Passport mix-up leads to a missed tour

When Doris Lemonovich booked a vacation package for two to Costa Rica through Gate 1 Travel, she thought the passport requirements were clear: All she needed was a passport that wouldn’t expire for the next month, according to the State Department.

She though wrong.

When she arrived in San Jose, the customs agents told her she couldn’t stay in the country.

They said my passport wasn’t good enough, even though it expires January 12, 2012.

Immigration immediately put my friend and I back on a JetBlue flight without boarding passes. We were back home the same day.

Lemonovich lost a $1,284 package that included flights, hotels, and a rental car. Now what?

Let’s have a look at Costa Rica’s passport requirements. When she checked the State Department website, it offered the following rule: “For entry into Costa Rica, you must present a valid passport that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.”

Related: In today’s edition of The smarter consumer, discover the three layers of scam — and how to avoid ’em.

However, when I checked the State Department site, the notification had changed. It now said, “For entry into Costa Rica, you must present a valid passport that will not expire for at least three months after arrival and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.”

Lemonovich says some immigration authorities in San Jose told her it was three months — and she was six days short of that. But she couldn’t get a consistent answer.

Some people in immigration said there had to be six months before the passport expires.

One immigration man even said that if I had gone to his window, he would have let me through! I asked to speak to the American Embassy or another American and they said no.

OK, so as far as I can tell, you have the State Department changing its published requirements and Costa Rican authorities whose rules are inconsistent — or at least inconsistently applied.

What about the tour operator? And how about JetBlue, which allowed these two to board their flight?

JetBlue says it’s not their fault, even though I had to enter my passport expiration date online before I could print a boarding pass. Gate 1 had my passport information since April, but they say it’s not their fault either.

On one hand, it’s easy to see both JetBlue and Gate 1 Travel as victims, just like Lemonovich. The rules were difficult to pin down, and why should they compensate a customer for something that isn’t their fault, and that not even the State Department can nail down?

But on the flip side, you would think that a tour operator and and airline that operate in Costa Rica would be aware of these problems, and would issue a special advisory to customers to make sure their passports have at least a year before they expire.

After some more back-and-forth between her airline and tour operator, she received a $150 airline credit and a $290 refund from Gate 1 Travel.

“I suppose something is better than nothing,” she says.

(Photo: Dr. Who/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • y_p_w

    Passport expiration is a tricky thing.  I think I’ve always renewed my passport at least six months before it would expire just in case I needed it.

    I actually renewed my passport well in advance the last time because I wanted to get a renewal in before they State Dept bumped the price up by $35.

  • Jade Smith

    This a lesson to all of us. For each traveler, we should always see to it that our passports are at least 3 months active before the entitled date of travel. And for the travel agencies, hoping that they have a chain of channel on the policy rules updates…. clarity and consistency should always be there.Nevertheless, it has been very important to enjoy the vacation. It’s been a bit frustrating to miss such fun! So we should all take this situation into account.

    Thanks for sharing a very interesting topic. God bless! ~  :)

  • Kim6160

    Why is she asking the State Dept.? They have no jurisdiction over Costa Rica’s passport requirements. She should be asking at the Costa Rican Consulate in the U.S. Yes, the State Department has a website that brings together all the resources from various consulates but so do many other websites.

    JetBlue and the tour operator probably both have lines in their documentation that state that it is the responsibility of the passenger to have all necessary documentation. If they start programming their websites to flag these issues, they need to start keeping up on all the regs and reprogramming their site on a regular basis. They were nice and gave her something but I think the airline and tour operator are smart in staying out of the whole visa/passport mess.

  • S E Tammela

    Almost. The lesson is to check the minimum validity, and then check it again. In some countries you require 6 months.

  • ChrisY

    Certainly JetBlue offered her more than enough enough; if anyone shares any fault with the OP, it is the tour operator.  It theoretically should know more about the domestic ins and outs than the airline.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Ah, passports…
    I was always told to make sure its valid for a year before traveling. 

    And, recently, I had to get a duplicate because I had been to Tel Aviv and was going to Saudi Arabia. Dontcha know that you can’t enter certain Islamist countries with an Israel stamp because it would be “acknowledging” the existence of Israel?


    Oh, and good luck finding that information on the State Dept website…

  • $16635417

    I voted yes, enough compensation was received. Ultimately, the responsibility to research and comply with entry requirements lies with the traveler.

