It used to be that one of the most fun things about travel was collecting travel stamps in your passport. Every time you’d cross a border, you’d get a stamp, turning your passport into a journal of every place you’d visited. Nowadays, with more and more countries turning to machine readable passport and RFID chip technology, you can return from a multi-country trip with only one or two entry and exit stamps. If you’re a well-traveled person with a sheaf of blank passport pages, you might be tempted to get souvenir passport stamps when you travel. But before you let just anyone stamp your passport, read on for our guide as to which stamps are legal and which are not!
The State Department Law on Passport Markings
The US State Department’s rules on passport markings are clearly stated on your passport. On Page 5 of all US Passports, in a section marked “Alteration or Mutilation of Passport,” is printed the warning that “only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport.” Authorized officials include US State Department staff, US Customs and Border Patrol officers, diplomatic and consular officials of foreign countries, and immigration officers at international borders.
Souvenir Stamps from Immigration Authorities
At many international borders, authorities no longer stamp passports as a matter of course, but you may request a passport stamp when you enter. This is a legal way to obtain a stamp, since it is placed into your passport by an official of the foreign government. In some countries, you may need to visit a special office in order to have your passport stamped.
Souvenir Stamps from Tourist Attractions
Many tourist attractions like parks, temples, and historic sites will have vendors who will stamp your passport with a souvenir stamp for a fee. Two famous examples are the “Checkpoint Charlie” stamp from Berlin, Germany and the Macchu Pichu stamp from Peru. This type of passport stamp is not legal under State Department regulations. Although it’s unusual for travelers to run into trouble because of these unauthorized stamps, it does happen on occasion. Some travelers have had difficulty entering countries like China because of the “fun” stamps in their passports. It’s not worth the risk!
It’s also worth bearing in mind that since the US government no longer will add blank pages to your passport if you run out, they shouldn’t be wasted on unnecessary passport stamps. Perhaps it’s time for a return to those cool country stickers for suitcases!