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September 03, 2008

Question About Electronic Passports

by Wendy Perrin

This one came in from ronlrose:

"I have just received my new U.S. Electronic Passport. In the past I have carried my PP in a leather PP wallet. Can the chip be read through the leather or will I have to extract the PP at each checkpoint? Thanks."

When I skim through the State Department's Electronic Passport FAQs, the answer doesn't pop out at me. Anybody happen to know?

November 06, 2007

Angry Finnish Musicians

Jean Sibelius would have been
really annoyed.
Photo: Wikipedia

by Stephan Wilkinson

Half the world hates us, is at war with us, or is on the short list for the next war. So what do we do to get the other half really angry too? Well, let's start by seriously trashing three of Finland's most popular musicians and one Finnish filmmaker when they try to enter the country on an expenses-paid invitation from the University of Minnesota. 

That's a start, and it actually happened in mid-September.

The four Finns were waiting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to have their passports checked at Customs when two Border Protection agents confronted one of them. (I hadn't noticed, but what used to be called U.S. Customs and Immigration is now called Customs and Border Protection, so I guess we're all done with immigrants.) Jukka Karjalainen, who is often called the Bruce Springsteen of Finland, said the agents began "questioning and yelling" at him.

Next step: drug-sniffing dogs, since musicians are by definition hippies, and they were arriving from Amsterdam, where people smoke dope and look at hookers in windows all day long. Besides, Finns have an illegal number of vowels in their names.

But wait, there's more.

Continue reading "Angry Finnish Musicians" »

July 21, 2007

Passport Scam At Charles De Gaulle???

I shot this while transiting through Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, France, June 22, 2007.

by Wendy Perrin

You wonder why I love the blogosphere?  It's the immediate and invaluable feedback.  Example: I post a question about how to get a response from an airline that's totally ignoring you ("The Mystery of The Missing Miles"), and who should stop by to solve the problem ("Delta Reinstates Missing Miles!") but Mark Ashley of Upgrade: Travel Better?   Another example:  I post a question about AmEx Membership Rewards ("Surprise Fee For Redeeming Miles"), and who should swing by with the answer but frequent-flier expert Randy Petersen -- founder of THE essential tools for road warriors, WebFlyer and FlyerTalk -- followed by Gary Leff, who keeps all of us mileage junkies in the know with View From The Wing

Clearly some very savvy travelers are reading The Perrin Post and generously offering their input.  So I'm gonna take advantage of the wonderful resource that this presents and throw out one more travel problem that has me stumped.  Can any of you with your ear to the ground shed some light on it?

My friend Sally and her husband Bob -- totally competent travelers and well-organized, upstanding people  -- were flying Air France from Charles de Gaulle to Boston last week (Friday, July 13).  They arrived at Air France check-in at 9:15 a.m. -- four hours before their flight -- and were shown to a boarding-pass machine by a female Air France employee. Bob inserted his passport into the machine (which scanned it), then filled out on the touch-screen the additional info requested (country of origin, address, date of birth, place of birth, etc.)  Then came Sally's turn.  While she punched in her info, two uniformed Air France aides hovered around, looking over her shoulder.  After the process was completed, the machine spat out six documents that Bob and Sally collected: two boarding passes, two itinerary receipts, and two passenger manifest information sheets.  Bob took his boarding pass, and an Air France aide rushed him to the luggage-check area.  Another aide grabbed Sally's papers AND HER PASSPORT, and they rushed after Bob. Given that the flight was not until 1:15 p.m., and there were no lines, the Air France aides seemed to be rushing them unnecessarily.

The luggage-check guy had Sally put her suitcase on the conveyor belt, and the aide plunked Sally's papers down on the counter in front of him.  Sally suddenly realized she did not have her passport in her hand, nor was it on the counter with the rest of the papers. No one but Air France employees had spoken to her or touched all those pieces of paper, and no other passengers were nearby.  If the passport had been dropped, Sally says, an Air France employee would have noticed. "I can only conclude," she says, "that the Air France employees conspired in some fashion to distract us and take my passport.  There was no place to lose it.  I suspect the two women and the luggage check-in guy."

Continue reading "Passport Scam At Charles De Gaulle???" »

April 09, 2007

Fast New Passport, Part 3

Two passports old and new
My 5-year-old's expired passport and his new one, which arrived only 8 days after we mailed in the old one.  My new one took only 6 days!

by Wendy Perrin

For those of you following my recent passport posts on How To Get A Passport Fast and How Long DOES A New Passport Take? you will probably be astounded to hear this:  I mailed both my and Charlie's passports from our local post office to the State Department on Friday, March 30.  I ordered expedited service and two-way overnight delivery. My new passport arrived on Thurs, April 5, and Charlie's arrived on Sat, April 7.  UNbelievable, huh?  Looks like the State Dept. really has hired new staff for its passport agencies and expanded their hours.

April 03, 2007

How Long DOES A New Passport Take?