  • Chris in nc

    Why should Lemonovich receive additional compensation from JetBlue? Using her logic, JetBlue would have denied her boarding at the point of origin. Then Lemonovich would have claimed denied boarding and even more compensation. JetBlue did pay the price. They likely got fined, and had to transport passengers back to the States and may have had to bump other passengers.

    Truth is, passport regulations change frequently and it is best to prepare for a worst case scenario.

  • Tom

    The problem could have been resolved by changing the picture in her passport to the one of US Grant.

  • emanon256

    All I can find on the US website and the Costa Rican websites are that it must be valid for 3 months after the date of arrival.  Did the US department really change what it said, or could she have looked in the wrong place?  I am not placing blame on her, but it could be she looked at another requirement for something else.  I was always under the impression that your passport must be valid beyond the maximum visa you can be permitted.  So if the maximum tourist visa is 3 months, the passport must be valid for 3 months.
    I don’t see how Jet Blue would be liable; they want proof of a passport, yes.  But being able to enter the country, that’s the passenger’s responsibility.  An airline does not have the resources to police all of the world’s entry requirements, that what immigration offices are for.
    I think it would be nice if the agency provided information to Ms. Lemonovich.  Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.  But I think a good travel agent would provide such information.  However, I still believe it’s the passport holder’s responsibility to make sure they have the proper documentation in order.  I, like Raven, was told to always make sure it’s valid a year out, and I stick to that traveling internationally or not.

  • sirwired


    1) JetBlue should have caught it at checkin.  She still would not have gotten to go, but she at least would have had a full flight credit minus change fee.  (I will point out that most countries levy a fine to the airline for immigration screwups like this, so they’ve probably already paid some to Costa Rica for the error.)

    2) Gate1 should have kept their requirements updated.  Stuff like this is EXACTLY what you are paying the travel agent / tour operator for!

    3) And yes, the LW should have caught it.  The proper place to go for passport and visa information is via a phone call to the consulate of the country you wish to visit, along with a check of their website.  The State Department website wasn’t a bad guess, but unfortunately it was the wrong one.  (As a side note, EVERY country-specific page on the State Dept. website tells you to call or visit the website for the consulate for the most up to date and specific information on entry requirements.)

    I agree with the others that have stated that your passport should always have six months left… you never know when the trip of a lifetime will present itself; why let your travels be limited by a few months on your passport?

    In conclusion, JetBlue should issue a credit for the airfare minus change fee, and maybe a 50+% credit from Gate1.

  • Tony A.

    Something is wrong here. How can Gate1 or JetBlue be responsible for her problem if they could claim they relied on the same “faulty” information from the State department’s website? The OP failed to show that Gate1 or JetBlue could have known any more (correct info) than she could. IMO this is a case of blame someone else to get money back.

  • Alan

    Because a tour operator is supposed to stay aware of the changing visa requirements for the countries they are taking tourists to. This information should come from the country itself, not secondhand from US authorities.

  • Linda Bator

    And Gate 1 CLEARLY states in all their documents that it is the clients responsibility, and to check with the consulate of that country.  She didn’t – too bad!

  • Annette

    Honestly the only reason she was asked to provide her passport information when she checked in is NOT because they were concerned about her being able to get into Costa Rica, it’s because the government requires that information be collected for international flights so that they have it.   The tour operator and airline should not have to babysit and hand-hold each and every one of their passengers.  The standard entry requirements for many countries is passport with at least 6 months on it, that’s the minimum buffer that people should leave before renewing theirs.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    I voted yes.  The OP checked all the places she needed to check and the requirements were clear – passport needed to have at least 3 months on it.

    Time for them to pony up.  This BS of a “flight credit” is them acknowledging they did something wrong.  If they can do that to the tune of $150 from the airline, $290 from the travel agency, they can go all the way with it.

  • Geoff

    On most tour documents that come through my desk, it clearly states that documentation is the responsibility of the traveler. Period! We ask each of them if they have at least 6 months validity on their passports, do you wish us to handle your visas, even, do you want us to check your passports ourselves. It is expensive to renew, and of course, the passenger always knows what they read on the “internet” to be true. This is 100% passenger errror, no foul ball hear.

  • Asiansm Dan

    It’s really sad and it happens to many travelers.
    Many many country require 6 months like UK, US, etc… not wanting get caught with surprise at last minute, I use to renew my passport at the beginning of the 5th year because of delay passport deliverance and visa of some country take times. The 5 Years Passport only is really a burden to traveler too.

  • Geoff

    Gate 1 probably asked. do you have a current passport. That is thier responability. Anybody traveling today needs a full 6 months+ to travel. If you travel 1 tame every couple of years, you depend on othes to teach you, when you travel regularly, “you” start to learn the questions and the answers. Answer to all, look at your passport expiration date and renew befor 6 months is up.

