Why You Should Never Put a Souvenir Stamp in Your Official Passport

Novelty and souvenir passport stamps are a popular trend popping up around the world. Here's why you should think twice before putting one in your official passport.

Tina Sibley, a woman in her sixties from the United Kingdom, thinks of herself as a well-traveled person. And really, she's got the ticket stubs and passport stamps to prove it. However, as she learned in February 2020 while attempting to board a Qatar Airways flight in Thailand, some of those stamps can really get you into trouble.

"An excited traveler, I presented myself and my passport at Qatar Airways last night to be told I couldn't fly because of the Machu Picchu stamp in my passport," Sibley shared in a Facebook post. "I thought the guy was having a laugh. But no."

Dismayed, Sibley proceeded directly to the British Embassy in Thailand to make her case, only to be shot down once again.

"The embassy heard my plight and said that it was rubbish," she wrote. "My passport was valid and as such, they couldn't issue a replacement. They told me to explain that to Qatar Airways and if they wouldn't take me, to go with another airline."

However, back at the airport, it turned out neither Qatar Airways nor Emirates would take her, so it was back to the drawing board. The source of all this frustration: A silly little novelty stamp from Machu Picchu.

Passport stamps
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It does appear that in this particular case, everyone was confused about the validity of the souvenir stamp that likely thousands of other travelers also happen to have in their passports. Beyond that famed stamp that visitors can give to themselves in Machu Picchu, hardcore travelers also hunt down and collect others — the "Checkpoint Charlie" stamp from Berlin, the Antarctic Heritage Stamp from a pilgrimage to Antarctica, or the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch passport stamp from Wales — to add to their official collection. That said, let Sibley's stressful experience, and page five of all United States passports, serve as a warning to never put these souvenir stamps in your official document.

On page five of each and every U.S. passport, international travelers will find a note saying that the "Alteration or Mutilation of Passport," is unauthorized and "only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport."

Those officials include U.S. State Department staff, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers, diplomatic and consular officials of foreign countries, and immigration officers at international borders. In other words, sorry, but giving yourself a stamp at Machu Picchu simply doesn't count.

"The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid the use of novelty stamps in the U.S. passport. The Department could potentially consider novelty stamps as 'damage' to the U.S. passport," a State Department official told Travel + Leisure. "We cannot comment on what passport damage or alteration might cause the Department of Homeland Security or the government of a foreign country to prevent entry at the border."

However, that doesn't mean you need to forgo getting these kinds of novelty stamps altogether. Rather than mark up your official documents, though, pick up a journal and keep all your souvenir stamps and memories from your trip in there instead. That way, you'll always be able to get home on time and have a special keepsake to remember your travels by.

As for Sibley, she did finally get an emergency passport after a bit of back and forth begging and pleading with the embassy. And this time, it won't be filled with anything but official stamps.

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