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Heading abroad? Check your passport

January 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
When was the last time you checked your passport? If you're planning a trip out of the country in the near future, take a look at the expiration date. Even if it doesn't expire during your travels, you might not be allowed into the country.

It was going to be one of those trips you dream about: Anna and Jason Protopappas were going to see some friends who live in Costa Rica. Over Christmas break the Aliso Viejo couple took an Aeromexico flight out of Los Angeles International Airport that had a long layover in Mexico City.

"We arrived in Costa Rica at 12:45 Christmas morning," said Anna. "We had been flying all day Christmas Eve and we arrived about the last flight into Costa Rica to San Jose Airport."

They were excited and took a picture in the airport welcoming them to the Central American country. But the welcome didn't last long. With passports in hand they went to Immigration where they were shocked at what happened next.

"So when we walked through Immigration he said to me 'No puedes entrar,' meaning 'You may not enter,'" said Anna.

Jason got through but Anna had been stopped in Immigration because her passport was close to expiring.

"They said, 'There's nothing we can do, somebody was sent to jail for three months because we let somebody like you in,'" said Anna. "I'm sorry, you cannot enter. We are sending you home at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning on the first flight back to the United States."

According to Marie Montgomery with the Auto Club of Southern California, it's not uncommon for a foreign country to have minimum requirements on when your passport can expire.

"A lot of countries have a three-month or a six-month minimum expiration for your passport, meaning that you have to have at least three to six months on that passport," said Montgomery.

Julianne Gibson of WestJet Airlines, which flies in and out of Canada, says you should make sure to check the passports of everyone in the family.

"Husband and wife have a valid passport, they haven't checked their children's passport, they expired, we can't let them on the aircraft. There is nothing we can do about it," said Gibson.

Anna Protopappas has a new passport now and the trip is back on.

"We already purchased our tickets. We are going the end of February and we are going to go for two extra days and stay with our friends," said Anna.

"Wow, the next time we go to a new country, do your research," said Jason Protopappas.

Remember it can take up to six weeks to renew a passport although you can get it expedited in as little as two weeks. But why take the chance? The Passport Office recommends renewing at least nine months in advance of your trip.

Passport information - US Department of State