  • Rosered7033

    Seems to me that EVERYTIME I have booked an international “package” (flight+ hotel), in AT LEAST one place the tour operator places the onus on the passenger to double-check all rules & regs pertaining to passports, immunizations, airport fees, etc.  At a bare minimum, the passport you are traveling on should be good for 3 mos.  I would not rely on my tour operator or the airline to tell me what is legal, although I admit someone apparently did make a mistake allowing her to board in the first place.  A good TA will direct the passenger, or walk through the regs with her, but then the TA could take the fall for incomplete or changed regs.  As an aside, what happens if the regs change between the booking date & the departure date?  Who’s responsibility is it then?

  • Nancy Dickinson

    I didn’t want to say that, but now that it’s out there, you’re right.  When we went overseas last year, and took my son with me, I held off getting his passport renewed until he turned 16 so he could have the 10 year renewal.  Bu this is just a side note.

    It’s a good rule of thumb to have at least 6 months on your passport as “most” countries require that.  3 months on a passport is more than a little dicey for overseas travel.  My husband is going to Afghanistan for 3 months and he had a year on his passport.  I made him renew it so there would be no questions or problems.

    However, this is something seasoned travelers would know right off the bat while those less traveled would have to rely on the posted information, which is often wrong.

  • jgb3

    I voted no.  Gate 1, functioning as a travel agent should be aware of the requirments for where they have travel tours.  This is why people go through travel agents.  If she did everything on her own then it would be her own fault.

  • Clare

    Some years back, I flew Alitalia and El-Al from DC to Rome for a few days, and on to Tel Aviv for two weeks, then back to DC.  It was early/mid July, and my passport expired at the beginning of November.  Nobody blinked an eye, the TA, the airlines, the Italian/Israeli passport inspectors… no problems at all.  (If they had, you can bet I would have gone right after the TA, who had specifically told me that my passport was fine!)

    More recently, I flew US Air round-trip Rome-DC in mid-April, and my passport expired in October, just under six months out.  Again, no issues whatsoever, even though I was returning to Italy with a residence-permit that was valid for much longer than the passport (which I subsequently renewed at the US Embassy, of course)!

    I’m just saying that the assertion that you “need” to have a passport valid for six months out is apparently not the case.  If it were, I’d have been SOL big-time, both times.

  • Bill949

    Hmm… last time I did that I just told the Israeli Immigration Agent what my plans were and he stmped the entry visa on a seperate piece of paper and attached it to my passport…. same thing with the exit visa. Didn’t need to get another passport. Mind you that was a year or so ago and it was with an EU passport.. maybe different now.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    Actually, Clare, if the country’s own website says that’s what you “need”, then that’s what you “need”.  I don’t know I’d be comfortable flying 10,000 miles or more just to be turned back.  It’s simply not worth the risk.  Glad it worked out for you but it just as easily might not have.  You got lucky.

  • SoBeSparky

    Why is the traveler checking the US State Department site for passport requirements in Costa Rica?  That makes no sense.

    For entry into any country, you check that country’s US Embassy website.  Today, at least, the entry requirements are crystal clear:

    If I am going to China, or Brazil or any other country for that matter, I check the US Embassy of the country I intend to visit.  Why ask the US what the laws are in another country?  What leap of logic am I missing? 

  • gary

    The State Department recommends “If possible, you should renew your passport approximately nine (9)
    months before it expires. Some countries require that your
    passport be valid at least six (6)
    months beyond the dates of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you
    to board if this
    requirement is not met” (

    Even though there appears that there was some ambiguity on the validity period required for a U.S. passport to enter San Jose, I don’t think that the tour operator or the carrier should be held responsible for something that is clearly out of their control and is the traveler’s responsibility. The carrier and tour operator appears to have provided, or would have provided, all that was agreed to and fulfilled their contractual agreement.

    I have not checked to see if some, most or all airlines and tour operators  reference the above State Department recommendation; but, if they don’t, they should to avoid this type of confusion or finger pointing.


  • Ron

    Gate 1 is a tour operator and as such puts in all their documentation it is the client’s responsibility.  3 months is a good rule of thumb, but I always recommend to my clients 6 months, just in case.  It doesn’t say how she booked, but Gate 1 takes many direct online bookings, so I am sure she was notified.  To my knowledge the requirement for Costa Rica has been at least 3 months for a number of years, so I think the airline and Gate 1 have offered enough

  • Mardagg317

    A rule I have made for myself is to make sure my passport has at least  6 months to go before expiring – after the date of travel. That is enough cushion (or should be) for any country that flip-flops.

