I have always seen travelers line up to get that souvenir stamp in their passport but never thought there was any issue in getting it done. It was never something I thought about doing. But here is why you probably should think about not getting it done the next time you travel.
Tina Sibley, a 59-year-old woman from the United Kingdom, thinks of herself as a well-traveled person. And really, she’s got the ticket stubs and passport stamps to prove it. However, as she recently learned while attempting to board a Qatar Airways flight in Thailand, some of those stamps can really get you in trouble.
“An excited traveler, I presented myself and my passport at Qatar airways last night to be told I couldn't fly because of the Machu Picchu stamp in my passport,” Sibley shared in a Facebook post. “I thought the guy was having a laugh. But no.” Dismayed, Sibley went directly to the British Embassy in Thailand, only to be shot down once again.
“The embassy heard my plight and said that it was rubbish,” she wrote. “My passport was valid and as such, they couldn't issue a replacement. They told me to explain that to Qatar airways and if they wouldn't take me to go with another airline.” However, back at the airport, neither Qatar nor Emirates would take her and it was back to the drawing board. All this, over a silly little novelty stamp from Machu Picchu. It does appear that everyone in this case was confused about the validity of the souvenir stamp that likely thousands of other travelers have in their passports, too. Beyond that famed stamp that visitors can give to themselves in Machu Picchu, hardcore travelers also hunt down others like the “Checkpoint Charlie” stamp in Berlin, Germany; the Antarctic Heritage Stamp in Antarctica; and the in Wales, to add to their official collection. But, let Sibley, and page 5 of all United States passports, serve as a warning to never ever put these souvenir stamps in your official document.
On page five of each and every U.S. passport international travelers will find that “Alteration or Mutilation of Passport,” is unauthorized and “only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport.”
Those officials include U.S. State Department staff, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers, diplomatic and consular officials of foreign countries, and immigration officers at international borders. Sorry, you giving yourself a stamp at Machu Picchu simply doesn’t count.
"The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid the use of novelty stamps in the U.S. passport. The Department could potentially consider novelty stamps as “damage” to the U.S. passport. We cannot comment on what passport damage or alteration might cause the Department of Homeland Security or the government of a foreign country to prevent entry at the border," a State Department official told Travel + Leisure.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to forgo getting the novelty stamps altogether. Rather than mark up your official documents pick up a souvenir stamp collecting journal to place all your memories in instead. This way, you’ll always be able to get home on time.
As for Sibley, she did finally get an emergency passport after a bit of back and forth begging and pleading with the embassy. This time, it won’t be filled with anything but official stamps.
Good info to know.