Passport Lost or Stolen? How to Make it Suck Less.
If you’ve had a passport lost or stolen while traveling, you’re probably all too familiar with the pain. As I wrote in the travel safety tips post, traveling is risky. But so is everything else in life, and it’s not a matter of whether risk is present (it always is) but of finding ways to lessen it.
I’d like to share tips for reducing the substantial cost and inconvenience of losing a passport.
But first, please read the following account of one couple’s experience with stolen passports. The story is provided by Tom Sheridan, author of Toms Port Guides.
I am reprinting the story with the author’s permission, but if you’re a cruise traveler I also recommend visiting his website which offers (free!) port guides.
Cost of losing your US passport in Europe
One of the most costly items to lose is your US Passport. Been there; done that. My wife’s purse was stolen with both passports the morning of our flight home from Zurich Switzerland to USA.
If you lose your passport on a Friday, you’ll need four days and ~$2200 to resume travel
The high cost is booking four days hotel on an urgent basis, traveling to the US embassy in another part of the country, paying for meals, and cost to rebook flights to the USA. Unless you happen to be in the city of the US embassy, you will need to travel to a different location in that country, go to the embassy on Monday AM, and will have new passports in 3-5 hours. Then you can book your plane back to USA for Tuesday.
Procedure to get a new US passport
The US Embassy will want a police report on theft of your passport. Because the theft occurred in a Zurich hotel, the manager helped me. He drove me to the police station and explained the situation in Swiss-German. The hotel manager used his influence with the police. They delivered the report to the hotel in an hour. I would have had a heck of a time on my own dealing with police that speak a different language and having no “influence” to get them to expedite preparation of the theft report.
There is one US embassy in each country. We lost passports in Zurich and had to travel to Bern to the US Embassy. We took a train.
[MyWanderlux editorial note: this incident occurred in Switzerland, where the embassy in Bern was indeed the only option. In (some) other countries the US has both embassy and consulate offices. If the consulate also offers emergency passport services (not all do) then that is another option.]
You can’t just walk up to a US embassy dragging your luggage past the Marine guards. Leave your luggage at a hotel. You will need passport photos. Get photos at a train station, but do not “cut” them to passport to size. The US uses a slightly larger photo than on European passports. The US Embassy complained my photos had been trimmed about 1/4 inch smaller than required, but finally accepted them.
You need information about your parents and family history to fill out the passport application form. I now keep that information plus photos of my passport, drivers license, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. in a password protected file on my computer. The file is also encrypted, password protected, and backed up to a server at www.carbonite.com so that I can access it from an internet connection anywhere in the world.
The embassy only accepted cash and a few credit cards. Fortunately, I had one of the cards they accepted. Two women at the embassy had lost all credit cards with their passports and only had enough cash to pay for one passport. Their plan was to take that passport to pick up $500 which had been wired to them; you can’t pick up wired money without a passport for identification. I charged both their passports on my credit card and they sent me the money when they got back to Colorado.
-Toms Port Guides
Doesn’t sound fun, does it?
With that, let me suggest steps you might take to make it suck less.
Keep an electronic (but secure) copy of your passport online
I keep a copy on a cloud server which can be accessed from any Internet connection in the world. Even if I’ve lost all my stuff (heaven forbid), hopefully the Internet will still be there.
If you’re not a “cloud person,” just email a copy to yourself on any email account you have web-based access to.
I also email a copy to a family member not traveling with me.
- Copy not only the first page (which shows your photo and passport number), but the subsequent pages. They contain phone numbers to call should you lose your passport in transit.
- If you have a visa for the current trip, also copy that page.
- While you’re at it, upload secure copies of all the other documents needed to apply for a replacement passport. The story above alludes to some of them, but things can always change so I suggest consulting the official website for the latest requirements. (For US citizens, it is the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs.)
Additionally, bring several paper copies
I make several paper copies to take with me while traveling. This has a couple of benefits:
- If you need a replacement passport in a hurry, it’s much easier if you prove you had a passport in the first place. In some places, getting online isn’t always as easy as you’d hope.
- For some activities (like making a large purchase, or renting a vehicle or sports equipment) you have to not only present a passport as ID, but let the vendor make a copy for their records. I don’t like strangers walking off with my passport (especially in certain parts of the world), even if they say they’re just going to the back room to make a copy, so I give them a pre-made copy instead.
- Diversify by storing the copies separately from your actual passport.
- Further diversify by swapping copies with your traveling companions.
- Color copies are more legible than black and white ones.
- Again, copy not just the first page but subsequent pages as described above.
Carry an extra set of official passport photos
To get a new passport you need official passport photos. When you’re already frazzled, having to run around finding a place that will provide such photos is not ideal. Throw in a language barrier and unfamiliar surroundings and the stress multiplies.
And if your wallet was stolen with your passport, you have the added complication of lack of money.
Furthermore, as illustrated above, embassies can be picky. The photos you get in another country might not fit the requirements of your embassy.
So I suggest getting extra photos in advance to bring on trips. No need to even go out of your way — just get them from a store like CVS when you’re already there on a routine errand run.
As with everything in life, traveling has its pros and cons. The idea is to enjoy the pros while minimizing the cons, and I hope these tips are helpful.
Now, to prevent having your passport stolen in the first place, please see my general tips on travel safety.