  • Tony A.

    Alan, the travel industry relies on IATA’s TIMATIC for visa and passport information. Travelers can also use a part of it by simply going here:

    I don’t know of any government regulation requiring US Tour Operators to check or validate passenger passports or visas. Usually travel agents and operators simply tell passengers to check the US State Dept site or each country’s consulate site.

    I can’t see how the OP can find fault at Gate1 when she could have gone to Costa Rica’s website herself and read:

    Americans do not need
    a visa to enter Costa Rica. However, they must have a current passport
    valid for at least 3 months from the date of entry into Costa Rica and
    an airline ticket to exit Costa Rica.

  • Bob

    Chris, even the State Dept.’s web site states (and has for years) to check with the Embassy/Consulate of the country you are visiting for the latest info. (This is for every country):
    “The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795. You may visit the Embassy of Costa Rica’s websiteor contact the Embassy via email. You may also obtain information from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Denver. Please also see the Costa Rican Immigration Agency website. “

  • Tony A.

    If the OP bought her package and airline ticket ONLINE, wasn’t she shopping ON HER OWN? As far as I know, buying online is SELF SERVICE. So why blame the online vendor? Blame the buyer for not knowing the difference between an ONLINE Travel Agent and one she can see (in front of her face) and talk to.

  • John Keahey

    A passport, if only for peace of mind and to dodge all hidden landmines, should be renewed when six months are left. To not renew, when there is such a narrow window between end of trip and passport expiration, seems to me to be a bit foolish, given the mixed messages out there about how much time needs to be left on a passport before a trip begins. An attempt to save on the renewal fee, which is low when compared to the cost of a major trip, makes little sense to me. I don’t necessarily fault the airline for not pointing this out — it looks as if the Costa Rica rule was set on shifting sands — but I do fault the travel agency for not encouraging Doris to renew when it knew her expiration date was close. Airlines don’t care; a full-service, customer-oriented agency should know better.

  • David

    Oh, one more thing.  Make sure you have enough empty pages.  On my last trip to the Nederlands, the immigration guy said, “I could refuse you entry because you don’t have a place for me to stamp it.”  He let me in anyway, and stamped on one of the back visa pages.  But just be careful on that!

  • Michael K

    So where is Costa Rica’s authoritative source?

    If you go to the Costa Rican embassy site ( the information is not provided directly (AFAICT) but tourists are linked to the Costa Rican Tourism Board ( and the National Chamber of Tourism (

    At VisitCostaRica, if you choose “Entry requirements”, you get the Spanish language text of a 2009 law (LEY DE MIGRACIÓN Y EXTRANJERÍA, LEY 8764)  which apparently took effect in 2010 and which as best I can tell (I’m not a Spanish speaker) makes no reference to any 90 day passport expiration requirement.

    Aanother website ( corroborates this:
    Costa Rica’s new immigration law, Ley de Migración y Extranjería Nº 8764, went into effect March, 2010, and was revised June 20, 2011. Although some parts of the law are not currently in place, enforced and interpretations vary, to enter and exit Costa Rica the new law specifies these requirements:
    Passport: A passport must be valid at the time of entry and does not have to be valid for 30, 60, or 90 days, as is often stated on sites, travel books or agencies.

    However, a different section of VisitCostaRica — which I can’t figure out how to reach except through search engines — says the following: the traveler must show his or her passport. The passport must be valid during the following 6 months from the entry date to Costa Rica. (?!?)

    Canatur (National Chamber of Tourism) provides no direct guidance on the question either (AFAICT) but links to many other sites that provide information that is all over the map.  

    Some sites say that the passport must not expire for at least ninety days after arrival (  Others refer to 30 days after arrival (  And yet other sites refer to 90 days or even 6 months after *scheduled departure* from Costa Rica.  

    Here is an article (from Nov 30 2010) which clearly corroborates the OP’s claim that the expiration policy must have changed (at least in the last year):

    Am I the only one who thinks that COSTA RICA should take some responsibility and do a better job of making accurate and consistent information on this topic readily available?

  • Scapel

    I’m with the majority here. The person should be advised that she should have a passport that would not expire until past 6 months from the day of return. That is the day all my cruises have been requiring. There fore the Gate 1 travel made a mistake in not advising the client and should reimbures her for the entire about of her investment.
    I think 6 months is pretty much worldwide.

