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I'm an American living in the UK with my European-national spouse, and we recently entered the Schengen zone to visit family for Christmas. As I've been living here in Europe for 7 years and travelling, mainly to see family, frequently I have quite a few entry and exit stamps, with some even having been done erroneously.

Well, the border control agent said he would normally have to send me back (to the UK) because the Schengen tourist visa requires there to be 2 blank pages in one's passport (he actually said 3, but I looked it up later on europa.eu and found it's actually 2), but that he would be lenient since it's Christmas.

There are about 10 spots for stamps left in my passport, which would be 2.5 pages if they were all together at the end, but they're not… because border control agents seem to put stamps in haphazardly with no consideration for keeping it tidy or leaving pages! Also, as mentioned above, some have wasted space by putting stamps in erroneously when they weren't actually needed.

So what are travellers supposed to do? How are we supposed to ensure that we maintain two pages free when agents ruin our passports? Are we just supposed to bend over and get new passports years before they expire, spending money unnecessarily?

  • Can you get a passport with more pages than normal? – mdd Dec 21 '17 at 17:09
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    I think US citizens who travel enough to be in danger of filling a 28-page passport are supposed to select a 52-page passport instead. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 21 '17 at 17:10
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    When I got my passport 8 or 9 years ago, I wasn't actually expecting to be in danger of this situation. I'm definitely getting the bigger one next! Though it still seems ridiculous that travellers are required to follow the law yet border agents make it unnecessarily difficult or expensive for us to do so. – Brenden Dec 21 '17 at 17:12
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    8 or 9 years ago? It's close to expired anyway. When you get your replacement, get a 52-pager. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Dec 21 '17 at 20:20
  • Short answer: you can't. It's driving me nuts trying to maintain an index in chronological order because they just open pages at random until they see a space and stamp there. Or they get tired of looking and stamp on top of someone else. I tried handing it with the next page open and pointing to the spot, but the guy closed it, then started opening pages at random. – WGroleau Feb 8 '18 at 22:37
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I am a US citizen and was traveling between various countries in the middle east because of work. The frequency of travel was once every month. (I was a resident of the origin country hence didn't need full page visas for it)

One visit would have:

  • One exit stamp of the origin (about 1/4 page size)
  • One entry stamp of the origin (about 1/4 page size)
  • One full-page visa of the destination and the entry and exit stamps used to be on the same page 95% of the time.

At first, I had a standard 28-page passport and it used to fill up in a year. During that time I would request the immigration officers at the origin to stamp on a said page e.g. while in line I would check out which page has about 25% empty space and while walking up to the counter I would greet them, hand over my passport and say please stamp on page number XX. They always granted my request. I found out that it was easier and faster this way; otherwise, the immigration officer would take more time randomly opening the passport and searching for some space to stamp and I wanted to conserve 1 full page for the next visit's visa. If the IMO was extra nice he/she would try to squeeze in a stamp on any available space making 5 stamps on one page but this was really rare.

If you don't know the destination country's language then you can use google translate and paste a post-it note on your passports back and point it out to the officer politely. (Get the translation verified first because google translate tends to be funny or off sometimes)

Whenever I had no more full empty pages I used to go for a new passport. This happened twice until I found out about the 52-page passport and went for that.

Also, some embassies or consulates offer to add more pages to your passport too. Unfortunately, that was not available in the country I was staying at.

And, if you are a very frequent traveler, always check how many empty pages you need before traveling. I once traveled with 1 full 1 half empty page (in one of the above visits) and after greeting the immigration officer at the destination I told him that page#XX was available for the full-page visa. He asked me how will I travel after this and I had to explain that I will get a new passport for the next visit. If countries have a minimum empty page requirement then they are entitled to not let you enter if you have less empty pages.

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    I have been told to never have any notes or paper in a passport, as it can look like a bribe. A post-it note is a bit less likely, but still I'd want to err on the side of caution. – Yakk Dec 21 '17 at 17:57
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    I have always seen people keeping their boarding pass, visa copy, resident cards etc tucked somewhere inside their passports and handing them to immigration officers. – Newton Dec 21 '17 at 18:04
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I travel a lot within Asia, and the Immigration officers of some countries are more diligent than others in finding empty spots in already used pages, rather than stamping a new page (China is probably the best country for that, Immigration officers are really cool about this part, at least). On the other hand, some countries are the worst offenders (and, incidentally, the US comes to mind...).

In a few countries, especially Thailand and Korea, Immigration officers have a nasty habit to stamp entry stamps systematically on new pages. I have resorted now to two strategies. In countries like Korea, where I can actually see my passport at all times, I tell them on which page to stamp. I usually put a small yellow PostIt marker to help them. I even had to grab the hand of a Korean Immigration officer twice, preventing them to stamp on a blank page, after leafing through my half-stamped pages, and looking for the next available blank page.

In countries where I can't see what's happening to my passport, like Thailand, I still resort to the same request, backed up by the yellow marker, but also cover the blank pages with full-page PostIt stickers bearing the word NO. In some places it works, even making the officers laugh, in some others, not so much. Thai Immigration officers are usually cold, sometimes all the way up to aggressive, and this strategy has not always been well-received. Verbal requests are ignored (as in "do not talk to me"), and I found a couple of times a full-page PostIt ripped off and the stamp on a blank page, despite everything. So your mileage may vary, depending on countries.

But the bottom line, if you put a marker in your passport and ask politely, you'll have a lot of success.

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    Grabbing the officer's hand sound a little risky... how well did it go over? No secondary luggage & clothing search? And you always mean yellow post-it notes right, not a "yellow marker" a.k.a. yellow highlighter pen marks, right? – Xen2050 Dec 21 '17 at 18:44
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    Yes I mean the smaller PostIt stickers. Grabbing the officer's hand went quite well. I'm bilingual in Korean, and hearing a white man talking to them in Korean shocks them much much more than any grabbing. Combined with the fact that I'm always always much older than them, that's something I know I can get away with ☺ – user67108 Dec 21 '17 at 18:47
  • @dda: Talk about social hacking :) that's awesome! – Mehrdad Dec 21 '17 at 19:42
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I would just ask them to stamp on a specific page, and possibly at a specific point on that page.

Worked wonders for me with the Russians - I asked them (I learned how to do it in Russian, as those officers usually don't speak English) to stamp the visa rather than the facing page.

When I did this on exit, they suggested putting the stamp on the machine-readable stripe, but I asked them to stamp right next to the entry stamp instead, and they did.

Equally, I got the Americans (at Dallas airport) to stamp the last space of my first stamp page, in a vertical manner, rather than the next page.

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