Q: Planning to go to Italy in May 2011. My passport expires shortly after. Should I get it renewed before I go? What are the guidelines on this? Thanks.
Steve Vitale, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: You should absolutely renew your passport before May, Steve. Many countries require that your passport does not expire for a certain period of time after your departure, usually six months. U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. However, your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond your stay. For many other countries the requirement states that your passport cannot expire within six months of your trip, so to be safe I would recommend renewing your passport if it will expire in this time frame, even if the specific country you are visiting requires less. You can be stopped at the border or not allowed on a flight if you disregard these regulations.
Check out the State Department website at travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html to see passport and visa requirements for all countries. This resource also gives information on things you should be aware of when traveling in the country, travel warnings, health information and more.
If you don't realize until the last minute that your passport expires in less than six months there are a couple things you can do to try to save your vacation. If possible, still try to renew your passport. Processing normally takes the State Department 10 weeks, but in the offseason months you might get it faster. They also offer an expedited service that can get you a renewed passport in two weeks — however, this will cost you an additional $60.
If you're really in a bind there are a few private providers who can deliver your renewed passport in as little as one business day. It's Easy Passport & Visa Services (www.itseasy.com) and ZVS (www.zvs.com) are two such agencies. Their services are quite pricey, but it's worth it to save a trip! If all else fails, contact the country's embassy to request a special visa that will allow you to still travel. This might not work, but it's a good last resort.
Some countries also require that you have two to four blank pages in your passport, so double check before leaving. You can always order more to be added in.
As a general rule, always look into passport regulations early when planning international travel. You don't want your trip to be ruined by a last minute realization that your passport isn't valid!