Updated May 28, 2020.
It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! This week it’s all about expecting the unexpected and preparing for the one of the worst possible travel scenarios: losing your passport. Not even the most responsible person is immune to human error and the unexpected. Some things can’t be avoided, and sometimes accidents happen. If you’ve been following the blog or my travels for very long, you know I like to be as prepared as possible, so I’ve sifted through all the information and options I could find so that if this ever happens to you–or me!–we will all know our options!
*Disclaimer: the advice below is from an American (that’s me), and the advice is geared toward other Americans. If you are from any other country, these strategies will still work for you, but the processes to get a new passport or to get into your home country may differ.
Before You Go
There are some measures you can take in anticipation of a lost passport! Do these two things:
- Make 2 copies of your passport’s picture page and signature page; give one to a trusted friend or family member back home who can scan and e-mail it to you in an emergency, and keep the other copy with you, but separate from your actual passport. DO NOT put this in your checked luggage!
- Write down and store in your phone the local numbers of the nearest U.S. Embassy; if you find yourself sans-passport or in another unexpected crisis abroad, you will want to have a way to get in touch with them.
Getting upset will only make you feel worse, and it will not fix the problem. Keep a level head and follow the steps below!
First Things First
- You first instinct and reflex should be to contact the nearest embassy in the country you are visiting. Hopefully you have already written down the phone number and address of the U.S. embassy where you are traveling, but if not, you can easily look this up online, either on a kind person’s smartphone, at a hotel, or on your own phone if you have an international data plan.
- Pull out your hardcopy of your passport picture page and signature page to show at the embassy and/or police station; if you cannot find it or it was lost as well, get in touch with your trusted friend or family member at home and have them e-mail it to you.
- If there is no U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting, or if it is to far away to go there quickly, you can call the U.S. State Department. If you do not have an international calling plan or wi-fi calling on your phone, you can use Skype to call any toll-free number for free. The number is 877-487-2778.
- File a police report. You can do this from the embassy, or you can do this at a police department in the city you are visiting. Your passport will be marked as stolen, so if someone tries to use it, they will be stopped by passport control.
- As an example of what happens when you get a new passport at an embassy, here is an account from fellow traveler @dianajlee: “Mine got stolen in Greece. I went to the US embassy, took a passport photo, filled out forms, paid the fee, and in about 2-3 hours, they gave me an emergency passport that’s expires in a year but once home, I could mail in my emergency passport and get a normal passport with no extra charge.” She said the fee was $135 USD (the same price to apply for a new passport), and they would also accept the local currency.
- For more information, go to the U.S. State Department Website.
More Things to Try
No matter what, do not give up! Here are some things to try when you start to think you have no options:
- Check every pocket… again. That means every clothing pocket, whether in what you’re wearing or in your packed luggage. That also means every pocket or pouch on your purse, on your luggage, on your carry-on, absolutely everything. Even if you know you already looked, check again.
- Check the trash cans. This is one I never in a million years would have thought of. Here’s is the story from my friend Lisa: “A friend had his [passport] stolen while on an overnight train ride in Spain – my brother and I were traveling with him and my brother suggested we look in all the trash bins at the destination station (which happened to be Barcelona). Sure enough, the passport was there – all the money and credit cards were gone but the passport was too much work for a common thief.”
If You Find a Lost Passport
If you happen to find an unfortunate passport on your travels, it would be incredibly kind to take it to the embassy of the passport’s country. When the people who lost it realize what has happened, hopefully they will go to the embassy and be eternally grateful that some Good Samaritans found and returned it.
If there is not a U.S. Embassy in the country you’re visiting, you can do one of two things:
1. Take it to the local police department.
Hopefully the people who lost it will look there first when they file a police report; if they have already been to the police department and filed a report, the police should be able to get it back to them.
If you find a U.S. passport, you can mail it to this address:
U.S. Department of State
Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
2. Take a photo of the passport with the passport number covered, and post it to social media.
Fellow traveler Michelle told me about this: “I was on a plane from UK to Budapest (two hour flight). Before takeoff I found a passport in the seat pocket. I took a photo of the passport (covering the passport number) put the photo and a message on Facebook, asking people to share to find the owner. During the flight I decided if no response on Facebook I should hand the passport to one of the air hostess’ in Budapest.
“When the plane had landed and was taxiing into Budapest airport, I checked my Facebook. the owner had been found, he had messaged me and asked me to keep hold of it. When I returned back to London, 4 days later, I met him and reunited him with his passport.”
Wow! One of her friends saw the post and messaged every person on Facebook with the name on the passport, and one of them was him!
Does This Really Happen?
Yes! The Amazing Race was definitely the inspiration for this post!
- When Team Ocean Rescue lost Lucas’s passport in Dubai on The Amazing Race Season 30, my heart just dropped for them. What a heartbreaking situation! I’ve also been watching past seasons of the Amazing Race on Hulu (that’s how I get through gym cardio!), and the few times when a team loses one or both of their passports, it just breaks my heart!
- Who can forget sweet Dallas and his mom Toni from Season 13? Their race ended after they accidentally left their passports in a cab in Russia, and they weren’t even able to make it to the finish line as a result.
- James and Abba of Season 21 also lost their passports in a Russian cab, and they only barely made it back to the U.S. for the big finish.
- And what about Justin and Zev in Season 15? They went from the high of first place to the lowest low of elimination when they discovered one of their passports was missing.
Want more information about passports? Check out Your How-to Guide to Passports!
And for all things passport and visa related, check out the Passports and Visas Section on my Travel Tips Page!
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5 thoughts on “What To Do When You Lose Your Passport”
I lost my passport when I was on a ski trip to Europe, the transfer coach caught fire (it’s a very long story which I really should publish one day). I ended up getting a letter from the French Consulate to let me fly out of the country. I had another ski trip booked a week later, so had to get a replacement pretty quickly on my return home! That was a pretty intense fortnight I don’t ever want to repeat!
Wow! That is certainly intense! Did you have issues getting back into your home country or was the letter sufficient for passport control?
Oh no, I ended up in the immigration office with just a piece of A4 paper to endorse me, it didn’t even have the consulate stamp on it.