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Check Passport Stamps Before Clearing Immigration Travel Tip

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) [...]

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.

Passport stamps are sometimes a mess

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.

Filed under: Travel Tips, Visas

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3425 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

20 comments… add one

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  • Jade - OurOyster.com January 18, 2012, 1:24 am

    That is a really great tip! I had that problem in Sweden, because there was no official there when I entered full stop! So … no stamp.

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    • Wade Shepard January 18, 2012, 12:25 pm

      Man, that is a tough situation. Where did you enter from? What happened when you tried to leave the Schengen area?

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  • jack February 19, 2012, 7:26 am

    Awesome tip! I’ve never had a problem, but no stamp/wrong stamp can cause unbelievable problems, even jail time. I always step away from the booth and then check my passport before moving on.

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    • Wade Shepard February 19, 2012, 2:19 pm

      That’s a real good call, especially when traveling with a family and handing your passports over all together. It is all too easy for the immigration official to stamp one passport twice and another not at all or some other screw up in such circumstances.

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  • Andrew Vernon March 5, 2012, 4:39 am

    To think that your holiday can be almost ruined because of a stamp. Just because the immigration officer did not have enough ink of the stamp can potential land you in trouble. Now I will always make sure the stamp is stamped on properly before I leave the counter. Thanks for your advice!

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  • Alex April 10, 2012, 3:51 pm

    Damn right. From early on in my travels I got into the habit of checking what has just been stamped, on the advice of ‘old school’ travel guides talking about hardcore overland travel in places like the Congo, and didn’t encounter problems until later years. One was a mistake, one was an inking smear leading to an error, and one incident I believe was a nice little scam going on between airport immigration officers and an extension office in Kathmandu. The first I got sorted there and then (the month had just rolled over, but the Thai immigration woman’s stamp was still on last month). I jogged back right away to get it recitifed in the most face saving way I could manage for her. The second, a smeared number on a Thai entry stamp meant ‘I’ read it wrong and overstayed by 2-3 days because I thought it was another number (result = small fine and a black mark of writing in my passport for thai immigration on future visits).

    The third, a case of buying a 30 days visa on arrival in Kathmandu but noticing much later in my trip that the immigration officer had used his ‘disgression’ to scribble an ending date of 27 days, rather than the full 30 I’d payed for. I hadn’t seen this writing until much later on in the trip, by which time it was too late. The extension office didn’t accept my claim that this should not have even happened in the first place considering I’d payed for 30 days, and my flight date was already set for a couple of days later meaning there was no way out of this.

    It meant an extension, an extension at a minimum of 30 days being bought as standard, at the price of US$25 of course (what I’d payed for what ended up as 27 days). Ripoff, and I was not impressed by what to this day I believe was a nice little earner between corrupt beauracrats, post ‘Kingdom’.

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    • Wade Shepard April 10, 2012, 9:57 pm

      For sure, immigration officers act more or less with impunity and rarely face the consequences of mistakes and errors (or so it’s my impression). Maybe only 1 out of 100 times will they mess up but when they do it is a big hassle — as you’ve found out! Gotta check their work. Thanks for the confirmation on this tip.

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  • hafeez Malik May 28, 2012, 9:00 pm

    In 2010, I got a Schengen Visa from Italian Embassy at Karachi Pakistan stating that I would go only to Italy. I entered Italy via Milan and from the airport, I boarded Malpensa Express which dropped me at Cadorna Station. While looking for a local train, there were two attempts to rob me. This scared me and I decided to leave Italy as I had visa for nearly 27 countries. After 3 days, I went to Switzerland and stayed in its beautiful city, Lucerne. Someone persuaded me to go back to Italy but straight to Venice and Rome which were comparatively safe cities. I did the same and enjoyed my stay at both the places. But initial fright remained with me and I left for Spain eventually exiting from Lisbon, Portugal.

    On my return to Karachi, Pakistan, I was obliged to go to Italian Embassy with my passport. An officer compared my actual itinerary with my planned one and observed stamp of Portugal. She shouted, “In your visa application, you said only Italy. How come you stepped out of it. It is a serious violation.”

