Using a government-issued or “no fee” passport for leisure travel — or a tourist passport for duty assignments — may not seem like a big deal. However, it can lead to hefty fines, delays and even being stranded at the border of another country.
Government-issued passports are distributed to active duty military members, command-sponsored military family members, Department of Defense civilians and their family members, stationed overseas “specifically for execution of government orders and travel associated with those orders,” according to Edmund Snead, passport and visa specialist for the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart passport office. They are not designed for leisure travel.
While travelers may have gotten away with vacationing on a government passport in the past, many countries have tightened passport restrictions. As of Feb. 1, 2010, several countries, including most African countries, France, Egypt and Great Britain, will not allow anyone on leisure travel to enter with an official (red), diplomatic (black) or official (blue) passport.
“Only recently, a service member stationed in Stuttgart attempted to cross the German-French border into Strasbourg using only a military ID card. Although the service member was allowed to enter France and then return to Germany, he was charged a €350 fine for traveling without proper documents,” Snead said.
For similar reasons, a tourist passport used for duty or business travel can also cause issues, added Tracee Quinn, Chief of the Military Personnel Division for USAG Stuttgart.
“Recently, a service member returning to the Middle East from R and R entered on his tourist passport. When his tour ended a few months later, he tried to leave the country on his official passport, only to be detained for hours for violating the country’s visa laws. The service member was eventually released to his unit by authorities, but had to pay a $4,000 fine and was not able to return home until a few days later,” she said.
The service member wasn’t alone. In 2010, more than 40 people from the Stuttgart community were detained by airport officials attempting to use the no-fee (official) passport for leisure travel or the fee (tourist) passport for official travel, according to Snead.
Applying for a blue tourist or “fee” passport, in addition to having an official passport, can prevent problems like these from arising.
A tourist passport is recognized internationally and entitles the bearer to receive protection and assistance from the diplomatic and consular offices of other countries while they are visiting.
Community members should not wait to obtain a tourist passport, Snead said. Tourist passports normally take eight to 12 weeks to process in the U.S. and cannot be expedited overseas.
Travelers can also run into problems for not having a valid Status of Forces Agreement stamp or certificate in their passport, or for leaving their SOFA certificate at home.
A SOFA certificate or stamp is required for all military dependents, contractors and DoD civilians and their dependents while assigned to Germany.
The SOFA certificate/stamp serves as proof to German customs officials that a traveler has the right to legally enter and stay in Germany beyond the normal 90 day visitor restriction.
Community members must have either a tourist passport with a SOFA certificate attached, or an official passport with a SOFA stamp. If they have the official passport with a SOFA stamp, they must use a tourist passport to depart Germany and the official passport to return to Germany.
Service members do not receive a SOFA certificate or stamp; they must carry their military ID card and assignment orders as SOFA validation.
Up-to-date travel information and country requirements for official and leisure travel are available in the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide at www.travel.state.gov. For more information on applying for or renewing a passport or SOFA card, call the USAG Stuttgart Passport Office at 431-2539/civ. 07031-15-2539.