  • Scapel

    Thanks to the comment about having enough pages. I wasn’t aware of that and how would one get more pages.

  • MikeZ

    I just got my first passport a month back. I could have sworn that there was info that came along with the passport that stated something like make sure you check requirements before you travel as some countries do not let you gain access if your passport is within 6 months of expiring. Wish I knew the exact wording…

    In any event, she relied on what was in print as well as what the tour operator had told her. This was not her fault and she should be reimbursed for the trip as she never got what she paid for.

  • Michael K

    The Costa Rican embassy website links to contradictory information.

    And it appears that the rules may have been updated as recently as June 20, 2011.  So even calling/writing at a single point in time would not have been foolproof.

  • Dave

    Why do people try to squeeze the last few days out of a passport. Since some countries require that you passport be valid for six months, just renew it, the new one will be good for ten years.

  • Michael K

    That’s probably good advice today since I believe passport processing times are back to relatively normal.  However, a couple of years ago, there were news reports of outrageous passport processing backlogs and it was not unheard of for people to wait for several months in vain for their renewals and be forced to cancel their trips.

  • Tony A.

    So whose fault is it Michael? Let’s say the State Dept and the Costa Rican consulate’s websites do not have the information, whose fault is it that the OP did not have the correct info?

  • Scapel

    Thanks for the link to that iata travel site. I’m sure Ellioitt has a section somewhere that has all kinds of links like this.

  • Tony A.

    Look at my post below. The Costa Rican Consulate in Was DC has the correct info. Link provided below.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    However, last year, my passport renewal took just under 3 weeks through the mail and my son’s, from the courthouse, took one day less.

    With their new “transparency” guidelines, when the passport is received at the proper office, you are e-mailed a tracking number so you can check where it is in the process.

  • Rosered7033
  • y_p_w

    As was stated, you can get extra pages that affix to the exiting passport with an adhesive.

    Here’s an absolutely crazy passport.

  • Michael K

    Everyone deserves some blame including the OP.  However, if the rules recently changed — and there was no grace period (e.g. for reservations made before the change) — and no alerts to travel providers — then my first complaint would be with the Costa Rican authorities.

  • web/gadget guru

    People *NEED* to learn to think for themselves! You can only do so much hand holding?
    People today lack critical thinking skills (a recent article in Wired discusses how the computer generation has problems discerning the validity of search results).
    It’s a different country folks, never leave anything up to chance…always double-triple check! It’s not like crossing state lines to visit grandma!

  • y_p_w


    The strangest thing I recall hearing was that people born in Taiwan but who were born or became citizens of another country had difficulties entering mainland China if their travel documents stated that they were born in Taiwan as the “country”.  I think ROC or China passports that said Taiwan were acceptable because that would be pointing to a “Chinese province”.  I’ve heard it’s not an issue now.  I know someone who simply had it changed ti Taiwan when renewed.

    The US Supreme Court is weighing whether the State Dept has to allow US passport holders to have “Israel” as their place of birth on their passports if born in the city of Jerusalem.  The current way to do it is to just have just Jerusalem, which I would guess applies to those born in the Palestinean side.  Right now the State Dept considers it a thorny issue because of the divided nature of the city, to the point where the US embassy is in Tel Aviv.  I was under the impression that place of birth on a US passport is typically the country name alone if outside the US.

  • Kathy

    I think as a tour operator Gate 1 should have been on top of the situation with the passports.  Costa Rican officials could have been nicer and let her through!  My family had a situation years ago; when ID requirements for flying were becoming more stringent.   I read and was also given wrong information from American Airlines for entry into Mexico.  They were not going to let my daughter on the plane.   I fainted.  American Airlines then contacted the Mexican authorities and we were allowed on the plane.  

    You never want to be in that kind of situation. 

  • y_p_w

    You can pay extra to have it expedited, but that’s often done at a passport agency.  Passport agencies don’t even handle routine passport issuances now.  They only handle expedited or emergency cases.

    When I got my first passport, I needed it in a hurry.  I filled out my application at the San Francisco Passport Agency and submitted my travel itinerary.  I got it in less than a week and didn’t even have to pay an extra fee.

    All the routine new or renewed passports now are handled out of the National Passport Center in Pennsylania.

  • Bodega

    Gate1, especially if they didn’t handle the air, isn’t responsible for her error.  Airlines get fined for letting passengers board with improper documentation.  We are in the touchy feelie business regarding international travel.  To expect a foreign goverment official to bend the rules is a bit silly. 

