When You Realize Your Passport Expired… At Immigration

Filed Under: Travel

While I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit scatter-brained, I’m generally quite good when it comes to remembering “important” travel related things.

As I’ve explained before, I’m fortunate to have dual citizenship, as I have both a US and German passport. I’ve explained the benefits of having an EU passport in the past, including things like:

  • It allows me to enter many European countries using the automated kiosks, which saves me a lot of time; if nothing else, the EU line is typically shorter than the line for other passports
  • There are some countries which require visas as an American, but not as a German, so it allows me to avoid some visas; for example, I don’t need a visa to visit Brazil


Anyway, I just flew Singapore Airlines from New York to Frankfurt, so yesterday morning I was clearing immigration in Germany. The process of clearing immigration in the EU is super simple. In some countries they literally just glance at your passport and wave you through, while in other countries they quickly scan your passport, which takes all of two seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked a question before. Until yesterday.

The immigration officer asked (in German):

“Where are you coming from?”
“New York.”
“How were you able to go to the US?”
“Sorry, what do you mean? I live there.”
“Your passport is expired.”

Whoops! The worst part? My German passport had been expired for about two months and I hadn’t even noticed. He still waved me through without issue.

Good thing I was only trying to enter Germany, and not a country where I was counting on a visa waiver due to my German passport.

As much as I hate paperwork, I’m sort of excited about getting a new German passport, since I think it has the worst picture of me ever (and I’ve taken a lot of bad pictures).

Have you ever completely overlooked your passport expiration date?

  1. Whew! I hope your brought your US Passport with you just in case! If you did, did the officer ask to see it?

  2. I thought you were going to say you whipped out your US passport and said, “well how about this one instead?” 😉

    I heard some places want six months left on your passport to enter (true?) so I already renewed although it didn’t expire until early next year.

    PS I am enjoying the multi-part Maldives trip report! (Ignore those who don’t appreciate the comprehensive recap.)

  3. I’m fortunate enough to have two passports too and find it very convenient for the reasons you mentioned. I have set up calendar events in my Google calendar to remind me to renew my passports 6 months before they expire. Having said that, I filled my previous passport with stamps way before then.

  4. Fun read – thanks!

    Curious about traveling as a dual-citizen of USA and a EU country. Any good writeups about this that you know of? I never use my EU passport to travel but I’d like to.

  5. Unless they suspect of something, you if you are a national of one of the member countries you can enter the Schengen area with ID expired up to 6 months.

  6. Decades ago US passports were only good for a very short time, maybe 3 years and could be extended to five years. Anyway, when I was 10 we were admitted to Germany with expired passports. When we tried to leave they had increased security because of a rash of hijackings. We were busted. Some serious looking uniformed German men escorted us to a little room with no windows. Eventually we made contact with the US Consolate and were released. We were reissued US passports and cleared to leave about 3 days later.

  7. My brother had a similar issue in Zurich on his way from SFO. Me and most of my family are US/Norwegian dual citizens. He was let through two times on an unknowingly expired passport into the EU (Oslo Gardermoen) before Zurich stopped him. Fortunately (like you) he was going to the EU passports country of origin so upon landing in Oslo he immediately applied for a new passport

  8. I am going to Dubai in Sept and my passport is expiring in March . They need a 6 month validity for them to let me enter their country . Dont have enuf time to renew my passport as Indian passports take abt 8 weeks for renewal . I am also stopping in Paris for 5 days . Got the tickets in mistake fares of etihad . Did not know that all this is costing me more now . Shud i just try to go with the current passport ?

  9. @ Aps — It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to go without issue if your passport isn’t valid for six months. I’d maybe see if there’s a way you can expedite the passport for a fee? I’m sure such an option is available.

  10. @ Peter — Thanks for the kind words! And yep, many (maybe even most?) places require six months of passport validity.

  11. @ Joey — I sure did (need it to get back into the US, after all), though he didn’t ask to see it.

  12. Not quite related, but if you were to move to Germany (Munich in particular) would you prefer to credit your flying to UA or LH Miles & More? I assume Air Berlin/AA wouldn’t make sense.

  13. My mother is a Swedish citizen with a US green card. She had been in Sweden for a few months and didn’t realize her passport had expired. Amazingly, the airline let her fly to the US and, more amazingly, US immigration let her through without any question.

  14. @Aps – You will not be able to fly. I work for an int’l airline in SEA, and we refuse to let people fly for even 89 day validity (instead of 90) for those going to Europe. You’d be required to change your booking dates or get a new passport. We even had to deny a HON (Sure Ben knows what a HON is…) because his passport was expiring 2 months after arriving in DEU. However, my managers say that it even if DEU passports are expired, German citizens can always go back home. So, I’m not surprised Ben was able to enter Germany. Of course, you’d want to check with the government or timatic (http://www.staralliance.com/en/services/visa-and-health/), but I haven’t had a case like that at check-in yet. Usually people have non expired passports when they go back home.

  15. I’m not sure I understand his first question, why would he care how were you able to go to the US if you had an unexpired US passport? Shouldn’t his initial question have been “How do you expect to enter Germany with an expired EU passport”?

