Five Steps For When You’ve Lost Your Passport

Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s your worst nightmare. You’re standing in line waiting to check your bag and board the plane home after a stay in a foreign country. When you reach for your passport, it’s not there. Trying not to panic, you search your pockets. They’re empty. Dread floods through you. You step out of line to search your suitcase. You pull out each item, twice. You shake your things, all to no avail. It’s gone.

This happened to me on my way home from Florence, Italy. I’m not alone. It happens to hundreds of travelers every year. Fortunately, the problem can be resolved, leading to a temporary passport, in five simple steps. All it takes is a little time and money.

Step 1: Go to the Police

The moment you realize your passport is missing, contact the police. There should be someone at the station who speaks English, so even if you’re not fluent in the language spoken there, you’ll still receive help.

The police will ask whether the passport was lost or stolen. If you don’t know, be straightforward and mention when you last saw it. This lets them take your statement. They’ll give you a copy of your statement in the form of a legal document officially stating that your passport is missing. Since many countries require that guests have a passport to check into a hotel, you’ll need this if you must extend your stay. In my situation, the woman at the front desk took one look, smiled at me in sympathy and immediately gave me a room.

The document also leads to the new passport. The embassy may send you to the police station to get your statement if you arrive without it. The police department can also direct you to the nearest Embassy or Consulate or give you the phone number.

Step 2: Contact the Embassy or the Consulate

After visiting the police station, go to your Embassy or Consulate. Embassies are larger and usually located in a country’s capital. Many smaller cities have consulates, such as Munich in Germany or Florence in Italy. If you don’t know where it is, ask a hotel clerk, a police officer or a cab driver for directions. Some guidebooks also have the information listed.

Most Embassies keep regular office hours, so if it’s not open when you visit, write down when they will be open and their phone number. Don’t try to enter if it’s not open. In Florence, the consulate had a velvet rope outside the door and when I approached, even before I was within five feet of the entrance, two armed guards approached me. Even without speaking Italian, I knew what that meant and immediately backed down.

If you end up having to wait a few days before you can get home, gather the things you’ll need for the replacement passport. Then, enjoy yourself as much as possible. There’s no reason to punish yourself by staying sequestered in your hotel room. Instead, see something you didn’t have time for or want to see again.

Step 3: Gather the Things You’ll Need at the Embassy

To get your passport, you’ll need two recent ID pictures. I got mine at a photo booth at the train station a few days before. The pictures were inexpensive, ready in minutes, decent head shots and eight of them to the sheet. Something similar will work as long as you’re not making funny faces, wearing a hat or covering your face.

If you’re American, you’ll need to fill out a replacement form that’s available through the Embassy and is on the U.S. Department of State’s website. When I arrived following the weekend of my extended stay, the armed guards recognized me and immediately gave me a copy and a pen.

The form asks for personal information including your parents’ names and birth dates, your birth date and your social security number. You’ll need your passport information, including when and where it was issued. This can be gleaned from a copy of your passport, which your hotel (or the hotel you were staying in previously) should have on file.

If you can, bring a copy of your original passport and another ID. If your wallet was stolen, ask someone at home to send you a copy of your drivers’ license via email or fax to the hotel lobby. They can print it out and will have it ready for you.

Usually, the temporary passport is available within a few hours of turning in all of your documentation. You’ll need a credit card or cash to pay the replacement fee. Before it’s issued, you’ll be asked to verify your information and swear an oath that it’s true. They’ll watch you sign it and it’s yours. You can use it for 90 days. They also include a form explaining how if you renew your passport within the year, you won’t pay anything else, you’ll just turn in your passport and receive a more-permanent replacement.

Step 4: Rebook Your Flight

Since I was at the airport, it was easy to tell an airline representative that I’d be missing my flight. I had very little trouble getting on another and they charged me only $150. However, while waiting at the consulate, I spoke with another man in the same situation as myself. He refused to call the airline, claiming they couldn’t do anything, and paid $1,000 for himself and another $1,000 for his girlfriend to get home. Don’t let that happen to you. Tell the airline what happened and ask how much it will cost to replace the ticket. If you can, do it in person. Otherwise, pick up the phone.

If you let them know, the airline can look up your information, cancel your original flight and get you another flight home. Your ticket is like currency, so it can be exchanged for another ticket to the same place. They’re not losing any money and it’s likely they’ll be able to fill your empty seat. If you have any connecting flights with another airline, inform that airline, too. The sooner you can do it, the better.

Step 5:  Hold On to Your Passport

The bottom line is you only get one replacement passport.When I was issued my temporary passport, the consulate said that although it’s relatively simple to replace a passport, needing it replaced more than once sends a red flag to Homeland Security. Suspicions arise that you might be intentionally “losing” it to help non-residents or terrorists get into the country. If it happens a second time, the process is much more complicated and you will be watched more closely.

Protect yourself by not carrying your passport with you. Instead, use a copy. Losing a passport can be a traumatic experience, so do anything you can to prevent it from happening.

By Robin McClure


About the Author

Robin McClureRobin McClure is a freelance writer who has always loved to travel. She goes every chance she gets and enjoys both touristy destinations and unique hideaways. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband.

[Bone Looking Through His Bag by Alan Robinson/Flickr; Romanian Embassy Entrance by Mr. T in DC/Flickr]

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