I run a travel question and answer service on Vagabondjourney.com, through which I’m able to gauge current trends in travel problems and difficulties that people are having on the road. Generally, there are two types of questions that come into me through this service: 1) Questions that people have when planning their trip, and 2) Questions people have about how to solve problems they’ve encountered when traveling. Of the two, the latter group is far more common.
One problem that keeps coming up is travelers receiving unintelligible or incorrect stamps in their passports as they pass through immigration. All too often, I receive a question from someone who all of a sudden realizes — sometimes months from the day they entered a country — that their entry stamp is either unreadable, incorrect, or was never there to begin with. They then find themselves with a potentially big problem, as the proof of their entry into a country is either erroneous or doesn’t exist. This can lead to major difficulties when trying to exit the country, as their entry visa is often checked prior to being permitted to leave.
Immigration officials screw up more times than I care to even consider, their work truly needs to be double checked, as it is the traveler that will eat the consequences of their errors. The biggest mistake I’ve observed immigration officials make is that they don’t ink their stamps well enough before placing a visa into a passport or they forget to stamp a passport at all. I’ve seen this happen various times — one time I even got stamped into Mexico twice. Another error is that they stamp the wrong date into a passport — which is sometimes off by years. To curb all of these errors only takes a simple move:
Before walking away from an immigration desk check the stamps you just received in your passport. If there are any errors ask to have them fixed on the spot, if the stamp is too light to read or is otherwise illegible ask for another.
It blows my mind how often travelers just take their passports and shove them into their pockets and run off before looking at the stamp they just received. I understand this move: who wants to stand in front of a stone faced immigration official for any longer than they have to? But the few seconds it takes to check an immigration stamp for legibility and correctness can save many problems farther down the road.
Checking immigration stamps on location should be part of any traveler’s standard operating procedure.