It’s probably one of the most terrifying scenarios that any travel lover can imagine. There you are, enjoying that international trip you’ve been looking forward to for months (or even years) — maybe you’re strolling along the canals of Venice or shopping in Hong Kong, when you reach into your pocket or bag and realize (to your horror) that your passport is GONE!
A lost or stolen passport can really put a crimp your travel style. But it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. As long as you take the right precautions and know what to do should such an unfortunate event occur, dealing with a lost passport might end up being little more than a minor hiccup in your itinerary.
Here are some tips to help you avoid and manage this travel emergency:
Before You Go
Make Copies Before You Go
As in so many cases, a little advanced planning and a bit of effort can go a long way in keeping your passport safe.
Before you even find yourself in such a tricky situation, make a few photocopies of the photo page of your passport as well as any pages with visas or other relevant information. Keep a copy somewhere safe back home and a copy or two with you on your trip — just not in the same place as your passport. Having a digital backup on your phone or other device is also a good idea, along with emailing the backup to a close family member, friend or colleague.
While you’re making copies of your passport, why not do the same with your credit cards and any other important documents or forms of IDs that you plan to travel with?
Consider Getting Travel Insurance
While we’re thinking ahead, may we ask if you’ve got your travel insurance sorted out? Having travel insurance is another way to reduce stress and expense when there’s an emergency while you’re away. An annual or single-trip policy that covers likely scenarios (illness, theft, being in an accident, flight cancellation) usually isn’t all that expensive. If you’re spending several hundred or thousands of dollars for your trip, having insurance is a sound investment, if only for the peace of mind it offers.
Most travel insurance policies will recoup most of the costs incurred dealing with getting a new passport. So keep your receipts!
If You Lose Your Passport Before You Travel
If you happen to lose yours before heading overseas, and you have plans to leave within two weeks, make an appointment ASAP to apply in person at your nearest passport agency to replace your passport. If you don’t have any immediate plans to travel, simply make an appointment (if necessary) to apply at an authorized passport acceptance facility to replace your passport at a time convenient for you.
During Your Trip
Keep Your Passport Safe
Have a “special spot” for your passport. A sturdy passport wallet helps secure your passport from bending and creasing and makes it easier to locate when you’re looking for it in your bag. A neck pouch, purse or handbag specifically for holding your passport (and maybe a few other essentials such as house keys) is a handy item as well for ensuring your passport remains safe and secure.
When traveling abroad, your passport is one of the most important things in your possession. So keep it safe from theft, wear and tear, and being misplaced.
When dashing about airports, train stations and other places where you may need to show your passports to authorities, try always to return your passport to its “special spot” and not just shove it in any loose pocket or throw it in a bag with lots of random things.
If you’re a fan of checklists, add “where’s my passport?” as a regular reminder during times of travel.
When traveling with someone, get in the habit of asking them at the onset, during, and soon after any trip if they have their passport on them or in a safe place. For families with small children, it’s a good idea to designate one of the adults to handle all underage passports while traveling.
Most hotel rooms these days have safes. Put your passport in and remember to get it out before you leave. If there’s no safe, judge for yourself if you’re better off leaving your passport hidden in your room or with you when you’re out. If you do keep your passport with you, stow it away and out of reach in a money belt worn under your pants or in an interior pocket that zips or snaps in your shirt or jacket. Basically, make your passport (and all valuables) as difficult as possible for pickpockets to access.
Report Your Lost or Stolen Passport ASAP
If you lose your passport, don’t panic. Contact your nearest embassy or consulate to cancel and replace it. Do this as soon as you know for sure it’s gone.
In capitals, big cities, and areas popular with foreign travelers, getting to the embassy or a consulate should be straightforward, but not so much if you’re in less populated destinations. Whatever the situation, familiarize yourself with your country’s relevant online resources as well as contact details and locations for your nearest embassy or consulate before traveling.
For Americans, you’ll want to report your lost or stolen passport to the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs. To do so online go to this link.
Here are some further tips from the Bureau’s FAQ page about Lost or Stolen Passports:
Ask to speak to the Consular Section to report your passport lost or stolen. If you have been the victim of a serious crime, be sure to tell a consular officer about it as soon as possible so we can provide appropriate assistance. If you are scheduled to leave the foreign country shortly, please provide our consular staff with the details of your travel. We will make every effort to assist you quickly. You will also be directed to where you can obtain a photo for your replacement passport. In most cases, you will need to get a passport photo prior to your arrival at the consular section.
To report a lost or stolen passport by phone in the US or Canada, call the State Departments dedicated line at 1-888-407-4747. From overseas, call +1 202-501-4444.
File a Police Report
If you’re certain your passport was stolen, contact the local police to report the incident. If you are a victim of a serious crime do this immediately. Be sure to request a copy of any police report.
Have you ever lost your passport? Do you have tips to share for safe travel and dealing with emergencies when away? We would love it if you shared them with us in the comments section below.