United States passport

by Wendy Perrin

Remember last week I reported that the State Dept's rush service for getting or renewing a passport is taking 4 weeks (rather than the usual 2) and its regular service is taking 12 weeks (rather than the usual 6)?  Today's Washington Post explains that last week broke a record for passports issued: 412,000 in one week.  You can't say I didn't warn you about the unprecedented demand.

The good news: The State Dept just boosted its staffing and overtime and weekend hours, so hopefully now it can cope. It says that rush service should be back to 2 weeks and routine service should take 10.

I mailed in my own renewal application on Friday, so I'll soon be able to tell you if the 2-week promise is true.  I opted for expedited service, of course -- which is my recommendation for anyone who'd prefer to pay $60 rather than worry for 3 months or more about whether their passport is lost somewhere in the bowels of the State Dept. (a worry that several people I know have right now).

March 29, 2007

How To Get A Passport Fast

United States Passport

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Maryjane:

"I just realized that I am going to have to travel abroad within the next three weeks, and my passport is about to expire. How can I renew it as quickly as possible?  I'm in New York City, in case that helps."

The State Department's rush renewal-by-mail service is currently taking four weeks (rather than the usual two), so you probably want to use a passport expediting service.  I use ZVS (Zierer Visa Service), which has offices in New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Washington, D.C.  ZVS can get your passport renewed in 15 days, unless you have proof of imminent departure to a foreign country, in which case it can do it in 48 hours.  If you have proof of departure within the next two weeks and can't afford an expediter, you can go to your local passport office, but you may have a long wait.

Don't laugh but, should you end up having to stand in line at the passport office, check the trash cans at the entrance. Lots of people take a number, wait in line a while, then give up and throw their numbers in the trash on the way out.

By the way, the State Department's routine (unexpedited) passport-by-mail service is reportedly taking 12 weeks.

March 08, 2007

Can't Afford A Country's Departure Tax?

Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok
Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, where the
departure tax for international flights is 500 baht (about $15).

By Wendy Perrin

When several hundred press releases inundate your email InBox weekly, you stop opening them altogether. Yesterday, however, I actually clicked on one announcing that Viator had named its Top 10 Hottest Spring Break Destinations for 2007.

I clicked on this WHY? Not because I'm looking to party in Cancun. Not because I need to know more about Viator -- an online travel agency that books all manner of day tours, excursions, and activities in more than 450 cities worldwide. Not even because Viator has a cool blog. No, I clicked on it because it reminded me of a funny phone call.

The other day Viator's founder, the charming and well-traveled Rod Cuthbert (who hails from Tasmania!), was in my office when his cell phone rang. One of his sons was calling from the Bangkok airport because he didn't have the cash to pay Thailand's departure tax . . . which meant he couldn't leave the country.

Continue reading "Can't Afford A Country's Departure Tax?" »

January 23, 2007

Caribbean Deals For Passport Newbies

St. Lucia
St. Lucia
St. Lucia Tourist Board

By Wendy Perrin

Today's the day that many Caribbean and Mexican resorts have been dreading: From now on you need a passport to fly back into the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, or non-U.S. islands in the Caribbean. (You don't need one yet if you're returning by land or sea.)  The new rules are at For the low-down on rush fees or if you're looking for a passport expediting service, click here.

Many Caribbean and Mexican resorts, concerned the new regulation might scare off customers, are helping defray the cost of getting a passport ($97 without the rush fee) by offering special discounts and perks to U.S. citizens who arrive with brand-new passports. 

If St. Lucia is the first stamp in your new passport, for instance, the Ladera Resort will reimburse the cost of obtaining it and also give you a complimentary 30-minute massage at its spa (a minimum 5-night stay is required). Make Anguilla the first stamp in your passport, and the Arawak Beach Inn will give you a room for $120 per night (4 nights required) and throw in a "private day excursion to a secluded beach on an uninhabited island, including gourmet packed lunch."

Marriott and Renaissance properties throughout the Caribbean and Mexico are offering a $100 resort credit per room if you arrive with a new passport and stay a minimum of five nights.  And SuperClubs resorts will credit your passport cost toward your vacation package.   

December 22, 2006

Shredded Passport

By Wendy Perrin

Question from a reader:

"A traveler who is headed to Africa on safari two weeks from now just got his passport back from the embassy of the country he's headed to (he needed a visa), and the back cover and last page were shredded by U.P.S. He just asked me if he can travel with the passport in this condition (I'm his travel agent).  The photo and visa pages are fine, but boy-oh-boy is that passport cover looking shabby (he sent me a photo of it).  Hard for me to answer.  Who knows what Immigration will do when he tries to leave or reenter the U.S.?  I told him that last month a client in London washed his pants, with his passport in them, the night before he flew to Africa. He showed up at the airport with his wrinkled, bleached passport and, would you believe it, every Immigration official commented, "What happened? You wash your passport?!"  Perhaps this indicates it's okay to travel with a shredded back cover and page?  Even if my client could get a new passport in time, it would be hard to duplicate the African visa with so many consulates closed over the holidays.  What do you think?  Thanks!   Nina Wennersten, Hippo Creek Safaris

Great question, Nina. As the wife of someone whose passport is a crumpled mess, my guess is that your client won't run into problems as long as the photo and visa pages are unmarred. Then again, my husband hasn't tried to get back into the U.S. from Africa lately. You might want to call the National Passport Information Center's emergency hotline.  If you can't get through, try calling passport and visa expediting service ZVS and ask Fraser Hardie in the New York office what he thinks (Fraser is the person I know who knows the most about passports and visas).  I do know that when your client eventually wants to renew his passport, because it is damaged he will need to apply in person rather than through the mail. Good luck!

