When our son was six months old, Reese and I went on a “congratulations for keeping a tiny human alive for six months” vacation to London. I loved showing Reese one of my favorite cities in the world. We saw all the sights, we ate all the food, and we relaxed for the first time in six months. On our second to last day, I made the devastating discovery that my passport was missing. It felt like the end of the world. (It wasn’t.) Now, I’m going to share my strategy for replacing a lost passport as quickly as possible when you’re outside the United States.
1. Keep Your Passport Safe
I can’t remember why I checked for my passport on our second to last day in London. But something made me look. I usually put it in my hotel room safe and leave it there for my entire trip. Depending on the location where you’re traveling, you don’t need to carry it around with you. Instead, carry another government ID like a driver’s license and leave your passport locked up.
My husband’s passport was inside the safe along with cash and other valuables. My passport was the only thing that was missing. To this day, I have no idea what happened. I suspect it fell out of my pocket somewhere between the airport and the hotel. I seriously dropped my Oyster card a good 10 times throughout our trip because I would shove it in my pocket and it would fall out whenever I pulled out my phone. I bet the same thing happened to my passport before we got to the hotel.
My first tip is actually the most basic: Keep your passport safe. And check on it frequently. We opened that safe every single day of our trip and never thought to count the passports. In the future, I’ll make sure to do a quick inspection every time it opens.
There are a number of ways to keep your passport secure while traveling. Store it in a money belt that you wear around your waist under you clothes. Buy an anti-theft backpack. Wear a jacket with an interior pocket large enough to store your passport. (Don’t use an exterior pocket like me!) Whatever you do, make sure you know where it is at all times, be aware of your surroundings, and keep it secure. You do not want to lose it.
2. When You Realize Your Passport is Lost, Don’t Panic
After you’ve realized your passport is missing, don’t panic. This advice is nearly impossible to follow, but, seriously, try not to panic. You can’t fix anything if you’re freaking out. Or let yourself panic for a brief period of time and then set your mind to the task of getting a replacement.
3. Make An Appointment With The Embassy As Soon As You Realize Your Passport Is Lost
Do this immediately after you stop panicking. Even if you’re not 100% sure your passport is lost, just make the appointment. You can always cancel the appointment if you don’t need it. For me, this made the difference between getting an appointment in 5 days versus 14 days. Make the appointment and then start searching.
Find your nearest embassy by visiting https://www.usembassy.gov/. Enter the country where you’re located and click “Locate”. A list will display with all of the embassies, consulates, or diplomatic missions in that country. There’s a U.S. Embassy right in London so I had it easy. (It didn’t feel easy.)
Click on the embassy nearest you and you’ll be taken to their website. Next, click on “U.S. Citizen Services” then “Passport Services”. If you’re traveling within 2 business days, look for the section called “Emergency Travel” and follow the scheduling appointment instructions. Otherwise, look for the “Apply For A Passport” section then “Lost or Stolen Passport”. Again, follow the scheduling appointment instructions.
Make sure to write down the appointment confirmation number, the appointment date and time, and the appointment password. You will not receive an email with this information. You must write it down.
4. Make A List Of Every Place You’ve Been And Call Everyone
After you’ve made an appointment with the embassy, start an extensive search for your passport. I made a list of every single place we had been during our entire time in London. This included airports, train stations, restaurants, tour companies, movie theaters, etc. I called all of them.
Make sure to talk to a manager who can open the safe. Employees will often store lost valuables like a passport in the safe so talk to someone who can check. People will think you’re nuts when you make these phone calls, but be diligent. It might turn up in a location where you can easily get it back.
5. Sign Up For All Relevant Lost Property Services
There are a number of websites that specialize in locating lost property. A quick google search of lost property and your location should turn up the appropriate websites. Some examples of agencies that might have lost property departments include police departments, transit authorities, and airports. There are also websites like https://www.missingx.com/. In London, I was able to sign-up for everything online.
