Eight Important Things to Know Before Losing Your Passport Abroad

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Though the author issued passports on behalf of the State Department for 20+ years overseas, this article represents only his personal opinions and experiences. The final decision on any passport matter rests solely at the discretion of the Department of State. Rules and requirements change regularly; see travel.state.gov/ and/or the in-country American embassy or consulate web pages for the latest.


Lost Your Passport?: Prepare Yourself For A Full Ride

If you lose your passport overseas, step one is to realize you will be in for some (or a lot) of inconvenience, cost and time wasted. Part of your vacation memories will be more about “that time I lost my passport in Rome” and a little less about the Coliseum. We can’t change that, but maybe we can make the whole process easier.

1. Um, Don’t Lose Your Passport

The best thing is not to lose your passport in the first place. Don’t put it in checked bags. Read up on what pickpockets in the place you’ll be visiting do, and don’t do that. If you won’t need the passport during the day, leave it in the hotel.

You don’t need it at the beach. Don’t carry it in a back pocket where it’ll fall out, or be plucked from. Don’t leave it as a “deposit” when you rent a motor scooter. Don’t put it inside something even more valuable– if you’re a thief, will you grab the laptop bag, the camera case or the bag of ratty clothes? Don’t keep your passport in the same place as your wallet or purse (two-for-one loss potential!)

2. Before You Go

Every country has similar, but different passport rules, so all this advice applies mostly to Americans. Make a good color copy of your passport and other ID. Take along a few extra photos– they are cheaper and easier to get at home, and you’ll look better in the picture not frazzled. The main problem is that the size of a “passport photo” can vary in every country. So, asking for a U.S passport photo will get you a U.S. passport-sized photo.

When you pop into a shop in London and ask, you will almost certainly get a “UK passport-sized photo”. Get the contact info for the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries where you will be traveling. Don’t keep all this stuff in the same place as your passport.

3. When It Happens

passport-safety
Image Source: Samingersoll

Look around; maybe the passport is where you took off your coat or rummaged in your bag. Report the loss to the local police, and ask around at stores or restaurants, or vendors in the market. There are honest people out there and that’s where they’d turn the thing in. A little effort could save you a ton of hassle later.

The State Department advises that every passport lost or stolen should be reported immediately to the nearest American embassy or consulate (not just the local cops). This help protect yourself against identity theft and to prevent someone else from using the passport.

A police report is something the embassy or consulate will require anyway. Also, your insurance company might want it if other things were lost, and the local country immigration may demand it. Just do it. And yes, the language thing is a hassle. Be sure to get a copy; some places charge for this.

Of course, deal with any medical issues right away. Call your credit card company and get that VISA canceled. Accept it is not going to be a good day and roll on. You have work to do.

4. U.S. Government Time

Your passport was issued by the U.S. Department of State, whether you knew it or not, and it has to be replaced by the Department of State overseas, through an American embassy or consulate.

You need a new passport; you can’t go home or anywhere else without one. You can only replace the passport in person at an embassy (in the capital city) or a consulate (like a branch office of the embassy, located in major cities) or via passport agent in tourist hot spots like Mexico.

You can’t do it at the airport, through the concierge, your travel company, American Express or that expensive travel insurance thing you signed up with, in a city without an embassy or consulate, or anywhere else. If you are not in a city with an embassy or consulate, you will need to go there soon. And yes, they know it is inconvenient and expensive.

5. Ahead of Visiting the Embassy or Consulate

Call. During business hours, call the general number and ask to speak to the passport unit or “American Citizen Services.” You may push buttons and listen to recorded messages, but you will get through to a person. After hours, call the main number and through some procedures (varies) you can speak to the Duty Officer.

Unless your case is a true life or death emergency (Spouse in active labor in France, maybe) you’ll have to reschedule a routine meeting anyway. Nothing will be done outside of business hours, which also means weekends. Absent life or death, it is just not going to happen. Make the call yourself; don’t leave it to a concierge or helper. The embassy may have questions for you.

Passport-popupImage Source: NYT

Find out how to get into the embassy or consulate. Most have appointment systems. Over the weekend, the Duty Officer might set you up with an early morning Monday appointment. It is really not productive to simply show up.