    My rule for handling international travel is  that all my clients must have a current US passport and it must not expire within 6 months of travel.  It covers all bases, especially if there is a situation where the passenger gets injured or detained and has to stay in the country longer than expected.  It has happened.  

  • Tlsalmons

    “Gate1 should have kept their requirements updated.  Stuff like this is EXACTLY what you are paying the travel agent / tour operator for!”

    Right on Sirwired!  Travel agents are quick to chime in when someone didn’t use an agent and had issues with their travel, saying that if they had used one they wouldn’t have had the problem.  Somehow they seem pretty silent on this thread….

  • Tony A.

    Kathy, there is NO Requirement for a tour operator selling tours online to check anyone’s passport or visa situation. In fact Gate1 has this stipulation:

    Passports and Visas: Passengers are responsible for ensuring that
    they have the proper travel documents and MUST CHECK with the
    respective consulate(s) or visa agency to determine whether any visas or
    passports are required. Passports are required to be valid for at least
    6 months after the date of travel. Due to the new government directive
    requiring US citizens traveling to the Caribbean and Bahamas to have
    passports, processing of new and renewed applications can take up to 6

    What else do you want them to do?

  • travelgal

    Good to know

  • Rosered7033

    “My rule for handling international travel is that all my clients must have a current US passport and it must not expire within 6 months of travel. It covers all bases, especially if there is a situation where the passenger gets injured or detained and has to stay in the country longer than expected. It has happened. ”    
    Agreed – it seems overly cautious but I would prefer to do my legwork in the States to prepare than to have to scramble in an unfamiliar country.

  • sirwired

    Yes, JetBlue probably did have to pay a fine.  But they could have denied boarding with no problem.  Airlines can, and do, deny boarding onto international flights all the time for paperwork issues.  And they won’t have to pay you a dime for doing so.  (You’d probably be eligible for a credit (or refund) according the the normal cancellation policy of your fare class.)

  • sirwired

    Yes, Gate 1’s butt is certainly legally covered, but it doesn’t sit right with me that a Tour Operator, who is earning a profit based on providing a service that should include worrying about this kind of thing, is saying it isn’t their problem.

    What is the tour operator getting paid to do then?

  • sirwired

    No, the airline really does want to prevent situations like this one.  Most countries levy fines upon the airline for transporting a passenger that does not have the correct documentation.  In addition, the airline MUST transport that passenger out of the country on the next flight (for no additional charge), and must bump a paying customer if said flight is full.

    The airline WOULD much prefer to turn you away at checkin.

    The tour operator, however, should have had the correct information.  You ARE paying the tour operator to worry about this kind of stuff.  It’s one reason to use a tour operator instead of booking travel on your own.

  • A Different Dave

    Related yet unrelated question: if a passport is renewed early, does the new 10 years extend from the previous expiration date, or from the date of renewal?  Are we getting passports that have 9½ years of use or the 10 that we’re paying for?

  • mobiuschic42

    Small point here – the Costa Rican office in Washington, DC, is an embassy, not a consulate.  The general rule is that embassies are in capital cities and offices in other cities are consulates – so, 1 embassy per country, but possibly many consulates.  They do actually perform different duties, so it’s worth knowing.

  • y_p_w

    It’s 10 years from the date of issue.  If you renewed about a year in advance, you don’t get 11 years before expiration.

    You could theoretically renew a passport for any reason at any time, and the old passport will be returned cancelled.  Some people might just want a new photo or others might have a full passport and don’t really want added pages. If it’s renewed 5 years before expiration, that means it was valid for 5 years before it was cancelled, and the new passport is good for 10 years from when it was issued.

    The cost is relatively low compared to the cost of international air travel or some tourist visas. Maybe you’re not extracting the last 5% of a passport’s validity, but then again 5% of $115 is $5.75. I spend more than that driving to work each day.

  • y_p_w

    I have a relative who was a former travel agent handling mostly international travel.  You bet he knew all the ins and outs of visa requirements and passport validity for the countries he mostly worked with, including those for people of different nationalities.  IF he didn’t know right off the bat, he’d be on the phone finding out the exact requirements.

    Of course he staked his reputation on good service and repeat business was where he truly earned his living.

  • Bodega

    Exactly.  Thanks!

  • Bodega

    Guess you aren’t reading ALL the posts. 

