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Many countries require a passport to be valid for six months. Sometimes these six months are counted from the date of departure, or from the date of entrance. Even though some of these countries only legally allow you to stay for 30 days or three months. What is the reason such a requirement is in place in many countries?

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Because they can. 6 months is a good convenient period that means that in almost all cases your passport will be valid when you leave. Much shorter would mean that people with extensions exceptions etc may cause problems. This way there are very few misses. It costs them nothing to make the period longer than strictly necessary and minimises their prob;lems - what's not to like from their perspective? It also increases their revenue streams slightly overall if everyone does this. NZ now has a 5 year passport life. Changing this to 4.5 years effectively increases renewals by about 11%. –  Russell McMahon Jan 6 at 0:02
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Yes, but it's not NZ insisting that our passports be valid for 6 months more, it's the countries we're visiting. NZ requires visiting people to have 1 month free after the tourist visa expires. It differs from country to country. –  Mark Mayo Jan 6 at 2:35
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Well, even if the passport expires while you're in a foreign country, how is it their problem? It's your embassy's problem. So why should the foreign country care? –  Ansari Jan 6 at 3:44
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@Ansari unless there's a direct flight between said country and your home country, other countries won't want to accept you on an expired one, meaning said foreign country can't get rid of you. If it's expired, it's your country saying it's not a valid document, so if even your country says it's not valid, why should foreign country recognise it? Actually that's good, I'm adding an answer. –  Mark Mayo Jan 6 at 8:42

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

When it boils down to it, provided all your travel plans go well, it may not be a problem.

The 6 month limit is possibly a bit long these days, and indeed only some countries insist on it, but it's there, and it's there for when things go wrong.

Every country is trying to get tourists (well, maybe not Saudi Arabia), but to not break the law. You're only allowed into a country with a valid, legal passport, and sometimes a valid visa.

Now, if your passport is expired, suddenly you have an unlawful situation. Your own country effectively says your document is not a valid document. So now said foreign country has someone without a valid document. How do they get you home? Unless you're neighbours, and can just pop across the border, it's now nearly impossible to leave the foreign country, as you'd have to travel through another country which won't accept an illegal document. Indeed, some European countries allow you to return using just a national id card.

Airlines, if they let you travel without a valid visa/passport, are made to bring you back at their own expense. So they won't want to take you either. Indeed for Australia, it's not mandatory that you have the six months, but they warn you that some airlines enforce it, nonetheless.

So now that we have a reason to not allow people to have their passports expire while in the country, why six months? If I'm there for 2 days, and the expiry is 6 months later, why should they care?

Caution.

First, a lot of the countries that have these limits, offer six month visas. Meaning you could stay right up to the day of departure. So that's one reason.

Now, every day that you get closer to departure risks you having an invalid passport if you overstay even a day.

So for most countries, just having an arbitrary limit aims to prevent this issue. If you're suddenly in a car accident and can't fly out, or, heck, even if your flight is delayed a couple of days, it's best for all involved that nobody's passport expire as a result. Otherwise, legally you become an overstayer, and by law they'd have to deport you, which could be tricky if you're ill. Imagine the situation where you're stricken with, say, swine flu, your passport has now expired, and you get deported. On top of this, you're also considered an overstayer, which will be on your permanent record, and in some the case of some countries will almost certainly preclude you from returning.

Not every country has this six month limit. Many just require you have a valid passport while there. NZ and a few other countries enforce a 3 month rule, although apparently for people from the UK, NZ states that you only need a month free after your visa ends. Each country deals with this in a different way, but the 'six month rule' is common and simple for all involved to understand.

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(+1) Note that having a valid passport is also helpful if the host country wants to expel someone (getting a laisser-passer or arranging travel is not all that difficult if the person and the relevant consulate collaborate but expelling someone with a valid passport requires neither), see also travel.stackexchange.com/questions/18394/…. All this sounds plausible but I would be curious to see actual evidence that this is the reason behind the rule. –  Relaxed Jan 6 at 9:25
    
Some additional qualification: Countries don't “have” to deport people who are staying illegally. I cannot rule out that some country somewhere has a law like this but historically, there has always been a lot of latitude left to law enforcement and asking people to leave without doing much to force them was for a long time the rule rather than the exception (large-scale deportation costs an insane amount of money for what it achieves!). –  Relaxed Jan 6 at 9:35
    
Even today with tighter laws and widespread anti-immigration rhetoric, there are still some European countries where many people are staying without legal title or even are under a court order to leave but cannot be deported (e.g. because their country of origin is not deemed safe). –  Relaxed Jan 6 at 9:37
    
I am not so sure if this is the correct answer. In case of friendly relationships between countries any diplomatic mission is able to provide valid documents. Renewing a passport abroad is not such an issue, other then that it costs a lot. –  andra Jan 6 at 13:30
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Or worse in today's climate, Ebola. Let's say a country lets you in with a month left, and 7 days later discovers you might have Ebola, now they quarantine you for an additional 21 days.... –  CGCampbell Nov 12 at 16:55

This reason makes the most sense for "normal" travel So for most countries, just having an arbitrary limit aims to prevent this issue. If you're suddenly in a car accident and can't fly out, or, heck, even if your flight is delayed a couple of days, it's best for all involved that nobody's passport expire as a result. Otherwise, legally you become an overstayer, and by law they'd have to deport you, which could be tricky if you're ill. Imagine the situation where you're stricken with, say, swine flu, your passport has now expired, and you get deported. On top of this, you're also considered an overstayer, which will be on your permanent record, and in some the case of some countries will almost certainly preclude you from returning

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Where is this supposed to be true? –  Relaxed Nov 12 at 18:05

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