Q: Is there really a law that requires that my U.S. passport be valid for six months after I travel to a foreign country? If so, what law is it, who applies it and what happens if a client doesn't obey it? Could a travel agency be liable for failing to warn a client that his passport must be valid for six months? If so, has a travel agency ever actually been found liable for such negligence?
A: Each country has its own entry requirements for U.S. citizens. The laws or policies of some countries do indeed require that a passport be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.
Other countries, including most of those in Europe, require three months' validity from the planned date of departure from the country, and others have no law or policy on the subject at all. Finally, to confuse matters, there are sometimes differing rules on different but authoritative websites.
The U.S. State Department lists the entry requirements of each country here, by searching by country name, but there is no actual list of countries. The best lists I have found are here, which lists six-month rule countries, three-month rule countries and even a few one-month rule countries.
Immigration authorities in each country are tasked with enforcing the laws. In at least one reported case, Panama put an incoming U.S. citizen in jail until the airline agreed to fly him home.
The traveler sued the airline for negligence in failing to advise him about Panama's six-month rule. As far as I can tell, the case is still pending, but I think the plaintiff has a good case for negligence.
Airlines try to enforce the rules of each destination country, either because they are required by law to do so or because they don't want to take you home when you are denied entry. Out of an abundance of caution, some airlines probably adopt a uniform rule requiring every U.S. passport to have at least six months left.
To complicate matters, if you are visiting multiple countries, ticket-counter agents in your second destination country may enforce the entry rules of your third destination country. In another reported case, a U.S. traveler ended up stuck in Russia because Aeroflot agents refused to allow her to travel to France because she had less than three months left before her planned departure from France.
Travel agencies have a legal duty to advise their clients about important information that the clients would not necessarily be expected to find out on their own. Although there are no reported cases against travel agencies on passport-expiration issues, I am certain that a judge or jury would decide that the duty would include providing such information.
However, it would be unrealistic to expect every agent at every agency to know every country's foreign entry requirements. Therefore, I recommend that you put a highlighted general statement in your confirmations or an email signature.
Here are three examples from my files:
- "Please note, a valid passport is now required for all travel outside the U.S. A 'valid' passport is defined as one that expires more than 6 (six) months from the date of a passenger's return."
- "When traveling internationally, passports are required. Make sure that you have at least six months on your passport after your return date to the U.S."
- "Many countries require your passport to be valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Please take a moment to verify the expiration date of your passport now to allow time to renew prior to departure if necessary."