  • Bodega

    This probably where the confusion came from. 
    Embassy of Costa Rica-United States2114 S Street, NW
    Washington, DC, 20008 US
    Area of Coverage: USA
    Tel: (1) 202-234-2945
    Alt. Tel: (1) 202-234-2946
    Business Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:00 a.m � 5:00 p.m.
    Consular Services Hours:

    Consulate of Costa Rica-United States2112-S Street NWWashington, DC, 20008 USArea of Coverage: USATel: (1) 202-328-6628Business Hours: Consular Services Hours: Call to Inquire

  • FCTGirl

    I always advise clients to make sure their passport is valid for 6 months or longer PAST their RETURN date, just to be sure. If it’s more of an exotic or uncommon destination, make that 1 year. Then they’re covered for any changes that may occur. And goodness knows, travel is an adventure & there are many changes that can and do happen!

  • Sadie Cee

    Hope this is being said “tongue in cheek!”

  • Bodega

    If Home Depot sells you that water heater, are they responsible for you having the correct permits for installing it?  Since you might buy it in one community but live in another, they will say permits might be required and it is your responsibility to get that information. 

    OR you other option would be to have a licensed plumber install it and then they would be responsible for providing you with the necessary information and possibly handle some of the permit processes.  If you handle things yourself, you have to accept the consequences of not getting things right.

  • y_p_w

    It was rather interesting all the visa requirements needed.  Many countries don’t require a visa for US passport holders. Some countries have more generous visa terms like multiple entries (up to 30 days each) for US citizens, compared to single entry (up to 30 days) for citizens of certain countries.  A lot of US permanent residents go on international travel, and it’s a maze of different visa requirements.

    Some of the fees are ridiculous too.  I remember he helped me with my visa to Australia, which was free.  I was shocked since I’ve paid through the nose to travel to some countries, while others required no visa at all.  I noticed that New Zealand, Thailand, and Korea don’t require visas for US citizens staying under 30 days.

  • sirwired

    In this case, I would view Gate1 more as the plumber than Home Depot.  They are a tour operator, not just a brain-dead booking engine like Expedia.

  • Linda Bator

    You just apply for extra pages — fairly painless!

  • Tony A.

    Glad to see that someone here appreciates how hard it is to do the job of a real travel agent.

    I started this as a hobby – an extension of my other career as a past airline employee. Little did I know how much research and learning went into becoming a travel agent. It’s never ending.

    And when I travel to a foreign country and meet other travel professionals, I realize how much more I don’t know and have to learn.

    Every country is different and there are many types of travel. Each one has its own special needs. That’s why there are many kinds of travel agents – a master of a destination or a mode of travel.

    But one thing is certain – if you buy from an internet vending machine; don’t expect any kind of service other than dispensing of a ticket or a tour.

  • Linda Bator

    Since there are too many scenarios to count, they CLEARLY will tell you to go to the source for the information — they are not customs/immigration agents, and cannot possibly keep up with each and every country’s requirements, special circumstances stipulations, etc.

  • Linda Bator

    TOUR OPERATOR, not travel agent.   And with the numerous destinations, and even more numerous international clientele they book, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have any and all scenarios accounted for, which is why it is the responsibility of the traveller.  You may have a special circumstance, and it is not covered on their information page — then they WOULD be in error and on the hook.

  • Bodega

    Actually they are Home Depot, selling you a product, and a travel consultant would be the plumber.  The TC can sell that same product, with their added services and expertise. 

    Interesting how the issues brought up on Chris’ website are all DIY’er related.


  • sirwired

    From the Gate1 website: “Gate 1 Travel offers escorted tours, European river cruises, independent
    vacations and customized international vacation packages for less. Our
    discount travel packages and tour packages to destinations worldwide
    provide exceptional value, saving our customers time and money. WE HAVE TAKEN CARE OF ALL THE DETAILS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO. [emphasis mine] Find your dream
    vacation today.”

    I don’t see how you can call a package arranged by a tour operator a “DIY” product.

    And not all the issues on this website are DIY problems.  He has posted many stories where consumers have been poorly served by a traditional brick-and-mortar travel agent.

  • zonks

    likely not.  I’ve had to hand over bribes before in order to enter and leave a country.  It was via land though, not air.  Entering I had to had it over with money tucked inside and when I left they refused to give my passport back until I passed money through the window. 

  • y_p_w

    Just noticed this from the archives:

    That one mentions 30 days for Costa Rica, but with a mix-up where the traveler was told that six months would be required.

  • Michael K

    The change on the US State Dept site was made sometime after July 3 2011 — that’s the last date it was crawled by and the page still stated “30 days” at that time (

    Unfortunately the Costa Rica embassy website hasn’t been crawled by webarchive since Nov 2010, so that doesn’t give us a better guage of when their site changed (it did say “30 days” though in Nov 2010).