    How serious is it? Would it affect my visa application in future? I intend to go to Poland and Scandinavian countries in 2014, about 4 years after the so called violation of visa rules.

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    • Wade Shepard May 29, 2012, 5:30 am

      Don’t worry about it. The official in Karachi has crap between her ears. A Schengen tourist visa is good for all the countries in the zone. You’re suppose to apply for your visa from the Schengen country you plan to spend the most time in, but it’s very difficult for them to check on this. Don’t worry about getting a visa for your upcoming trip, just apply at a different consulate.

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  • Bruno June 29, 2012, 10:44 am

    quick question, I went to U.S in 2007 and the I-94 said that I had to leave in 2008, but I left in 2011, and the stamp was marked the same day that I was supposed to leave. I’m really confused, because I want to go back to visit and I don’t know if I say that I left in 2008 or 2011.

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    • Wade Shepard June 29, 2012, 10:22 pm

      It’s difficult to beat US immigration. There is a good chance they have you logged as a visa overstayer and will deny you entry upon return. They often don’t say anything when you leave but just don’t let you back. It doesn’t matter what you say here as it’s my impression that it’s all electronically logged.

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      • Tim July 31, 2013, 4:33 am

        I didn’t work in Customs, I worked in a related agency but yeah, data like a visa overstay is saved in a digital file and would show up it you tried to return. There’s no point harassing you on the way out because you’re already leaving. Like Wade said, you’d likely be denied. If you want to double check get in touch with a US Embassy in your country.

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  • Brandon July 3, 2012, 9:33 pm

    The last time I traveled the immigration officer stamped the date of entry in he US in my current passpor but wrote with a pen the state where my visa was issued and the visa number. My visa (Multiple entry) was in the old passport and would have expired in the following 9 months. Why didn’t he just stamp until when but instead wrote the visa number and state where it was issued.? I’m a conservative traveler, I don’t overstay or ake long trips..

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  • Tim July 31, 2013, 4:36 am

    When I came to Korea in June, the Immigration guy took me out of line and sent me to the office. I thought, damn, in trouble already? But it was no big deal. I made sure to check my stamp just because of the odd circumstance. It’s a great idea to make that part of traveling SOP.

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  • al December 11, 2013, 4:57 am

    had a wrong date immigration exit stamp on my canadian passport in malaysia, officer erased it off and put the correct month. when you looked at it carefully there is an obvious mark. Will this cause problem renewing my passport?

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    • Wade Shepard December 11, 2013, 5:25 am

      No.

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  • Jsmo March 10, 2014, 12:50 am

    So what happens if you don’t check the stamp and carry on as normal? Can you fix it?
    I came into Korea in Feb so I should have 90 days from then (May), however the stamp shows I have to be out in April 🙁 Anything I can do? What happens if I go to leave in May, would it help if I showed them travel itinerary to prove I came in in Feb?

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    • VagabondJourney March 10, 2014, 1:18 am

      There are no should haves when it comes to immigration. They can give you as few days as they want. There’s nothing you can do except request an extension or leave the country and return. Always be sure to ask for the max amount of days a tourist can get when entering a country, as getting it is not a given.

      If you leave in May you will be subject to getting penalized as an overstayer which could jeopardize your ability to enter the country again in the future. No, it won’t help to show when you entered, your visa is for 60 days, there were no errors.

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  • Ram July 21, 2015, 5:50 pm

    I hold a Singapore passport and upon my arrival to Chennai India my arrival stamp was made on observation page rather than so many blank visa pages where they actually supposed to. I realized later. Hope no problems when leaving India.

    Visa I already have. I’m a overseas citizen of India.

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  • Albi ForShort February 13, 2016, 3:16 am

    HI

    Been In Thailand for 3 weeks. Then went to Vietnam and Cambodia back to Thailand. Left Cambodia on the 2nd feb and got stamped with the wrong date. Entry date was correct (2ndfeb) but exit day was 16th feb! I’m from Norway so I should have had 30 days which works perfectly as I’m flying from Bangkok that day 2nd march. What do I do? Wait till I get to the airport and explain or try and get an extension? Really don’t want any trouble. My boyfriend from UK got the right date stamped 2nd March. Could there been a difference or did the immigration officer just fuck up?

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