Don't let passport hell ruin your vacation or kill your business trip

Jon renewed his US passport about a decade ago and happily traveled with it across the globe. Last year, planning a great trip to France for the summer, six months away, he glanced at his passport to see it still had eleven months before it expired, so he put it away in his desk.
Three months before his trip, by chance, Jon learned his passport needed to be valid for at least six months when he entered France, and an additional three months beyond his planned departure back home. He immediately applied to renew his passport and got it in time. Had he not discovered his passport wouldn’t pass French passport rules, his trip would have been over before it started. His lack of knowledge about passport regulations could have cost Jon several thousand dollars.
While US passports for adults are valid for ten years from their date of issue, the problem with trying to maximize one’s ten year passport term is that many countries won’t let you use your passport as it nears expiration.
To visit locations such as Hong Kong and South Africa, US passports must be valid for at least a month beyond the date travelers intend to leave the country they’re visiting.
US passports must be valid for at least three months beyond each traveler’s date of departure for Schengen area countries and others including Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
US passports must have six months of validity at the time of entry to more than 50 countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, China and France.
Some countries like France have even more stringent requirements for US passports. France requires US passports to be valid for at least six months at the time of entry to France and for three months following the traveler’s planned date of departure.
Turkey appears to have the most stringent US passport expiration requirement. The Turkish government requires passports to be valid at least 60 days beyond the expiration date of their visa which lasts for six months. Therefore, US passports need to be valid for at least eight months from the date Turkish visas are issued.
There is another problem travelers can encounter with their US passport if it’s been well used. Some countries have specific requirements for how many empty pages US passports must have. Most countries merely require one empty page for their personnel to stamp or paste in a visa or entry/exit stamp.
Countries like Italy require at least two blank pages in US passports.
Some countries like South Africa require just one blank page, but many travelers report border entry personnel often “give grief” to those who don’t have at least two blank pages.
It’s reported by some travelers that countries like China, which require two blank pages, definitely prefer they aren’t the last two pages of a passport. For those going to a Chinese restricted area, such as the Tibet Autonomous Region, another page will be needed for the stamp permitting travel there.
Countries like Cambodia and Vietnam won’t use the last page of a passport, instead insisting on using a blank inside page.

US Nationals can find out the specific passport requirements for the countries they intend to visit at the US State Department’s Country Information page. Nationals of other countries should consult their governments’ websites for passport information specific for their travels.

Renewing a US passport, or virtually any country’s passport, at best, doesn’t happen overnight, unless you’re willing to pay some hefty fees. Right now, normal US passport processing takes 4–6 weeks, while expedited processing takes about three weeks. In true “emergency” situations processing can be further expedited with an in-person visit to a US passport agency location, or through a passport expediting service.

Considering US passport processing times, passport expiration date and page requirements of countries to which I might likely travel, I typically renew my passport a full year before it expires.

As a frequent international traveler, I also request a 56 page US passport, which has 43 blank pages for visas and entry/exit stamps, instead of the normal 28 page passport with 17 blank pages, to avoid the need to add pages later. The US State Department provides the larger passport at renewal at no additional charge, while adding pages to your existing passport costs $82.

Please note that as of December of 2015 the US State Department will no longer add pages to existing passports. From that time forward, filled passports will instead have to be renewed early.

In the coming year, there may be an additional factor to consider for those who need to renew their US passports. In 2007, you may remember the US State Department began requiring US Nationals have their US passport for all air travel in or out of the country. That year passport applications ballooned 54% to 18.6 million passports. That means those passports will start to be renewed next year through 2017.
If you need to renew your passport in the next couple of years, do it early, as renewal processing times are likely to increase, and could increase significantly.