  • ce

    I feel sorry for her, but from the prespective of a travel agent in training, providing information on passports and visa’s is a good customer service oppurtunity and not something which the agent is obliged to do. The individual should always check themselves to make 100% sure. I feel in this case though, further compensation should be awarded due to the conflicting information provided, from all parties involved.

  • Bodega

    They handle the details of puting together the packages, they don’t assist with the extra stuff that comes with traveling.  I sell Gate1 so I know how they do things. 

    Most of the complaints lately have been DIY’er booked.  While the internet is a good resource tool, it isn’t that user friendly for booking as proven by Chris’ articles. 

  • Bodega

    A lot of airline websites have a Timatic link.  Find one and bookmark it as it provides a lot of good and important travel information.

  • Sally

    Travel professionals should be better informed than tourists. That is what you are paid for – experience and knowledge.

  • ce

    Sally think of all the countries in the world, and all the different regulations there are. It doesn’t hurt to double check what the agent has told with you everyone makes mistakes and things change so often. There is only so much you can do, of course we endavour to give the most updated information to clients, but sometimes it doesn’t always happen. For example if you spent 20000 AUD on a trip throughout Europe, would you not think to check the latest and most updated information. It takes no time online!

  • $16635417

    Denied boarding compensation relates to overbooking situations. This is a case of a traveler who bought a ticket and failed to comply with entry requirements. The irony is JetBlue would have done her a favor by not allowing transport…but of course she would have whined that it was their fault. 

  • Kathy

    Apparently Gate 1 does not have to do anything.   From my experience I don’t trust anyone except the country I’m visiting for entry requirements and will definately get my passport renewed sooner than later.

  • Ray Lee

    I don’t think the question you posted is fair in that Gate 1 and JetBlue are two completely different pieces of this puzzle.  Gate 1 should have certainly done all that it could to ensure that the traveler was informed and when the traveler was turned back, they should have been responsible.  They are the travel agents and they are at fault.

    On the other hand, JetBlue is a medium for travel.  There’s no way that they should be responsible for keeping track everyone’s passport expiration date. They are neither the travel agent, more border patrol.  To assume that their airline has any responsibility to the traveler because of passport issues makes no sense.  It’s simply NOT their responsibility as an airline to do so.

  • Bodega

    You are totally off on both.  Gate1 isn’t a travel agent.  They are a tour company that allows the public to book directly with them.  Airlines turn passengers away upon checkin when improper doucments for travel are presented.  It IS their responsibility to know what can or can’t be accepted and if they screw up, they get fined.  I do not know how the airlines check passport information in their system for accuracy, but at the ariport they recheck it and it is at that point the passenger is or isn’t allowed to fly.  The airlines use TIMATIC for visa and passport information.

  • Peter

    I bought my ticket to Costa Rica in August. At that time, the U.S. State department website said passports must be valid 30 days after arrival in Costa Rica.

    Now the website says 90 days! Mine expires 60 days after my arrival so I had to go down to the LA passport agency and renew mine.

    Luckily I read this article and found out they changed the requirements. I wonder how many people are going to Costa Rica for Thanksgiving or Christmas that bought tickets last summer. 

    They could be in for a surprise…

  • Bodega

    You bring up an excellent point.  You need to stay current on international destinations as things do change.  What applied in August as you are finding doesn’t apply today.  Taxes, vaccinations, visa, passport, taking a minor without one or both parents, are just a few examples of what a government can adjust at any time.

  • BlondieDC

    The traveler is the one who is ultimately responsible.  That she received *any* compensation at all, is a surprise to me.

  • Rosered7033

    Agreed, and just one more reason to renew your passport at 6 months.  Something like what you experienced could happen the day before travel (passport rules changes), and then what would a traveler do?

  • Joe Farrell

    Honesty Peter, who cares what the US State Department website states?  What matters is Costa Rica’s entry requirements. . . .  you could have easily called or visited a website of the Costa Rican US Consulate and gotten the information that was then current.   This issue is the requirement of the country you are going to – not what the US State Department tells you.

    That said, why anyone travels with a passport with less than 1 year to go is just risking this very type of problem. 

  • JB

    Gate 1 Travel (Tour Operator not travel agency) states passports should be valid for at least 6 months after travel dates (  Her passport issue should have been identified at the airport by the airline before she boarded.  This would have given her a chance to renew her passport (next day or same day depending on what time her outbound flight was).  This might have allowed her to salvage most of her trip.