The case of an easyJet passenger bound for Cyprus who was turned away at Gatwick airport has highlighted the confusion, even among airlines, around the validity of passports with only a few months or weeks left before expiry.
The airline maintains that it is not turning away passengers travelling to Cyprus with less than three months left on their passport. It says a publicised case – where traveller Jonathan Rickard missed a friend’s wedding after being turned away at the airport despite having eight weeks before his passport expired – was a one-off and down to human error. "One of our staff made a mistake," said easyJet spokesperson Paul Moore. "It was just one passenger who was turned away. We hold our hands up to this and the passenger will be refunded."
EasyJet says it reminds passengers to check that their travel documents are "in order" before travelling, but many travellers do not think to check their passport’s expiry date. Most believe that if a passport is valid for the duration of their trip, they will be free to travel – unless their destination requires an additional visa.
So, should we be concerned about our passport’s remaining lifespan?
The advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth office website is brief. On the page giving advice on travel to Cyprus (which easyJet’s employee would have been wise to check), it says: "For stays of up to three months your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you do not need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this."
A spokesperson for the European Commission adds further clarification: "As an EU citizen, you should always be able to cross the border with a valid national identity card or passport. It does not need to have validity of at least another three months. If the travel document is valid, you are in the clear."
But what if your passport is due to expire the very next day? The European Commission says: "Even in the extreme example mentioned, of expiry the very next day, you could still use your national ID card (where issued) to travel back." In the case of countries, such as the UK, that don’t have ID cards, you would have to contact your nearest embassy for a new or temporary passport. Naturally, this is not a good idea and you should plan ahead.
Outside the EU, things can get a little more tricky. Some countries do, indeed, insist on travellers having a minimum of three or six months left on their passport.
Countries that require UK passport holders to have six months of validity left on their passport from the date of entry into the country include Brazil, Ecuador, Turkey, Tunisia and Israel.
To enter New Zealand as a tourist, you should have a passport valid for a minimum of one month from the date of exit, and you must have an onward ticket.
For South Africa, your passport should be valid for a minimum of 30 days from the date of exit from South Africa. South African authorities also officially state that travellers need have only one blank passport page remaining, but some officials insist on two blank pages. The FCO suggests you have at least two blank pages in your passport on arrival.
The number of remaining blank pages a passport should have is also an issue. Some travellers have reported arriving with one or less than one full page left and waiting for hours at immigration, until an official reluctantly grants them entry. The FCO lists no hard and fast rules because, in many cases, there aren’t any.
EasyJet says it does flag up certain issues (such as the need for a visa for Brits to travel to Russia), but says ultimate responsibility lies with the traveller and the airline will always strictly adhere to the rules, or it faces a fine.
For a smooth passage, it is wise to check the situation in advance on the FCO website’s country-by-country guide: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. And if you’re travelling outside the EU, don’t cut it fine when it comes to passport renewal.
A home office spokesperson said: "If you are going to a country where you need a visa, you should find out during the application process how many blank pages you need."
But not all embassies hand out this information readily, and few travellers are aware of the requirements.
Have you ever had a problem at an airport or border control because of your passport’s expiry date or the number of free pages? Let us know in the comments below.