MANHATTAN BEACH (CBSLA.com) — Monte Carlo. Vatican City. Amalfi Coast. Rome.
It was supposed to be the ultimate European vacation for Clark and Jill Soderlund from Manahattan Beach, along with four other couples.
“We’d been planning the trip for a good 12 months, 10 of us all together leaving Los Angeles,” Soderlund said.
The plan was to fly to Paris and then on to Nice, just a stone’s throw way from Monte Carlo, where they had VIP passes to attend the Monaco Grand Prix.
“It’s sort of a bucket list kind of thing, and I know I’ll never get back to see the race,” said Soderlund.
But just prior to boarding their flight at LAX, the Soderlunds hit a roadblock at check-in.
“Get up to the gate agent, and she just looks at our passport, starts shaking her head, and after calling over her supervisor determined we’re not going to be traveling that day with those passports,” he said.
The problem? The Soderlunds were traveling in late May and returning the first week of June. Their passports weren’t expiring until late August, but France requires passports to be valid and extra six months beyond your return date, a shock to the Soderlunds.
“It was like being punched in the gut,” Soderlund said. “Prior to travel, I was on the airline website. I punched in my passport number, I punched in my passport expiration date, and at no point did I get any alert at all on the website that I couldn’t travel on the passport.”
Travel expert Johnny Jet says several countries require your passport to be valid an extra three to six months beyond your return date. China, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Netherlands all require the extra six-month timeframe.
And the reason? An unexpected extended stay in that country.
“Let’s say you’re in an accident and all of a sudden you’re in a hospital for a few months,” Jet says. “They don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t have a valid passport.”
Jet advises travelers to check the U.S. State Department website for entry requirements on any foreign nation prior to your departure.
And if you’re stuck in the same situation as the Soderlunds? Jet says head straight to the passport office at the closest federal building and call to make an appointment.
“Usually, they’re going to require at least eight days, but there are times when you can show up early in the morning and you’ll get it by 5 p.m.,” according to Jet.
“We filled out our paperwork and about … four hours later amazingly enough we walked out of the federal building with passports,” Soderlund said.
The Soderlunds were fortunate. Their airline got them on the a flight to Paris the next morning with enough time to get to Monaco for the race, but the passport snafu will always be a nightmare.
“Don’t let it happen to you,” he says. “It’s really miserable.”
While oftentimes airlines will work to find another flight for you if you can manage to get a new passport quickly, Jet recommends buying travel insurance that covers every type of circumstance, including passport problems.