Travel Guide

Travel “Oops”: A Passport Tear By An Official & What Qualifies As A “Damaged” Passport

Passport photo
Written by Charlie

The more we travel, the more likely it is that our passports will get worn and, maybe, we will even have a passport tear at some point. Here is how it happened to me and what you should look for.

I am on my 4th passport (if you count my 2nd passports) now and this one has certainly seen more use than the others. In fact, in November, I had to go get new pages added to my passport because I was just about out (yes, it would have only cost a bit more for a new one but there were reasons that I really just wanted to keep this one). With all of that use and then pages added, you would think that some pages would become a bit fragile from use, right?

Travel “Oops”: A Passport Tear By An Official

passport tear

Want to keep your current passport? Make sure the pages don’t get torn!

If you think that is so, then you would be right! As an official document that shows citizenship and proof of identity, it is up to the bearer to make sure it is in good shape for use and to remain valid. The US State Department has this to say about normal use – “Normal wear of a U.S. passport is expected and likely does not constitute “damage.”  For instance normal wear includes the bend of a passport after being carried in your back pocket or fanning of the visa pages after extensive opening and closing.” For most people that use their passport a couple/few times a year, that normal wear clause would most likely be a good description of their passport.

What Is A Damaged Passport?

However, the State Department also spells out what constitutes a damaged passport – If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the book cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport.  Conditions that may constitute damage requiring you to replace your passport include water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.

My Damaged Passport

Here is how my passport went from “normal wear” to “significantly damaged” on a recent trip.

I had gone up to the passport control of the country I was transiting and the officer opened my passport and went to swipe it through his machine. He was in a hurry and it snagged a bit but he just kept pulling it through. When he gave the passport back to me, I pointed out that he had torn the front page of my passport (with the photo and pertinent information). His response was – “Oops.” That’s right, just like he had dropped his keys or something. I asked him what I was supposed to do and he said to get a new passport and then moved me along.

Well, the duration of the trip was very brief without time to get a passport taken care of so I returned to Europe. The tear was not that long and I hoped it would not be an issue. However, the agent said it was a problem and that this was my passport and this was a security issue. She said I needed to get it take care of. I explained it had just happened in the previous country and I was going to get it taken care of when I got home. I had considered entering with my 2nd passport but thought better of it because it meant I would have had to exit Europe with that passport within 90 days and I did not want to have to go through (already did that once!). She gave me a bit more of a stare and kept looking back and forth between the passport and me before she let me through.

Getting It Taken Care Of

So, now I need to get a new passport to replace one that I just paid $82 to have pages added to. And it wasn’t even my fault this time! To be honest, with as many times as border officials handle passports that are well-used, I am surprised that no one I know has had that happen to them before. It is unfortunate that it has happened to me and now it means I will need to carry two passports around with me for a few months since my current one has my residency permit in it. Oh well, just another travel experience!

If this does happen to you and the tear is significant enough that you cannot travel with your passport, you can get it taken care of at an Embassy (if abroad) or Passport Agency office in the US. They can turn them around very quick if your travel demands it. In some cases, it can be done in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, the trip that this happened on left me in a place after regular business hours and I was only on the ground for a few hours. At least I can get it taken care of now. For more information on applying for a new passport and where to get it done, check out this State Department webpage here.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Did you happen to use a VISA Signature credit card to pay your $82? Perhaps you can get a warranty/”purchase security” replacement due to “vandalism”?