It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare. You’re overseas on the trip of a lifetime, when your most essential piece of travel equipment goes missing: your passport. Your passport is like a physical extension of your identity, and to be caught without it abroad can make you feel lost, helpless, and confused about the next steps.
Relax: though it might feel like the end of the world, you’re not the first person to lose your passport. You will make it home, in due course. Here’s what you need to do to get back on track.
Before You Go: Take Copies
Anticipate the best, prepare for the worst. Every traveler should acknowledge that losing his or her passport is a real possibility, no matter how careful you are. Before you take off on your adventure, you need to prepare your worst-case scenario passport-losing kit.
Take photocopies of not only your passport, but your credit cards, bank cards, and another important cards and pieces of identification. If you lose your entire bag or are victim to a pickpocketing, all of this vital information could go missing at once. Keep one set of copies with you, separate from the actual documents (for instance, stowed away in your suitcase pocket). E-mail yourself a digital copy that can be accessed from anywhere, and leave a copy with a trusted one back home, so that they can fax it to you if you find yourself in a pickle.
Assemble Your Personal Details
Here’s another step you can tackle before you even set foot on a plane: assemble documents that you might need to acquire a replacement passport abroad. For instance, carry an extra passport photo with you. You can’t plan where you might lose your passport: it could very well be in a place where there aren’t many options for getting a passport photo taken, which could delay the process by days.
In addition to a spare passport photo, be sure to have some sort of evidence of your citizenship and a detailed copy of your travel itinerary with you at all times.
Take a Number (or More)
One last “prior to departure” tip: get the phone numbers and locations for the nearest US embassy or consulate for every destination on your itinerary. Determine a plan of attack: if your passport is stolen at destination A, how far will you be from the nearest embassy? How will you get from point A to the embassy? How much money do you need to set aside in case this happens?
You’ve Lost Your Passport: Now What?
The feeling of panic that washes over you when you’ve lost something important like your passport can be overwhelming. First, take a few deep breaths. Second, assess your situation and run through your options.
Obviously, if you have fallen victim to a pickpocketing or mugging, you can be pretty certain that your passport is missing for good: feel free to move on to the next point.
However, if your passport has simply been misplaced, don’t lose hope. Go somewhere safe and private where you can empty out your bags and sort through every pocket, nook and cranny. Have a trusted travel partner help you search: they can offer a fresh set of eyes, possibly finding something you might have overlooked.
Retrace your steps: did you leave your passport in a drawer or safe at a hotel? Is it possible that you left it at a counter while you were rifling through your purse? Phone any place where it might have been left behind: returning to a previous destination is a lot easier than having to replace a passport.
Contact the Embassy or Consulate
Remember that handy list of contact details for the nearest embassies and consulates that you prepared before you left? Now is the time to break it out and start making phone calls. The sooner, the better: they can help guide you through the process.
File a Police Report
When replacing a lost passport, you might be asked to provide a police report. If you have been pickpocketed or mugged, you will definitely want to file for one as soon as possible. Not every country’s police department works the same: policies and procedures might be different, and language barriers can be a source of frustration. A little patience will go a long way.
Details to Keep in Mind
Unless you’re a victim to a serious crime or have been affected by a major disaster, there is a fee for getting a lost passport replaced. Make sure you have some emergency funds tucked aside to cover the expense.
Further, unless you’re in a life or death emergency, most replacement passports cannot be issued on weekends or holidays. This could cause additional disruptions to your travel plans. On the plus side, if you’re dealing with regular business hours, you can typically get a replacement within 24 hours—sometimes, even faster.
Finally, replacement passports are typically valid for only one year after they are issued, so don’t forget to deal with everything once you’ve returned home.