A friendly reminder, folks – just because your passport hasn’t expired yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can use it for travel.

That sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true: just ask the Patton family of Ottawa, Canada. Although all four family members had valid passports (in the sense that they had not expired yet), Costa Rica refused to admit them when they arrived in the airport. Instead, they put them right back on the plane and sent them home. The reason? Costa Rica requires all visitors to have at least three months left on their passports, and three of the four family members had passports that expired before then.

The mishap was frustrating, emotionally grueling and expensive, costing them about $6,000. Unless the spotlight of publicity causes the airline and/or the travel agency that the family used to book the tickets to relent, they aren’t getting any of that money back, either. Both United Airlines and travel agency Travel by Jen are pointing the finger at each other as well as the family for not catching the mistake in time.

Wendy Patton told the Ottawa Citizen that since she sought out a travel agency for help booking the trip, she should have been informed of Costa Rica’s entry requirements:

“If I had to book the trip on my own, I would assume responsibility (for not knowing). But I’m paying someone to do something on my behalf. They should be verbally informing me.”

Fair or not fair, her family’s story serves as a cautionary tale for the rest of us: always check the expiration date on your passport against the entry requirements of your destination country so that you have enough time to apply for a passport renewal if necessary. The best way to do this is to check the Department of State’s “Country Specific Information” page for the country you are visiting, and to contact that country’s embassy to the United States to resolve any remaining questions. Costa Rica’s requirements are not unusual, and in fact many countries are even stricter, requiring that you have at least six months left on your passport.

If you do need a passport renewal, it goes without saying that you should apply as early as possible. With regular processing, it takes about six weeks to replace an expiring passport. Even if you pay the additional $60 fee for expedited service from the Department of State, you’re still looking at three weeks of processing time.

If that’s not fast enough, you can make an appointment at one of the country’s 24 regional passport agencies or use a private company like RushMyPassport. Keep in mind that expediting services are far more convenient, as there’s no need to make an appointment, wait in line or travel to a passport office that could be hundreds of miles away. Instead, we hand-deliver your application to the Department of State, cutting processing time to as little as 24 hours.

Let us expedite your passport renewal today!