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I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.

However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection. 

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Of all the posts I’ve published since the world went into lockdown, this is seemingly the most useless — I’m not reflecting on a past trip, providing daydream material, or sharing useful tips for isolation. This information is aimed squarely at those looking for advice in how to get a second US passport for travel — knowledge that no one can really put to use right now. But well, I hope they will someday!

Plus, there seems to be some universal curiosity on the topic, at least from what I gauged on Instagram and Facebook or whenever a fellow traveler sees me flipping between the two.

Getting a second US passport

So, here’s the story. 

As I threw together my last minute trip to Lebanon, I had just one small issue, and for once, it wasn’t an overweight suitcase or an overloaded itinerary. No, it was a tiny stamp in my passport: one from the Taba border in Egypt. That little flash of ink revealed a truth that could result in me being banned from Lebanon: I’d been to Israel before. The same fate would await me in the other countries that do not allow travelers who have been to Israel to enter: Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

But Israel doesn’t stamp passports anymore, many protest. And that’s true! (And appreciated.) Israel knows that it’s not popular with many of its neighbors. And so, since around 2013, rather than stamp your passport, they issue you a small little card that you keep with you for the duration of your trip and submit upon departure. However, countries like Lebanon have smartened up, and instead look for “evidence of travel to Israel” — mostly, scouring your passport for stamps from overland border crossings from Israel into Egypt and Jordan, but sometimes more extreme measures like searching your bag for shekels, Hebrew writing, etc. Twice, I’ve crossed the border between Israel and Egypt — and my passport showed it. 

I did reach out to my travel community to see if anyone had experience traveling to Lebanon after Israel, and of course did tons of online research to see if there were ever exemptions. Here’s the first-hand experiences I was able to gather from friends:

• Trish of PS I’m on My Way was not allowed to board her flight to Beirut from Armenia due to an Israeli visa in her passport.
Lee Abbamonte told me that he’s never once been asked if I’ve been to Israel (and he’s famous for being the first American to travel to literally every country in the world so… he’s been to all of them!). But he had a fresh passport with no evidence of travel to Israel when he finally made it to Lebanon.
• Jackson Groves of Journey Era, who I traveled to Israel with on my first trip, entered Lebanon with his German passport, as his Australian one showed evidence of travel to Israel. However, they asked him at immigration if he’d been to Israel regardless, and he was truthful and said yes — and they let him in anyway.
• Jess of Trip Whisperer, my host in Lebanon, told me that she has heard of people explaining and justifying a reason they had no choice but to travel to Israel (like a wedding or obligatory reason) to get through immigration, but conceded it could be a matter of the mood of the staff or the agent that day.

Overall, the overwhelming evidence online points to the fact that you will likely not be allowed to enter if immigration finds a stamp. While I felt like I’d be able to board my flight due to the fact that I assumed ground staff at LAX wouldn’t be so hip to the implications of a Taba stamp, my biggest concern was what would happen if I was barred entry at Lebanese immigration — would I be returned to my point of entry or allowed to book a flight of my choice? I couldn’t find any clear answers.

So, I started looking for solutions — and settled on getting a second passport. Yes, it’s possible! US citizens can legally apply for a second valid passport for two reasons: (1) if they need to travel internationally while their original passport is out of commission at an embassy for a application for a visas elsewhere or (2) if their current passport would make travel to an upcoming destination impossible. Each passport will have its own passport number. 

I had a brief moment on concern that there was some kind of electronic tracking of my travels and somehow Lebanon would just know, via some kind of international dossier, that I had been the Israel, even with a fresh passport. When I mentioned this to Israeli friends they laughed and promised me that there is absolutely no data sharing going on between these sworn enemy countries. Good point.

Anyway, I waited too long to comfortably apply by mail, and so made an appointment at the US passport office in Boston, the closest option from Martha’s Vineyard, where I would be at the time. 

In order to make an in-person appointment, you must be able to show proof of travel within 14 days — I brought my printed flight itinerary which I was asked for several times. The bus tickets, the Boston hotel etc. made this an expensive second passport, but I was glad I went in person since there was a bit of confusion and I was able to ask a bunch of questions.