Ask what you will need to bring along (it should also be on the website, but be sure you are looking at the requirements for a lost/stolen passport; make sure you are looking at the in-country embassy website, not the in-the-U.S. one.) Most places won’t allow you to bring in suitcases or large bags. Print out the things you’ll need, as you are unlikely to be allowed to bring in your laptop or even your phone.

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If the lost document belonged to a child, the child needs to appear in person, no matter how young, even infants. It works best if both parents show up with the kid.

Everyone everywhere is going to need photos (you have them, right? If not, get them ahead of time, in the right size), fees (check online; you can usually pay in local currency, always in U.S. currency, most times with a credit card and never with a personal check) and two forms, DS-11 and DS-64. If you can, download them here and get started filling them in.

Other requirements will vary locally, but having a police report, those color copies from home and as much ID as possible will never hurt. There are stricter requirements for minor children who lost passports abroad, so be sure to check online (here’s an example kid’s list). You may need to call home and have something emailed or FAXed over. A general list is here.

Except in absolute emergencies like war or earthquakes, the requirements above are non-negotiable. The embassy can’t waive them, no matter how nice you are or how flustered you are. Waiving fees can happen, but only in extraordinary circumstances. Arguing is only going to take more time.

6. Something You Can Discuss

Post-9/11, all regular U.S. passports are made in the U.S. When you apply in Botswana for a replacement U.S. passport, the embassy enters your data electronically, the passport is printed in America, and then sent to Botswana. That can take anywhere from a few days to…

At their discretion (read those three words again, please) the embassy or consulate staff can issue you an emergency passport the same day (that can still take hours, so start in the morning.) The American you speak briefly with at the window is the decision-maker. S/he can say yes or no. Be, well, diplomatic. The better your reason for asking, the better chance you have in getting a quick turnaround.

mock-interviewImage Source: USembassy

Good reasons trend toward solving a passport problem so it does not lead to a bigger problem. Bad reasons would seem selfish to a neutral party. Your mileage will vary, but good reasons are that your local visa will run out and you will be an illegal in the host country in 15 hours.

Another good reason will be that you only have enough money to catch the bus to the airport and another night means you’ll be broke. Or that you only have unchangeable air tickets, etc. The more proof you have of your reason, the better. The taller the tale, the less chance you have. Be honest; they’ve heard it all.

If things do not go well, ask to speak, at a smaller office, with the head of the consular section or the Consul General, in that order. In a mega-embassy, try “your supervisor” or the head of the passport unit.

Asking for the Ambassador is like asking for the CEO when you don’t like your latte at Starbucks. Saying you will call your Congressional representatives will only add that much more time to a process you can conclude in minutes if handled well. Take a deep breath and focus on problem solving. Be a reasonable person in a tough spot everyone wants to help. Most of the people at the embassy or consulate do indeed want to do the right thing.

Unlike in the U.S., you cannot pay an expedite fee.

7. Or Maybe Not…

You may actually want to come back in a few days to pick up a full-validity passport issued in the United States, instead of a temporary passport. That temp passport will need to be renewed once you get home, meaning you’ll do much of the passport dance again (save your receipt when you pay abroad or pay twice.)

Most countries want a passport valid for six months or more to let you in. Your temp passport may not be valid long enough for you to travel anywhere but back to the U.S. If you need to replace your onward travel visas, which were lost along with the passport of course, most countries want a full-validity passport before they’ll even consider it.

You may find a few days in London an overall better choice, even if it means missing out on some good stuff in Wales.

8. Host Country

The host country may have its own requirements for you, you with that nice new American passport. See, you lost that little card and/or stamp they gave you at the airport with your old passport.

Usually the American embassy or consulate people can tell you what you will need, but you will have to do it on your own, through whatever system exists in Nowherestan, via the Ministry of Bribery and Corruption. At the very minimum, give yourself lots of extra time at the outbound airport or border and expect something to slow you down.

If you find your old U.S. passport after you have been issued a new one, call the American embassy and ask what to do. Once you report a passport stolen, it is listed almost immediately in a database to prevent misuse by the bad guys. Guantanamo is a terrible place to end your trip abroad.

To summarize it all, you won’t have to go through all this stress if you just do one thing: At all times, keep your passport in a safe place.


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