December 19, 2006

Getting A New Passport

By Wendy Perrin

Thinking about a winter trip to Mexico?  Skiing in the Canadian Rockies?  Hitting a Caribbean beach?  If you haven't got a passport, better squeeze the trip into your schedule before January 23.  That's when you'll need one to fly back into the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, or non-U.S. islands in the Caribbean. (You won't need a passport if you're returning to the U.S. by land or sea.)  Go to or, if you can't get through because its bandwidth limit has been exceeded, click here for the new rules.

It normally takes about 6 weeks to get a passport; at busier times it can take 8.  But this coming winter won't be normal (witness the bandwidth problem, thanks to all the people needing them!). If you're wondering how the already crunched State Dept. is going to cope with the sudden influx of paperwork, join the club. The good news is that you can pay a rush fee ($60 plus overnight delivery costs) to get your passport within 2 weeks.  Of course, that fee is in addition to the first-time passport cost of $97 or the renewal cost of $67.

When I renew my passport this spring, you can be sure I'll cough up the rush fee. That's if I have enough time between international trips. If not, I'll use my favorite passport and visa expediting service: ZVS.

Got a passport expiring in 2007?  Remember that some countries won't let you in unless your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your trip dates.

Heading to a country requiring a visa? Remember that you might need two to four blank pages in your passport that can be used for the visa and stamps.

October 27, 2006

Dispatch From Moscow

Red Square
Photo: Exeter International

By Wendy Perrin

Still in Russia for an article for Conde Nast Traveler.  Spent the last two days in ancient towns along the Golden Ring that are the cradle of Russian culture, then got to Moscow a few hours ago.  Can't give away what my article is about--you'll have to wait to read it in the magazine--but I can share a few of the weirdnesses I've encountered:

1.    Tonight I was checking out rooms at the Hotel National, close to the Kremlin and Red Square, and the employee who showed me a balconied suite told me that you can't use the balcony without getting permission from the front desk first, since the Kremlin might consider it a security threat. 

2.    I was in a McDonald's in Sergiev Posad (Russia's most sacred ancient town), taking a photo of the big neon menu above the counter, when the manager jumped on me, saying that taking photos is strictly forbidden . . . although she could not explain why. Now, I've photographed dozens of McDonald's menus the world over, and never before have I been reprimanded for it. (To anyone tempted to post a snarky comment about why I was wasting film in a McDonald's: It's the fastest, easiest way to document (a) the cost of a Big Mac--a telling economic indicator; and (b) the local specialty reflecting popular taste. In Sergiev Posad it's something called a Greek Mac--two patties with yogurt sauce wrapped in pita.)

3.  My hotel concierge, handing me a map for my walk in Moscow this evening, advised me to carry my passport with me.  In other countries I typically leave my passport in the hotel-room safe, since why risk losing it or having it stolen?  But here in Moscow, where street crime is not uncommon, you're supposed to walk around with it -- in case you get stopped by a policeman.  Apparently some policemen will accept a photocopy of a passport, but some won't.

4. Museums, monuments, and other tourist sites in Russia are a mob scene in high season (May through September), with endless lines to gain entry (which is why I'm here in October), yet the government won't rectify this problem by opening places a couple of hours earlier (opening time is usually 10:00 or 10:30), closing them a couple of hours later (closing time is usually 5:00), and/or cleaning them at night rather than shutting them down for an entire day each week just to sweep up.  According to two English-speaking guides I've used here in Russia, museum and monument workers are on fixed salaries.  The government doesn't extend hours because it won't pay the workers for the extra hours, nor would it hire extra employees to work those extra hours.

My humble opinion:  I think this country needs a minister of tourism.


October 16, 2006

Need A Passport? Don't Procrastinate!

Ed Fuller, Pam Richards, and Mark Conroy, Oct. 15, 2006
Photo: Patrick Butler

By Wendy Perrin

The reason you haven't heard from me in the past few days is that I've been busy round-the-clock gearing up for Conde Nast Traveler's most action-packed two days of the year. The fun started yesterday, with our 2006 Top Travel Specialists Awards--an annual shindig honoring the world's most knowledgeable, well-connected travel agents (yes, there is such a thing as an excellent travel agent).  As part of the event I moderated a panel of industry leaders:  Ed Fuller, who runs Marriott's seven hotel brands in Asia, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East; Pam Richards, Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Mark Conroy, who heads up Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Regent Hotels.

Continue reading "Need A Passport? Don't Procrastinate!" »