In addition to the standard paperwork, I had to bring a few special documents. Here’s the full list: 

  • My original passport
  • A completed DS-82 passport form — the same form you’d use to renew 
  • Two passport photos that were  distinctly different from those in my first passport
  • Proof of travel 
  • Another form of government-issued ID — I brought my driver’s license 
  • A letter clearly explaining why I needed a second passport

The last one stressed my out at first. I had to bring a typed out letter explaining why I was applying for a second passport, which I based on a template I found online. You can find the full text below, much of which is required text regarding the reasons for your passport request and your compliance with the regulations of having one:

DATE: August 6, 2019
TO: U.S Department of State Passport Agency

I, Alexandra Baackes, bearer of current US passport [insert passport number] issued on [insert issuance date], am currently scheduled to travel internationally to the following places on the following dates:

[Insert travel itinerary]

I am respectfully requesting a second passport due to diplomatic strains in Middle Eastern countries. I will be traveling for tourist purposes to Lebanon, as well as to Israel and to Egypt for business purposes, where I run women’s yoga retreats.

It is impossible to maintain one passport as Lebanon will not allow entry with a passport that shows evidence of past travel to Israel (which is marked in my current passport with a stamp from the Taba land border in Egypt.)

I understand this passport will only be valid for four years. I understand that this passport can be renewed, should my need to travel to this region continue. Should either of my two passports be lost or stolen, I will report immediately the circumstances of the loss to Passport Services, or if abroad, to the nearest U.S. Embassy, Consulate, or Consular Agency. I understand that both passports must be submitted for inspection or cancellation when I request any passport service in the future.

Thank you for the issuance of this second passport. If there is anything I can do to assist you in making this decision, please call me at [insert phone number.]

Sincerely,
Alexandra Baackes

The second passport cost $110 and I paid a rush fee of $60. The passport is valid for four years. As most passports are valid for ten years, I wondered if this might be a red flag that any traveler using one has a second passport and ergo something to hide, but when I asked about that at the passport office, they shrugged and told me they’d never heard of an issue stemming from that. 

The passport office employees were extremely helpful and went back and forth with me over several options, double checking with supervisors, and assuring me they’d do everything possible to make sure I was able to travel freely and safely with my US passports. They rush mailed the passport to my dad’s address in Los Angeles, where I was flying to Lebanon from. I was overjoyed when it appeared in the mail as promised!

The only way to get a new passport handed to you in-person at the agency is to have an emergency appointment, which requires showing evidence of travel within 72 hours. A few suggested showing doctored documents for this but, as stressful as it was waiting for my documents to arrive in the mail, I felt like lying to the federal government was slightly more so. 

If you do apply by mail, one great piece of advice I wrote was to put a sticky note atop of your pile of documents that says, “SECOND PASSPORT APPLICATION!” because the paperwork is the same as a renewal and if someone isn’t paying close attention they could accidentally cancel your original passport in the process. 

Mamaleh's in Boston
Mamaleh's in Boston

These photos are of me celebrating my successful passport application to make travel to Israel and Lebanon sail a little more smoothly at, appropriately, a Jewish deli in Boston.

On my way to Lebanon, I temporarily archived all photos on my Instagram from Israel, but decided that I would be honest if I was asked directly if I’d traveled to Israel in the past. Thankfully, I sailed through immigration with a smile and only questions about my host Jess and her address. Success!

On my way from Lebanon to Israel, I swapped out passports during my layover in Cyprus. Upon arrival in Israel, they simply asked which flight I arrived on — to which I replied from Lanarca — and then the usual barrage of questions about where I’m staying, going, and who I was meeting in Israel. Success again!

If you are flying between Israel and a country they don’t get along with, Cyprus is a good go-to for a stopover. I messed up and bought a flight on one itinerary though a third party website which mega stressed me out. First, I wasn’t able to check in online and later, was called by name to the counter before boarding (they charged me the wrong amount for my checked luggage) and both times I was convinced “they” knew what I was doing, ha. In the future, if I have to travel “directly” between the two countries, I will take the opportunity to enjoy Cyprus for a few days in-between to be less suspicious!

Getting a second US passport

So, was it worth it?

Heck yes! I had incredible trips to two countries I adore, and now have a great system to hop around the Middle East with ease. Plus, I feel like an international spy! (Just kidding on the last point.)

