Why Do You Have to Take Your Passport Out of Its Case at Customs?

It's annoying, but necessary. 

Raise your hand if you love your passport holder because of its chicness, its sentimental value, or even (how quaint) its actual functionality to protect your all-important passport.

You adore the accessory, that is, until you’re breezing your way through check-in and the customs officer asks (demands) that you please remove your document from its pouch. It's annoying, and also a time suck during an otherwise streamlined experience. But here's what you have to know about the little dance, why you have to do it... and why you should keep your passport protected in a case despite the momentary hassle.

You Can No Longer Wear This in Your Passport Photo
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You Can No Longer Wear This in Your Passport Photo

Travel expert Kimberly Milnes says she doesn’t go abroad without her passport holder, not only because it looks nice but for the protection it provides: “A passport holder really does keep [your document] safer. Especially, one that is [enabled with] RFID [radio frequency identification] protection," she says. "It's really protect your information."

RIFID is the tiny chip your passport holds that includes your name, your number, the expiration date: all essential information used to hack your identify. Many passport holders keep a lurking hacker from scooping up that private content, without any work on your part.

Travel agent Greg Antonelle adds a note about the high-value of that passport: “When vacationing abroad, your passport should be the most important item you possess. It enables you to enter the foreign countries you’re visiting and then re-enter the U.S. Without your passport, you're doomed."

In addition to keeping your info secure in the age of digital theft, your holder also makes sure your passport doesn’t become so worn out that you have to replace it before its expiration date, usually 10 years from issuance. As Antonelle explains, “If any of your pages are ripped or battered badly, a border officer can reject it. It’s just not worth taking the risk of that happening,” he says. “Many passport holders are large enough to accommodate your tickets, credit cards, cash, etc too, so it helps with minimizing multiple items you need to carry, like a wallet."

As for why you have to remove your passport from an accessory with such protective power? Pretty simple: “Many times security/customs will take your passport out from a passport holder to examine it more closely or to scan it,” Antonelle says. “Depending on the cover, it may inhibit the officer from scanning it. Often times, it may just vary depending on the officer and country you are in.”

Remember that all-important chip with your secret info on it? That’s another reason for officers to ask you to take that baby out of its holder. They need it to scan and sometimes, your leather accessory doesn’t allow them to: “Mostly it is that they need to put the barcode through the scanner and it is just easier to do that if it is out of the holder.”

In the end, sure, it might be a pain to take your passport in and out, but it’ll save both you and the customs officer time if you do it fast and easy. As soon as it’s scanned, put it back in that holder and keep it safe.

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