Traveling is one of the surest ways to unwind; you can expand your horizons by experiencing new sites, new cultures, and new people. All the while, traveling can be as demanding as it is exciting! Even a slight lapse in preparation can turn your much-awaited holiday into a hectic nightmare!
Your passport – a government-authorized document that guarantees your citizenship – is your gateway to travel, whether domestic or international. It’s the most important document in your travel bag – and yet, thousands of travelers around the world lose their passports each year! Passports can be misplaced at airports, accidentally left behind in buses/taxis, or even stolen.
Finding yourself among these unlucky thousands will leave you with a lot of stress and questions: how will you travel back home? Should you change your travel plans? Who should you reach out to? How can you get another passport issued?
Don’t panic! While it may be a stressful experience, there are measures in place for travelers who’ve lost their documents. To answer your questions, here are 5 steps you should take if you ever lose your passport on a trip:
Retrace Your Steps
Because of how busy airports are, they’re a common place for travelers to lose their passport. While airports can be large and difficult to navigate, misplacing your passport there can also work to your advantage – airport officials often anticipate this problem and will collect any missing passports they find. Keep an ear out for announcements, since officials may call for you to return your passport. Revisit security checkpoints, baggage claims and airline helpdesks you stopped at; ask officials if they came across a misplaced passport, and if not, to be on the look-out for it.
It doesn’t have to be just the checkpoints either; go back to restaurants you ate at, any resting stops, and even the bathrooms. You may find your passport right where you left it! The quicker you realize your passport is missing, the more likely you are to be successful in your search – so stay aware of your surroundings at all times!
Report to the Authorities
If there’s no hope of recovering your passport, it’s time to inform higher authorities. Reporting your misplaced/stolen passport to the U.S. government is critical to prevent anyone else from stealing your identity and using your passport for illegal purposes. You’ll also need to report the loss before you can apply for a new passport.
You can do this online at the U.S. Department of State’s official website, or you can look for the nearest U.S. embassy for in-person consultation. The State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services can also help you with financial assistance during the process. Note that your passport, once reported as lost, will become invalid and unusable even if you find it later. If you want to try relocating your passport one more time, getting help from the local police may be your best bet (though we wouldn’t recommend waiting for too long).
Apply for a New Passport
Replacing your passport before your return flight will require you to apply in-person and to act quickly. Depending on where you are, the place to file your application will differ. If you’re within the U.S., you can search by ZIP code and identify your nearest passport acceptance facility. If you’re overseas, you will need to apply for a replacement at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
To submit your application, you will need (1) an alternate government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license or credit card), (2) recent passport-sized photographs, (3) and a complete DS-11 form, which you can access from the State Department’s website. To finalize your submission, you will also have to pay the regular passport issuance fee (usually $130, but you can pay extra to expedite processing in the U.S.). Photocopies of your old passport are not necessary, but may help make the application process smoother for you.
Don’t Try to Travel Anywhere Else!
No matter how urgent your need for travel may be, traveling without your passport will be difficult and may create more problems for you!
Routine processing of a new U.S. passport takes 8-11 weeks, while expedited processing takes 5-7 weeks. Plus, your passport being marked as lost and invalid means you can’t use the visas stamped on it either. If you’re traveling internationally, you will need to get your visa re-issued along with your passport by visiting the embassy of the country that granted your visa originally (you may be asked to provide a copy of your old visa), which will cause additional delay. In some cases, you can request the U.S. embassy to issue you a temporary travel document to urgently return home.
This may seem like a long time to stay put, but staying in one place will minimize your expenses when your trip gets extended. It will also make it easier for the embassy to contact you.
Claim Your Travel Insurance
Contact your travel insurance provider and let them know your situation. Keep receipts of your police report, transactions with the embassy, and any approved documentation to support your case. Travel insurance will help you cover financial losses incurred from losing your passport, e.g., flight change fees or hotel reservations.
If you have a premium card from companies like American Express, you can also avail concierge services to help you with minor tasks. Ask about your travel protection benefits and contact the company as soon as possible.
To Sum it Up
Losing your passport in a new, unfamiliar place feels like a nightmare scenario – but you’re not the first person to lose your passport, and you won’t be the last! Stay calm, evaluate the situation, and think about next steps. The good news is that you’ll find people ready to assist you wherever you are. Once you’ve made it back, you can complete any pending documentation from the comfort of your home.
It may have taken an unexpected turn, but think of your trip as a learning experience. Take it in stride, and look forward to your next adventure!