So, I essentially now have one passport I use for Israel and the rest of the world, and one passport I use for Muslim countries, including Malaysia or Indonesia, which trigger questioning at Israel entry points. While Israel doesn’t ban travelers that have been to any other countries, per se, they can sometimes hold you up for questioning and extensive additional screening, even for hours, as a result of seeing a stamp from an enemy state in your passport. (Israel is  friendly with their neighbors Jordan and Egypt, and you can travel freely between them, so if I cross those land borders in the future I will likely use my Israel passport to do so, or ask them if they’d be willing to stamp a paper instead, which many travelers report they are happy to do.) 

Is it a hassle? Yes. But I love Israel and travel there often, and I have traveled fairly extensively around the rest of the Middle East (Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey and Lebanon) already and have no plans to stop — I’d love to visit Iran and do a liveaboard in Sudan someday, both of which would have required the second passport as well. So essentially, I got a second US passport to make my travels in the Middle East go more smoothly — I love traveling in this region and as I’m developing several retreats in the area, it’s a must.

My only issue now? Keeping track of which is which! I did get two different color passport covers, and put little notes on the inside cover to remind me which is which — especially which one my Global Entry is registered with when I return to America!

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Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat  for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.

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14 Comments...
  • Annika
    May 27 2020

    So interesting to read this and also what you had to provide in order to get a second passport. I literally broke my old passport in Mexico and when I made an appointment to get a new one they actually suggested that I should get a second one. I just had to sign a small waiver saying that I need it for work as a journalist. No problems at all! I also have a friend who works for a big news channel and he says for those exact reasons you mentioned a lot of journalists have a second ‘dirty’ passport.
    I am concerned though in my case about going to a place like Sudan and then not getting into the US – regardless of the passport I would be uncomfortable to lie if they asked me if I had been.

    • Alex
      May 27 2020

      Hey Annika, what is your nationality? My understanding is you can absolutely enter the US after going to Sudan, but you do waive your right to use the ESTA waiver.

      • Annika
        May 27 2020

        I am German. And yes, sorry should have been more specific – won’t get an ESTA but have to actually go to the embassy which is a pain…

        • Alex
          May 28 2020

          Definitely! I was meant to be in Sudan in April (COVID cancelled, of course) and my travel buddy is British and was bummed about ESTA, for sure.

  • Becke
    May 27 2020

    This was randomly fascinating! I never would have thought a bearer of the almighty American passport would be stopped for touring Israel along with the rest of the Mid East. Will the ignorance of my privilege ever cease??

    • Alex
      May 28 2020

      Ha, there’s definitely a bit of research involved when it comes to travel in the Middle East. But it’s so worth it — an incredible region!

  • Kendal
    May 27 2020

    This is great advice! Another passport tip I would add in general is that your state senator or representative can help you get an expedited passport for free in urgent cases! I missed a visa deadline for a study abroad opportunity (I had to prove I had my visa before they’d officially accept me into the program) due to my passport not having enough months left for a Russian visa! I was granted a 3 day extension by the study abroad program and then paid for an expensive expedition service. I went to my local courthouse (because we don’t have passport services near us) and the clerk told me to request a refund from the expedition company and call my senator instead! My senator’s secretary called me and asked to pop by the office that afternoon with my passport, paperwork, Priority mail stamp, and check for the renewal. The senator inserted a letter stating the passport renewal was urgent and I got it in the mail 2 days later!!! I saved $200+ and got to study abroad 🙂 thought I’d share since it somewhat relates!

    • Alex
      May 28 2020

      Wow that’s an amazing tip! So good to know — this story reminds me of a time I had to call the local police station in Hawaii because I’d lost my license and ergo could not get a rental car and there were no cabs or Ubers available as it was the middle of the night and the rental people told me I might be able to get proof I had a license from them. I was so apologetic about calling and the dispatcher was like, honey, we are here to help people don’t worry! It warmed my heart.

  • Aussie Jo
    May 28 2020

    Wow what a story and what a post

    • Alex
      June 9 2020

      I’m glad some found this interesting even in (what I hope is a brief) moment in history where it’s irrelevant, ha! I enjoyed sharing the tale!

  • Džangir Kolar
    June 22 2020

    It is similar with USA and Cuba?

    • Alex
      June 29 2020

      Hey! How do you mean?

      • Džangir Kolar
        June 30 2020

        I was in Cuba in 2005. Then they didn’t put a stamp in the passport, but give you a piece of paper. When I asked locals why they explained that US citizens couldn’t travel to Cuba (directly), so not to get fine they had a paper to throw it away

        • Alex
          July 1 2020

          Yes, what Israel does is indeed similar, then 🙂

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