Using a New Passport With an Old Visa — Reader Mistake Story

Jun 13, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jennifer, whose daughter nearly missed an international flight due to a visa mix-up. Here’s what she had to say:

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Jennifer’s daughter needed a last-minute visa before traveling to Australia. Image courtesy of inigoarza via Getty Images.

Last year, my daughter was set to study abroad in Australia for the entire summer. She applied for and received her student visa in the months leading up to her departure, but she later lost her passport and had to have a new one reissued using the expedited process. 

Our home airport is relatively small, but on the day she was leaving, I insisted we arrive even earlier than recommended. We’re both seasoned domestic travelers, but neither of us have traveled much internationally, so I wanted to make sure we would have extra time to deal with anything that might come up. That turned out to be a good decision!

When my daughter tried to check in at the airport, she kept getting an error that she didn’t have a visa. We showed her paperwork to the Delta representatives, and they were confused as to what was going on, but then it dawned on me. I told the desk agent she had applied for the visa with her old passport and asked if that could be the problem. I was assured that yes, the visa is tied to the passport number, and her new passport number would be different. So there she was, ready to leave the country in mere hours, but without a visa.

My daughter tried calling her study abroad counselors, but they weren’t sure what to do. She then got her laptop out and tried to get a new visa online. The airport Wi-Fi was crawling, but she was eventually able to submit her application. However, while the visa request can be made online, it has to be reviewed before being authorized. Given that it was 4:30 am on a Sunday in Australia, I knew no one was going to be reviewing anything, so I frantically racked my brain trying to think of another option.

I researched different visas for Australia using my phone, and found out that you can apply online for an inexpensive tourist visa, which lasts for two weeks with immediate approval or denial. We still had the terrible Wi-Fi connection to deal with, so we asked the Delta agent if my daughter could possibly use a computer in their back office. The agent was sympathetic to our plight, and after getting approval from a supervisor and waiting for a lull at check-in, my daughter was hurried to the back office while I stayed behind with her bags.

Thankfully, she was able to get her immediate tourist visa and then get on her way. By the time this was all dealt with and she was legal to travel to Australia again, her flight was five minutes from boarding. Her new student visa was approved while she was in the air, so she arrived in Australia with the visa she would need for the entire summer.

We learned a few lessons. First, it’s never a bad idea to arrive at the airport early! Second, visas are tied to your passport number, so you should double check that they match beforehand. Third, you shouldn’t make it another person’s problem to clean up your mess, but if you need help, make sure you ask for it respectfully.

I hear a lot of horror stories about passports and visas, which is why I strongly recommend checking immigration requirements before you travel abroad. That’s true even if you’re an experienced international traveler, since the rules for each country may change without warning. Things worked out for Jennifer and her daughter, but if you find yourself in a similar situation, you may have an easier solution. Many countries (including Australia) will allow you to transfer a visa from one passport to another, so there’s no need to reapply. In some cases you can simply keep your visa as is and carry both your current and expired passports. Again, you should confirm the requirements of any countries you plan to visit well in advance.

On another note, Jennifer’s last point seems like common sense, but I’m amazed at how often I see passengers getting surly with airline staff. Right or wrong, front-line employees (like ticketing and gate agents, as well as flight attendants) hold most of the cards when it comes to resolving a problem, regardless of who is at fault. The people in those positions certainly have room to improve, but whether you’re dealing with a major problem or a minor inconvenience, you’ll get way more traction by remaining calm and courteous.

Passenger receiving documents from airport check-in attendant
Your old passport may be useful if valid visas are still attached to it. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jennifer for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of wwing via Getty Images.

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