, passports, and other travel documents by facilitating access to a customer’s information from a secure platform.

govWorks CEO Adam Boalt said, “Many countries will not accept a passport with less than six months of remaining validity. If possible, you should get a passport renewal at least nine months before it expires.”

3. If you travel internationally frequently, consider applying for a 52-page passport. Many people aren’t even aware this is an option, but that almost doubling in capacity can really come in handy when each country requires two stamps for entry and exit from its state. When a page can only accommodate four stamps, the standard 28-page booklet can fill quickly.

4. If you plan to travel with your children and live in a state that is currently out of compliance with the REAL ID Act, get passports for yourself and your children. Keep in mind that children’s passports aren’t issued for the same length of time as adult passports. They are only good for five years and will be required for children who travel with their parents in the continental US if their parents don’t have REAL ID-compliant documentation from their state.

5. Consider having two passports. Boalt confirmed it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to simultaneously hold two valid passports. “Some countries reject passports that contain visa stamps from certain other countries, such as traveling into Israel if you have a stamp from Saudi Arabia. Second passports are also helpful for frequent travelers who might need to apply for multiple visa applications on an ongoing basis,” Boalt said.

Bonus: Finally, don’t assume a passport is all you need to travel to certain destinations. Thoroughly investigate all necessary documentation before planning an itinerary. If you don’t, your biggest travel headache could occur at the airport gate when you are turned away because you lack the appropriate travel visa. To help travelers avoid this frustration, Boalt created Travel Visa, a division of govWorks. Do some investigating and make sure you have what you need before you ever leave the house,

Are you an international traveler? Do you have any passport success stories or horror stories? What have you done to get your passport renewed? Share your tales with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Do You Live in a State that Will Require Alternate ID to Fly in 2020?

December 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you live in one of 24 states, your state-issued driver’s license may not get you on a flight, even for domestic travel, starting on October 10, 2020, and you may need an alternate ID like a passport.

In 2005, Congress passed The REAL ID Act, which was the standardization of the nation’s issuing of state identification to limit terrorism. Although it has been 12 years since its enactment, and the latest extension deadline expired October 10, 2017, nearly half of the United States are still grappling with how to comply with the mandated standards for issuing state IDs.

The only way around this law is if you have a valid passport or other valid alternate ID; then you’re able to fly, regardless of your state’s compliance with REAL ID.

A REAL ID sign at a U.S. airport. If you don't have a REAL ID, you'll need an alternate ID instead, like a passport.This could impact millions of Americans’ access to air travel is because the legislation makes it illegal for those who operate federal facilities to accept non-compliant, state-issued identification to access federal agencies, enter nuclear power plants, or board federally regulated aircraft. This means that the TSA cannot allow those with non-compliant IDs to board federally regulated airplanes because their states have not met the Act’s “minimum standards.”

Those minimum standards require states to incorporate technology into its cards that makes them nearly impossible to counterfeit. States must also prove that they conduct background checks on all personnel who issue driver’s licenses on its behalf. These standards have raised issues in many states about personal privacy. But with the final stage of implementation affecting residents’ ability to travel by air, most states have scrambled to submit applications for extensions.

The final stage of implementation begins January 22, 2018. States that are already in compliance will not be impacted by this date, and those states with an active or “under review” extension won’t be penalized.

If you want to know if you live in one of the 24 states that are not compliant, check out this article in the Washington Post. If you don’t want to hold a federally approved ID, there are 15 other forms of alternate ID that TSA will accept when you travel.

Are you in a state that is already compliant, or are you in one of the 24 affected states? How will you cope if your state doesn’t comply before the deadline? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Some states still require an alternate ID.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Light green states have asked for an extension, dark green are in compliance.

Photo credit (REAL ID airport sign): Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)
Photo credit (REAL ID compliance map): Kurykh (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Passport Expiring? Better Get it Renewed, Fast!

April 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Procrastinators, beware! The State Department wants you to check your passport expiration and submit it now to avoid the expected flood of renewals of the 10-year document. They’re anticipating a surge in demand because 2006 was the first year the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, requiring Americans flying to and from Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean to produce a passport for re-entry into the country.

A biometric US passport

A biometric US passport

There has also been an increase in renewal activity due to the implementation of the Real ID Act, which creates a more stringent set of standards for travelers using driver’s licenses and other identity cards to board a plane.

To clarify, the Department of Homeland Security has set a January 22, 2018 deadline for states to comply with the changes instituted by the Real ID Act. A passport will serve as a viable alternative to either forms of identification for those traveling after the deadline from non-compliant states.

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Dublin Airport Installs Self-Service Biometric Gates

April 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever stood in line at an immigration checkpoint, whether you’re entering another country or returning to your own, you know how long they can take — up to an hour or more, depending on the time of day.

So what if you could pass through an immigration point in seconds or minutes, instead of an hour or more?

Closeup - automated immigration checkpoint

Closeup – automated immigration checkpoint (Photo credit: ttstam)

A pilot test at Ireland’s Dublin Airport (no pun intended) is currently allowing about 1,000 passengers each day to pass through automatic immigration gates. SITA’s iBorders biometric gates use facial recognition to match your face to your passport and verify that you are able to enter the country, taking only about 7.5 seconds to get through. This is much faster than having a human look at you and your passport photo to make a comparison.

The new automated border control gates allow for more efficiency and stronger border control. Human error is ruled out and the system is more secure. While paper passports can be forged, facial recognition cannot unless you go through extensive plastic surgery or happen to be Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

This pilot program is testing the suitability of this system on immigration control and security. If the program goes well, the gate system might make it across the globe and you may be seeing it in an airport near you. This system may even save you the headache of long lines going through immigration next time you travel internationally. And there is even the potential of going through border control even faster than going through security, which has never been a possibility before.

Automated Passport Control Installed at Montréal-Trudeau

December 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you have flown internationally more than once, you’ve likely found yourself tied up in a frustratingly long customs line upon arriving at your destination. Between having to fill out customs forms and wait while dozens of people in front of you are questioned by customs officials, there is a good chance you will find yourself waiting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour in order to officially enter your destination country. Now, some airports are attempting to fix this issue through the use of a new Automated Passport Control (APC) program.

The APC kiosks – which were developed by the Vancouver Airport Authority and U.S. Customs and Border Protection – were first tested in Vancouver International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport with great success. Designed to help travelers move more quickly through the border clearance process by entering information at a self-service kiosk, the APC can be used by all U.S. and Canadian passport holders.

Passport US

Passport US (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the touch screen self-service kiosk, travelers will be prompted to answer a series of questions. Once finished, a receipt will be issued and travelers will present their passport, travel information and receipt to an officer for verification.

Dylan DeFrancisci, Director of Customers and Border Protection Preclearance Operations, told “Automated Passport Control is a key component of CBP’s modernization strategy at ports of entry. By allowing travelers the option to enter their own passport and identification information at the self-service kiosk, we are able to increase efficiency while enhancing security.”

At O’Hare Airport, the average U.S. Customs wait time during peak hours was reduced by 33% and the number of passengers waiting for more than 60 minutes has dropped by 58% and the number of passengers missing their connecting flights fell by 31%. Thanks to its success, the Automated Passport Control program has been expanded to several more airports throughout North America, including the Montréal-Trudeau Airport.

We’d love to hear your feedback! Do you think these kiosks are a step in the right direction, or do you feel the traditional customs clearance method is best? If you’ve had opportunity to use one of the new Automated Passport Control kiosks, how was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below, or via our Facebook page.