I’m not sure about the other travelers out there, but as a traveler—and an expat living abroad—I frequently have passport panic before and on trips, wherein I wake up in the middle of the night, freaking out about the location of that all-important document. Have passport paranoia, too? Make the nerves subside the way all smart travelers do—with information. Replacing a stolen or lost passport on a trip is no fun, that’s for sure; but if you’re prepared, it’s not nearly as complicated. Here are steps you should be taking before and during your trip, and what to do if the unthinkable happens.
Before you go
Some helpful things: Sign up for travel insurance, as a good policy will cover any expenses you incur from your passport being stolen or lost. Always write down the address, phone number and email of the embassy or consulate nearest your destination, and register with them before you go—you can even go a step further and write down how to get there from where you’ll be staying. Take a secondary I.D., such as a driver’s license, with you, as well as a couple of passport-sized photos (having them made to your country’s specific measurements in some destinations can get tricky).
Have all your personal information bases covered. Make sure to have access to backup copies of the following important documents you may need to obtain a new passport while abroad: your travel itinerary, passport (photo, signature, and visa pages), driver’s license (front and back), birth certificate, social security card, and an expired passport (if you have one).
Travelers who will be traveling off the grid—or who just don’t want to fool with tech stuff—can photocopy important documents, and store copies in an envelope separate from the originals you’re carrying on your person. If you want to be extra cautious, leave copies in a sealed envelop with someone you can depend on, i.e. someone who you’ll be able to reach easily in case of emergency. If your friends and family are hard to track down, consider leaving a copy with a trusted colleague or your accountant—ideally someone who’s invested in you returning safely, and can at least be reached during normal business hours.
Travelers with internet access can scan the important documents listed above, convert them into PDFs and then encrypt them into a secure, password-protected format (we suggest AES-256) with free software like 7-zip. Upload the file into Google docs, Dropbox, or your email account, and then you’ll be able to open it anywhere you have an Internet connection. Another option is to encrypt your files as described above, and put them on a USB drive that you can carry with you. If you want to be extra careful, you could do all of those things.
Safeguarding documents on the road
Only carry your passport on your person when absolutely necessary, and keep it in an inside pocket that closes securely, preferably with a zipper. In most cases, the little blue book is safer back at your accommodation, stored separately from the copies you’ve made of your important documents. If you simply can’t part with it for a moment or need it to use credit cards, wearing it on your body in a passport wallet under your clothes may be your best bet. Many establishments abroad will let the lack of I.D. slide if you use a credit card with a pin. Others may allow you to use a signature card with your driver’s license. Another good choice is taking out cash with a debit or credit card and using it for purchases—no passport required.
If your passport does go missing
Report the theft to the police if you have time to do so without missing your flight or delaying your trip unreasonably, then declare it stolen or lost with the consulate or embassy. Make an appointment to apply for a replacement passport. This is where all those copies come in handy: You’ll need a copy of your travel plans, a passport photo, a photocopy of your missing passport if you have it, and a driver’s license or expired passport to prove your identity. If you’re using a driver’s license to prove your identity, you’ll also have to have a copy of your birth certificate to demonstrate your citizenship. Stolen and lost passports aren’t considered a life-threatening emergency, so if yours goes missing on a holiday or weekend, you’ll have to hang tight until the next business day. Get the latest details and download necessary forms from the State Department’s website.
If, for whatever reason, you’ve got no access to any money at this point (maybe your credit cards were with your passport), it would be good to have a list of names and phone numbers of people who might be able to help you. The embassy will help you contact them. If you or someone you know can’t pay for your new passport and you’ve missed your flight home, you may be obliged to book a flight back on a loan from the government and a temporary passport—just remember, it’s not a free trip home—if you don’t pay the loan back, you won’t be able to get a new passport and without it, say goodbye to international travel. But hopefully, with these precautions, you won’t run into that problem.
Want more travel tips? Here’s what to do if your flight gets canceled.