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Open Travel Diary: 10 Must-ask Travel Document Questions

One of the first things you should think about in your travel planning process are your travel documents. Can I actually go on my trip with this passport? I know this might sound obvious, but I’ve seen this problem come up often enough to warrant a mention here.

Here are ten basic things to check in advance to make sure you don’t get any unexpected surprises at your port of travel. There’ll be enough of those anyway!

1. Check the validity of your passport. Most countries require at least 6 months remaining validity on your passport at the time of travel for entry permission.

2. What are the entry requirements? Do I need a visa?

3. How many pages are left in my passport? Do I have enough empty pages for entry/departure stamps and for the issuance of a visa if needed? Embassies/consulates usually specify how many pages need to be blank for the issuance of a visa, and it may be more than just the one you need for the visa itself! Some governments may allow you to pay for extra pages to be inserted.

4. If I do need a visa, can I get one on-arrival? Or do I need to arrange it in advance?

5. If I can get a visa on-arrival, do I need to produce anything to be eligible for it e.g. an onward plane ticket, a bank statement?

6. Do I need to pay for a visa on-arrival? If so, in what currency can I pay? Do I need to organize some money in the local currency before arrival?

7. If I need to get a visa issued in advance, what paperwork do I need to fill out or produce to get one?

8. Are there any time restrictions on usage of the visa e.g. it must be used within 3 months of issue? This will impact when you apply for the visa.

9. If your visa needs to be used within a short time period and you are planning a long trip, this may mean you need to apply for it on the road. If so, where can I apply for one? Are the requirements different than applying for a visa in my home country or current location?

10. Are there any restrictions on travel to the destination with a passport from my country? Or are there any special requirements that may not apply to other nationalities?

My current consideration is actually #3. My passport is basically full – a nice problem to have, I know! – and won’t suffice for our upcoming round-the-world trip. The issue is that I currently don’t live in my home country. I can, of course, apply for a new one at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, but then there is the consideration that my working visa would then be in my old passport and the problems this may create – entering Japan on one passport and trying to leave on another. After some research, I found out that even when an Australian passport is cancelled in Japan for the sake of issuing a new one, it doesn’t cancel the entry permissions. You then need to have your visa transferred to your new passport or bring both the old and new passport to the airport when departing.

However, there is the fact that Japan has recently changed its immigration policies regarding foreigners and that all new visa holders will need to apply for a “Residence Card” which will act as entry and work permission i.e. no visa in your passport. So if I change my passport and in any case need to update this information at the Immigration Office, do I need to transfer to this new Residence Card rather than staying on my still valid “Alien Registration Card”?

Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically Japan is in a transition phase in the way it deals with foreign residents and because I was already here before the changes, I don’t need to do anything for now. Throwing a spanner in the works by changing my passport would require a lot of running around – at least two visits to the Australian Embassy (or at least visits to the post office and having to send originals of important documents) and at least two to the Immigration Office, neither of which are conveniently located for us. Not to mention the possibility of having to unnecessarily abandon my current “Alien Registration Card” (ARC) for the new “Residence Card”. Or at the very least, having to update my current ARC with the new passport details at the City Hall.

We are planning to fly back to Australia for a short time before our departure to leave some of our things and visit family and friends, so I have decided to apply for a new passport there, which usually takes about two weeks. The reason I was originally thinking of getting a new passport while still in Japan was because we are wanting to book at least our initial flight out of Australia to South-east Asia with more time to spare than as we are packing our backpacks. There is usually a fee for changing the name on a ticket and I wondered if that extended to other details like travel document number. However, after consideration of all the factors, I have decided that it will be much easier to book a ticket with my current passport number, go back to Australia and get a new passport, and then call the airline to change my travel document number before departure. If there is a fee for this, then so be it, and it will be far less than the cost and hassle of having to change my passport in advance here in Japan.

I am sharing this background information with you so you can understand how we came to the decision. I want Open Travel Diary to give insight into the thought processes behind travel, rather than just reporting on our plans. Everyone’s travel decisions will be different based on their own situation. The key is to be informed on your situation and the options available to you, and asking yourself the questions that will ultimately lead you to making the right decisions for your plans.

Do you have any travel document experiences or tips to share? We’d love you to share it with us and our travel community! Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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RTW Travel Update: Let's Talk Passports - Notes of Nomads

Sunday 2nd of February 2014

[…] You may remember me saying in a previous Open Travel Diary that after consideration of a variety of factors that I had decided to apply for a new passport (as my current one is basically full) when we go back to Australia (we’ll be headed there for an interim period before setting out on our RTW adventure proper). If you didn’t read that post which also includes 10 Must-ask Travel Document Questions you should ask yourself before your next trip, you can do so here. […]


Wednesday 31st of July 2013

Getting all your paperwork in order is probably the most BORING thing about traveling, but you're exactly right: SO important! I'm currently waiting for my new 10-year passport (yes Canada finally has joined the 10-year club) and I hope it will help me avoid at least the expiration issue.

Jessica Korteman

Tuesday 6th of August 2013

Hi Heather,

Yes, it can be really boring. Although depending on what the task is and the degree of hassle, sometimes it just makes me excited about the adventures to come.

Canada didn't have 10-year passports before? Were they only 5? Glad that you have more time to play with in any case. Where do you plan to head first on your new passport?


Wednesday 3rd of April 2013

I am in the middle of planning a long SE Asian trip beginning next year and have been knee deep in visa research for months now! It can be complicated to say the least (especially if you want to stay for a longer period of time or are planning to work). Your tips here are good food for thought though and I thoroughly agree with your thoughts on sharing the reasons behind your decisions (as opposed to just telling people what you did). I'm going to check the number of pages in my passport right now! ;-)

Jessica Korteman

Wednesday 3rd of April 2013

There's certainly a lot to think about! Good on you for being so organized. While we can't always plan for everything, you'll be saving yourself many headaches already for sure.

I'm glad you like the concept of Open Travel Diary - we want it to be exactly the way it sounds: open and honest about the practicalities of travel and to include the notes that may seem small or very detailed, but we hope they will help others make decisions that are right (or at least more informed ones) for their own adventures.

Do you know where you'll be headed first?

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Thursday 31st of January 2013

Many times it happens or such small mistakes occur and the result of them is rigorous. Like your visa has 2 months validity left and the place you are visiting requires minimum 6 month validity. So you will not be able to visit it. While booking your room in a hotel, you need some identity proof, so carry such important documents with you.

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