Once, my coaching buddy raced around Athens between basketball games to find an American Embassy when he realized his passport expired and he would be stuck in Greece. I would never let my passport lapse especially in our present political climate. I have feared my French husband will be denied entry into the United States, but I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the country.

On January 10, the ticket control attendant at the gate stopped me from boarding my flight to Amsterdam at the St.Paul/Minneapolis airport.

« A problem? Me? I am American, » I said pointing to my husband. « He’s the foreigner. » « He can go, » the airline attendant barked. « You must stay. Your passport is expiring April 3. » « I know. I will go to the American consulate when I get back to Switzerland. » « M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. » « But I don’t live here. » « You cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration. »

The hostess called her supervisor, who called his manager, who called the next higher up in the chain of command. They reiterated the rule and stared at the computer screen.

«But I live in Switzerland,» I pleaded showing my residency permit. More mumbling, more phone calls, more computer gazing.

With a last warning, they finally let me board the plane.

I am a well-seasoned traveler, but rules can change quickly especially these days with heightened security. After having lived in 4 different countries, I fear losing my identity papers because I know the rigors involved in establishing legality as an alien. How could I be unaware of this 3-month stipulation?

To avoid making the same mistake, here are some tips concerning your passport. (For more information go to this page.)

International travel is denied if you passport is within 3 months before expiration. Other countries may deny entry if your passport expires within 6 months. Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area requires a minimum of 3 months

US passport photographs are very specific – expats would find it easier and cheaper to take passport photos while in the states at the local DMV or Walgreens than overseas.

Beware, you cannot wear glasses in the photo and you must not smile. Please don’t argue with the photographer (like the lady in front of me at Walgreens did) and demand a retake because you don’t like the way you look. This isn’t a Glamour cover shoot; it’s a passport. Forget vanity. Think safety. Face recognition software works better identifying non-smiling, glasses free photographs.

An adult US passport costs – $140 (or $110 for renewal) but it is valid for 10 years. It packs a lot of punch for your dollar. That little blue book allows Americans free access to over 100 different countries as compared to passports for many Middle Eastern and African countries whose citizens can only enter 30 some countries without visas.

Once back home safely, I filled in the paperwork online, then went to consulate in Geneva and filed for a new passport, which arrived by mail two weeks later. As I admired my new blue book, I marveled at my fortune being born in Illinois instead of Uzbekistan.

All in all it was surprisingly simple especially compared to renewing my American driver’s license, which entailed procuring my French marriage license, finding a valid translator, and five trips to the DMV, but that is another story. Stay tuned.

For more information on traveling, working, and living abroad check this official site.