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3 passport scams that are guaranteed to ruin your trip

Some of my favorite memories come from traveling abroad. I just love experiencing other cultures from around the world.

There are so many great things to discover. From the delectable cuisine to the sandy beaches and friendly people. There is something out there for everyone.

Before heading out to your favorite foreign destination though, you are going to need a passport. Unfortunately, like with most things these days, there are scammers out there looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting traveler.

That's why you need to know about these three passport scams before planning your next trip.

Validation services

us-mexico-border

Many countries have different rules for entrance. For example, some require your passport to be valid for up to six months after you enter their country. You can easily find the expiration date on the inside front cover of your passport, next to your photo.

When entering a foreign country, you might run into a business offering passport validation services for a small fee. Some claim that there is a faster route into the country for travelers with a validated passport.

This is a passport scam!

All travelers must cross the border in the same way, with or without a "validated" passport.

However, there are ways to speed up this process. These official traveler programs can help make your trip across the border faster:

  • Global Entry - This is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. Click here to find out if you're eligible and to apply for Global Entry.
  • NEXUS - The NEXUS program allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing when entering the United States and Canada. Program members use dedicated processing lanes at designated northern border ports of entry, NEXUS kiosks when entering Canada by air and Global Entry kiosks when entering the U.S. via Canadian Preclearance airports. NEXUS members also receive expedited processing at marine reporting locations. Click here for more information and to apply for the NEXUS program.
  • SENTRI - The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Participants may enter the U.S. by using dedicated primary lanes into the U.S. at Southern land border ports. Travelers must be pre-approved for the SENTRI program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. Click here for more information and to apply to the SENTRI program.

Bonus tip: Before taking an international trip, it's good to know your destination's rules ahead of time. The U.S. Department of State's travel website is a good source for that information. It lists all entry requirements for every country.

Passport application services

If you don't already have a passport, you need to do an online search for an application. This could bring you to a number of sites offering their help in accelerating this process. They claim that you will receive your passport faster if you pay them a fee.

The reality is, this is yet another type of passport scam.

The U.S. State Department already offers these services for either a lower fee or none at all. In fact, the U.S. government has warned travelers about using one of these so-called passport expediting or courier services.

According to the State Department, here are a few things you should know about courier companies:

  • These companies do not operate as part of the U.S. Department of State.
  • You will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person at a passport agency. Click here to see locations.
  • Courier companies charge additional fees for their services.
  • You are still required to appear in person at an acceptance facility if applying on Form DS-11, even when using a courier service.

You're much better off applying for a passport on your own.

Click here for the Department of State website that deals with passports and international travel.

Here, you can begin filling out your application online, find out where to apply in person, and check on your application status. You can also find out how to apply for an expedited passport in the case of a life or death emergency.

Visa application services

As we mentioned earlier, different countries have different rules. Some of them require you to have a visa before entering their country. A visa is normally a stamp or sticker placed inside your passport that authorizes you to be in certain countries.

Many nations only require a valid passport to visit. Others, like India for example, require a valid passport AND a valid visa to enter and exit for any purpose.

A less experienced traveler might decide they need help applying for a visa. There are companies out there that offer expedited services for a relatively high fee.

This is a scam.

The safest way to get a visa is to go through your destination country's consulate. You should be able to find visa application forms online. Print them, fill them out and either mail them or hand deliver them to the nation's local consulate.

Once the documents are processed, you will be mailed a visa that attaches to your passport. This can take up to two months, so make sure that you plan well ahead. If you do need help acquiring a visa, ask your travel agent.

Again, the U.S. Department of State's travel website will let you know if a visa is required to enter your destination country.

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