Dear Yanni...Do I need to get my passport renewed?
tl;dr: In this week's column, Yanni discusses preparing for international travel and hitting the road with elderly parents.
In this week's column, Yanni discusses preparing for international travel and hitting the road with elderly parents.
I’ve got an international business trip coming up, and it’s my first time traveling abroad in a few years. What should I know about international travel before I go? Do I need to get my passport renewed? Is a Visa necessary? Help!
- Anxious in Austin
TL;DR: If your passport is expiring in under a year, it’s best to get it renewed before you travel internationally. Different countries require different things (and they’re often changing) so do your homework early.
The general rule of thumb is keep your passport valid for at least six months from your intended return date from an international destination. So if your passport is expiring in under a year, it’s probably best to get it renewed if you’re planning to travel internationally. There are some exceptions to the six months. In general, the places that didn’t used to require a U.S. passport for travel before 2001, like most of the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada may only require a passport to be valid for the duration of one’s stay. I have traveled to both Canada and Bermuda with a passport set to expire in less than a month from the return date without incident, but it’s still a better practice to always have a passport with greater than 6 months of runway to expiration.
A passport is one thing, but don’t forget that there are often other requirements for travel that can lead to hiccups. For folks coming to the U.S., even from countries that have a visa-waiver (i.e. no visa is needed in advance of a visit), there is an ESTA required before travel, which also has a fee attached to it. But don’t hang your hat on having a U.S. passport as a rule for avoiding this abroad. Australia has its own protocol through the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), and you will be denied boarding a flight Down Under without it.
Finally, there are visas. Certain countries require them in advance, and this can often change. Many visas for U.S. citizens follow what is known as a reciprocity protocol, meaning that because we (the U.S.) make citizens of that country apply, pay for, and wait to be approved to visit the United States, those countries do the same. In many instances, this means getting a visa in advance, in others just paying upon arrival. This can be a bit of sticker shock, however. Take for example a place like Bolivia, which may be a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but will hit U.S. passport holders with a $160 fee to enter the country (the fee covers a visa valid for 10 years). Other countries have wavered on the visa waiver, like Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, which either made you pay the fee in advance and wait for a visa (Brazil) or stand in a special line at airports just to pay a reciprocity fee as a U.S. Citizen (Chile and Argentina). All of those countries now have no fee for up to 90 days of tourism or business travel.
Remember that a passport is not a guarantee of admission to any country. Each country has the right to charge a fee or deny entry given a validity period. Some have even more specific guidelines. Take Singapore, which requires at least two pages are blank in a passport book in addition to a passport being valid for six months. You can also get a passport card (which is also a form of Real ID for domestic travel) for travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, but it is only for land and sea crossings, not international travel, so never leave your passport at home if flying internationally. There isn’t a need to scour the internet for this information. The State Department maintains a robust one-stop-shop for U.S. passport holders at travel.state.gov. Pro tip: if you have multiple passports, always use the same passport for entry and exit from a country or zone (like the Schengen Area in Europe) as international law governs passport use in this way. I made this mistake entering and exiting Iceland once and was detained at Reykjavik airport (oops).
I’m hoping to bring my parents on a trip this spring, but they’re getting...older. Is there any age at which you’re too old to travel? Should I be concerned about their health and safety on the road?
- Cautious in Cleveland
TL;DR: You can never be too old to travel, but make sure you’re paying attention to the needs of each person and prepare as required.
You can never be too old to travel, and as we go through different stages of life, we may have more opportunities to travel. Age, in and of itself, is not the limiting factor. We all understand that mobility can be different at different ages and certain destinations or types of trips can be themselves limiting based on ability at any age. The important piece is to understand what one’s limitations are, and what destinations may present challenges.
I have been on and led multigenerational travel and tours across a variety of countries, experiences, and terrain. The most important component is to work with and understand the needs of each individual and prepare as required. Cruise companies are particularly good at describing some of their offshore excursions based on the physical needs required. For example, they may mention that stairs are involved or that there is a lot of walking. AirBnB homes are getting better at listing facilities that are on one level or accessible. As someone that has traveled with individuals with various physical limitations based not only on age, it just takes a little bit of planning and understanding. If someone needs a motorized wheelchair for example, which is an item one can’t easily travel with, it is often possible to rent it at a destination, but research and plan ahead. A good friend of mine with a disability brings along a placard that we’ll use to make sure we park near a destination or activity for her. When traveling with a grandparent, I’ve found that it’s most important to be mindful of and ask about needs. I may be hurried to get to a lounge at Heathrow and sign up for a massage and a shower, but it’s just as nice to slow down in a fast place like an airport and just enjoy tea and conversation as well. If pressed for time, plan ahead for wheelchair assist, or opt for a longer layover if that's an option.
Some folks naturally gravitate toward others nearest to their own age. This is okay, too. I have an uncle who is just shy of 100 and continues to go on group tours with retirees to faraway places like Nepal. Part of why he chooses this is because such groups are more open to going at a pace that can meet the needs of a particular group. Much like there are youth tours with commonalities shared at a particular age, the same can be said throughout life. The point here is don't sell anyone short based on age and don't rule out travel for you or anyone, but do take measures according to need for any age.