    Maybe I’m just missing something here in the details.

  16. I can top your pass issue 🙂
    I also have dual citizenship (Israel and Germany) and years ago I had the paper green german pass (for children under 21), during my travels my passport got ripped into two pieces, you should have seen the look on the face of the immigration officer in MUC when I handed him my pass in two pieces. I still laugh about it today.

  17. @ Mitch Cumstein — Presumably he thought I had entered the US with an expired German passport, hence the confusion. Apparently you can still enter the EU with an expired EU passport, as long as it’s within a few months.

  18. @ Stannis — It all depends on the routes and fare classes I usually fly, and if I fly enough to earn status.

  19. Sound like for everyone that responded that got away with it, if you use an expired passport to enter the country that issued it, they let you do it since you are a citizen, if after some questions.Trying to enter another country with an expired passport is what won’t work.

    I have 3 passports. I’ve accidentally let one expire once but I’ve never tried to travel on it.

  20. A quick scan of Lucky’s headlines…
    …passport hiccup, moving on (boring topic)…
    …oh fun, I can start a fight over Security Theatre in another thread…
    …something nagging me subconsciously…
    …maybe I’ll go back for a moment to that other thread (what was it about? oh yeah, passport expiry)…
    … what a doofus Ben is! Too much Veuve Cliquot, probably. traveliing on an expired passport! My “go to” travel blogger making such a simple mistake I would nev…

    (post truncated. suddenly called away for an important, unforeseen um uh…)

  21. Ben, they let you in because you’re German and were trying to re-enter Germany. It probably would have worked somewhere else in Schengen as well, maybe with more of a lecture on getting a new passport. It’d be the same in the US with an expired US passport, except CBP would probably give you a longer lecture. A country’s citizens (generally) have the right to go home, and an expired passport doesn’t mean expired citizenship, even if you get yelled at in the process.

    Do you use gmail? Set calendar reminders. This is fresh on my mind because I picked up my Italian passport yesterday, so the 10 year clock started ticking again. And since I never take my own advice, I’m not sure when my US passport expires. 🙂

  22. The advantage of holding only one passport is that when I’m within a year of expiration, every check in desk and every TSA document officer reminds me how long I have left. It helps always to use the passport as ID: I don’t carry a motor vehicle operator license.

    I’ve considered renewing my passport exclusively abroad. It’s very inconvenient to need to wait six weeks without being able to leave the country while it gets processed locally. For US citizens, you have to give up the old passport in advance before they’ll even start issuing you a new one. But embassies on foreign soil often can process the job in one day.

  23. As German citizen, you can always enter Germany, even if your passport or national ID card is expired, if you are a dual citizen, you actually HAVE to present your German ID, when you enter the country. So lucky having a U.S. passport won’t do the trick.

  24. Good one Ben, it made for fun reading and a good laugh. I too am dual citizen, and while I was visiting Brazil during the World Cup last year, my passport expired. I got it renewed locally and I gained a new perspective on how efficient the whole process turned out, quite surprised may I add. BTW YES, we will need to see your picture on that expired passport! 😛

  25. How long will it take to renew your passport? Will you have to stay in Germany while it is being renewed?

  26. a pax at SFO last week was given a hard time at checkin (going I believe to Germany, or possibly Spain) – the agent said that she had to have 6 months’ validity on her passport – 1 of my colleagues at Travelers Information took her down to US Customs and Border Patrol to see if they could help – and indeed they did! they escorted the lady back to the counter to explain that only a select few countries (aka ‘the six month club’) have this requirement – and Germany and Spain are not in that club – lady was given her boarding pass without further ado (I personally do renew my passports well before 6 months just in case I get an invitation to an exotic location)

  27. Do you always travel on your German passport? Is your German accent flawless? For all my travel internationally I must enter my US passport info online. That’s a pretty good reminder about the expiration date. It bugs me because all of that is in my profile for airlines I fly.

  28. @ john — I typically use my US passport for most of my travel, unless there’s an advantage to using my EU passport (avoiding visas, entering the EU, etc.).

  29. My Canadian passport expired… And I realized that the night before US trip (land crossing). US border crossing did their usual spiel of looking though and sounding terrifying, and scanned all 4 passports (spouse + 2 kids) through some form of passport machine. I expected all blinking red lights for my expired passport, but… Nothing.
    Even worse, coming back a week later, even Canadian border guard did not notice. If you want to appear as totally innocent, lowly citizen, just borrow somebody’s kids and you can cross any Can-US crossing.

  30. Thanks to this post I was going to put a reminder on my calendar 6 months before my US (and only) passport’s expiration only to be surprised to see it had expired a few months ago. Ooops! Another urgent item on my to-do list…

  31. my sleepless in the U.S. is over upon reading your comments.been here in the U.S. with an expired passport and wasn’t granted to renew by that time it was not due yet but because I can’t show papers that I am not an American citizen which I have to get one at the immigration office I was not able to renew my German passport before it expired!!!

  32. How on earth did they let you through? Just today I made the same mistake and my passport had expired a week ago and they didn’t let me through.

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