Are you required to have six months remaining on your passport in order to be allowed to visit some European countries? One subscriber was told he did by the U.S. Passport service and missed a trip to Germany. He got bad information but there are things about this issue that every traveler to Europe should be aware of.

Last months' Dear Subscriber ended with the following item:

"One reader found this out the hard way: in order to be allowed to leave the U.S. you must have at least six months left on your passport."

Though we have learned that is not a correct statement, there are things about this issue travelers to Europe should be aware of.

To begin with, the reader in question was told by the U.S. Passport Service he needed more than six months remaining on his passport to be allowed to enter Germany. He had a little over three. Believing what he was told, our reader tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new passport in the 48 hours prior to his flight. He ended up not traveling and paying a $250 penalty to cancel his airline ticket.

The idea that passport validity must extend beyond the end of ones visit to Europe is bolstered by the following text appearing on the website of the U.S. State Departments Bureau of Consular Affairs (http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html).

"Some countries require that your U.S. passport be valid at least six months or longer beyond the dates of your trip (Gemütlichkeit's emphasis). If your passport expires before the required validity, you will have to apply for a new one. Please check with the embassy or nearest consulate of the country that you plan to visit for their requirements."

We have recently raised this issue with the German, Swiss and Austrian, consulates, reservations personnel at Swiss Airlines and British Air, three travel agents, the ticket managers of two large airline consolidators, and the German Embassy in Washington DC. Most said there was such a regulation, the rest said there was not.

The most authoritative response came from Christina Brunsch, press officer at the German Embassy in Washington DC. She told Gemütlichkeit that passport validity beyond the date of planned departure from her country is a guideline not a law set forth in article 13.2 of the Schengen Agreement, a document dealing with visas and passports to which most Western European countries are signators. But, she said, it is rarely enforced.

Thus, as a practical matter, it appears you need a passport valid only through the duration of your trip.

On the other hand, the guideline does exist and it would seem prudent to err on the side of safety. Our recommendation: before leaving for Europe be sure you are holding a passport whose expiration date equals six months plus the duration of your trip.