How to Not Freak Out When Your Passport Goes Missing

Disclaimer: This post is written from the perspective of a United States citizen.

This blog is all about first-hand experiences – and, sadly, this post is no exception.

A few weeks ago, as we stood in line at the Santiago airport to get our boarding passes to Patagonia, we made a devastating observation: One of our passports was missing. We pulled everything out of our bags in a frantic search, digging into corners and pockets where we knew, in our hearts, we’d never stash it. We ran to the lost and found. We called the Uber driver. We JUST had itThe tears came soon after.

But was it really lost? Or did someone steal it?

We knew that Santiago, like many big cities, has its share of pickpockets and scammers who target tourists. But we just couldn’t be sure, especially in the moment. Luckily, we were able to board the domestic flight no problem with a passport card, and our next international flight wasn’t scheduled for more than a month, so the loss wouldn’t really impact our travel plans. Still, we knew it would be a stressful, time-consuming and expensive mishap.

In the end, it did prove to be those things – and it got even more complicated when a sketchy local “found” it but wouldn’t return it without a reward (grrr). But this story has a happy ending! And we’ve grown wiser from it. Here’s what we learned throughout the replacement process and how you can be prepared if you ever find yourself in this traveler’s nightmare.

Apply for a passport card – now. For some reason, we don’t know many people who have these, but they’re an amazing tool. Passport cards can be used as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship, just like a passport book or birth certificate, and are a great secondary ID for when you’re in the states. The only difference between a passport book and a passport card is that passport cards cannot be used for international air travel: They’re only acceptable for land and sea crossings between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. You can, of course, use them as an ID when flying within the U.S.

If you choose leave home without a passport card, bring an old passport book or a certified U.S. birth certificate with you – or at least leave one of them with a trusted family member. (You’ll see why that’s important later in this post.)

Before you leave home, scan identifying documentsWhen we embarked on our around-the-world trip, we knew we needed to be prepared for emergencies, including the loss of a passport. In addition to setting aside extra money, we scanned relevant documents and uploaded them into the cloud, including our:

  • Passports
  • Passport cards (front and back)
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Birth certificates

We also brought extra passport photos with us. Not only do you need these if your passport is lost, but they are also sometimes required for visa applications.

When traveling, keep your passport book and your passport card separate. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you lose one, the other will be integral to replacing it.

When you notice your passport is missing, immediately schedule an embassy appointment. This can be done easily online, and can always be canceled if you end up finding your passport. Typically, appointments aren’t available for a couple of days to a couple of weeks, so that’s why time is of the essence. Nearly all embassies are located in a country’s capital city, so if you’re not there, make plans to get there.

If you’re sure your passport has been stolen, report it to the police. Head to the nearest police station to tell them what happened. They’ll write up a report, file it and give you a copy to take with you. They’ll ask you for things like your passport book number, which is one of the many reasons it’s always a good idea to have a scan. They may also ask for a passport photograph to include with the report. It’s not required that you report your passport as stolen – so don’t miss any flights over it – but it’s encouraged.

Start pulling together the documents required to replace your passport. This is something you should start doing as soon as possible in case you need someone to mail you something from back home. Don’t wait until the night before your embassy appointment!

Here are the documents required to replace a U.S. passport:

  • DS-11 Application: This is the official application for a U.S. passport. It asks for the basics – your name, date and place of birth, social security number, address, etc. – but also deeper information, like your occupation, whether you’ve ever been married, your basic physical features, and your parents’ names and birth information (so make sure you know it). It also requires you to submit:
    • Proof of U.S. citizenship: This includes a passport card, an old passport book or a certified U.S. birth certificate. (If you were born outside the U.S., you can submit a Certificate of Naturalization, a Certificate of Citizenship or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad). In addition to bringing a hard copy of one of these to your embassy appointment, you also need to bring a photocopy of the front (and the back, if there’s information on it).
    • Proof of identity: This must be in addition to your proof of U.S. citizenship. Any of the above documents qualify, as well as a driver’s license, military ID or government employee ID.
    • A passport photograph: Make sure it meets the requirements. It’s good to bring a couple so that one can be stapled to your application and one can be used for your new passport.
    • Fees: For a passport book, the fee starts at $110 but can go up depending on what country you’re applying from. For passport cards, it starts at $30.
  • DS-64 Application: This more straightforward form is where you’ll report your lost or stolen passport book (and passport card, if you’ve lost that, too). You’ll be required to check either “Lost” or “Stolen” – so get your story straight.

Prepare for your embassy appointment. Make sure all of your forms are printed and filled out ahead of time, and that all necessary photocopies are made. Print a copy of the appointment confirmation page. You should also bring the police report (if you have one), any paperwork you received when you entered the country, and information about your travel plans, like where you’re staying and where you plan to go next.

Keep in mind that there are many things you can’t take inside embassies, like electronic devices (including cellphones), sharp objects and even water bottles. If you do bring anything you’re not supposed to, they can probably hold it for you at security. Make sure to check the rules of the particular embassy you’re visiting before you go.

Attend your embassy appointment. With all the necessary documentation in hand, everything should go smoothly and the appointment shouldn’t take too long. You’ll submit your forms and be interviewed by an officer about how your passport went missing. They’ll ask if you want an emergency passport or a standard passport. Emergency passports are good for one year and only have 12 pages, so keep that in mind if you plan to travel for several more months. (Additional pages can no longer be sewn into passports and some countries require that your passport is valid for another six months upon entry.) Standard passports are valid for 10 years and have 28 pages, just like one you’d receive back in the states.

Wait for your passport. The wait time depends on your circumstance, but if it’s not rushed, your new passport should arrive at the embassy in two weeks or less. When it arrives, you’ll be notified that it’s time to come pick it up. Nothing feels better than having one of your most important legal documents back in hand!

The most important thing we learned from this whole ordeal is that freaking out gets you nowhere – it only negatively impacts your trip. Preparing yourself for the worst ahead of time – and springing into action if you do find yourself in this situation – is the best way you can ensure you’ll enjoy your time abroad, whether it’s for work, pleasure or both.

Best of luck!

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