Using no-fee passports on leisure can leave you stranded
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A government-issued or "no fee" passport can be very convenient. It is free of charge to command-sponsored military family members and Department of Defense civilians stationed overseas and allows them to bypass the process of applying for a tourist passport.

The convenience ends, however, when no-fee passports are used for leisure travel. Vacationers can find themselves stranded at the border of another country, trying to get in (or worse: trying to get out).

The reasons why the government-issued passport does not work on leisure travel are because "a government-issued passport is specifically for execution of government orders and travel associated with those orders," said Edmund Snead, passport and VISA specialist at the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart passport office.

However, about 50 percent of customers to the passport office travel on their no-fee passport in Europe and run the risk of delay or denial, said Jennifer Luley, lead passport agent.

In recent years, one couple living in USAG Stuttgart was detained in Africa for using the no-fee passports, Snead said.

"They were allowed to enter [but] they could not exit," he said.

France, Egypt and Great Britain, as well as several African countries, have announced that they will not allow anyone on leisure travel with a no-fee official (red), diplomatic (black) or no-fee official (blue) passport to enter, as of Feb. 1. All other countries could deny entry or detain travelers if their passport does not indicate their actual travel status, at the country's discretion.

Applying for a tourist or "fee" passport can prevent problems like these from arising. "A fee passport is built to travel anywhere in the world," Snead said.

Those who need a tourist passport for any kind of holiday travel should apply at the passport office as soon as possible, he said, since they normally take eight to 12 weeks to process in the United States. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates in Germany are not authorized to accept passport applications.

Tourist passports cannot be expedited overseas, unless it is a confirmed emergency. If a traveler's passport has less than six months of validity left, most airlines will deny boarding and most countries will not issue visas to accompany that passport.

In addition, the Status of Forces Agreement is required for all military dependents, contractors and DoD civilians and their dependents while assigned to Germany. The SOFA stamp is placed in the no-fee passport. Both passports should be carried while traveling to ensure entry back into Germany.

Travelers in need of a new or renewed tourist passport or SOFA card will need to visit the passport office, and they will have to wait in line.

"Currently, we have only two certified agents to support all of Stuttgart," said Tracee Quinn, chief of the military personnel division. "We encourage customers to utilize the Web site to apply for their tourist passport."

The tourist passport cost and processing time are two reasons why people sometimes don't apply, but the biggest reason is that some individuals feel they shouldn't have to, Snead said. "Many think, 'I can travel anywhere because I'm a U.S. Citizen. It's never going to be a problem.'"

Only recently, Snead said, a service member stationed in USAG Stuttgart attempted to cross the German-French border into Strasbourg on only a military ID card. He was mailed a Ac'A!350 fine.

In addition to fines and denied entry or exit, people traveling without a tourist passport can also expect to be detained and questioned, Snead said. Tourist passports are a requirement, whether a country checks or not.