None of these worked for me. In fact, the Transport for London’s lost property office had a two week backlog. It was incredibly frustrating to think my passport could be sitting in a box full of umbrellas somewhere waiting to be cataloged. They will eventually notify you when they catch up to your loss date. Ultimately, I received the same response from every office; my passport was nowhere to be found.
6. File A Police Report, If Appropriate
Obviously, if you suspect your passport was stolen or if you’ve been violently robbed, you should file a police report immediately. But, if you think you lost your passport through simple negligence, a police report is not required. This probably depends on the location where you lost it and how concerned you are that someone is going to demand to see it.
The State Department website says:
A police report is not mandatory but can help confirm the circumstances of the loss or theft. We encourage you to report the loss or theft of your U.S. passport to the local police in the country where the loss or theft occurred. However, don’t spend time obtaining a police report if doing so will cause you to miss a flight or delay your travel unreasonably.
I chose not to file a police report because I believed my lost passport was the result of my own sheer incompetence. Again, I was in a safe country that was friendly to Americans.
7. Go To The Airport In Person To Postpone Your Flight
If you’re going to miss a flight due to a lost passport, go to the airport anyway and explain your situation to the appropriate airline agent in person. It’s a lot easier for an airline to disappoint a customer over the phone than when they have to look into your sad face. Whatever you do, be kind and patient. (More on that later.)
I went with Reese to the British Airways desk at Heathrow on the day of our flight. We spoke to a very nice agent who was able to get Reese checked in and somehow suspend my flight so that I did not forfeit the airfare (or Avios). (Or pay any fees at all, actually.)
If they are able to salvage your reservation, confirm with the airline agent how you should reschedule your flight. Hopefully, they will give you specific instructions on what to do when you have your new passport in hand. But my advice (keep reading) is go back in person.
8. Download and Complete The Appropriate Passport Forms
There are two forms required to replace your lost and stolen passport: DS-11 Application for Passport and DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport. They are both located on the State Department’s website here. Fill the forms out online or in a PDF then print them out and take them to your appointment.
The completion of the DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport is the form that actually invalidates your lost passport. Not a police report. Once you’ve submitted this form, whether online or in person, you will not be able to use your lost passport if you find it somewhere.
I completed these forms on my phone during our train ride to Cardiff and emailed them to myself to print later.
9. Obtain Copies Of Your Identity & Citizenship Documents
In addition to the DS-11 and DS-64 forms, you also need to provide identification, evidence of U.S. citizenship, your travel itinerary, and a police report (if available) at your embassy appointment. This is why I travel with my driver’s license in addition to my passport. A driver’s license will satisfy the identification requirement as will an expired passport.
Acceptable evidence of U.S. citizenship includes a birth certificate or a photocopy of your lost passport. My husband emailed me copies of my birth certificate, expired passport, and marriage certificate when he got home. The marriage certificate was to document my name change between by my expired passport and my lost passport.
I actually should have had a copy of my current passport in my luggage, but, somewhere along the way, I decided this was a silly piece of advice. I was wrong. Always, always keep a copy or two of your passport in your luggage. Keep them in separate bags or locations so that you can find one in an emergency. Or upload a copy to a secure cloud server and you’ll never lose it.
10. Obtain New Passport Photos And Cash For Passport Fees
You must provide one passport photo at your application. The rules for passport photos are very strict so I highly recommend you find a photo company that has experience in this area. This was easy to do in London. I used Snappy Snaps because I liked the name.
There are also a lot of photo booths in shopping areas and train stations that claim to print passport photos. Use these at your own risk. Make sure to review the photo requirements before you waste money on one of these automated machines. You can find these requirements on the State Department website here.
The fees for an emergency passport are the same as for a regular passport. You can find fee information on the State Department’s website here. I recommend you take cash (either U.S. or local currency), but some locations will take credit cards.
11. Be On Time For Your Embassy Appointment
Hopefully, you wrote down your appointment date and time when you made it because they will not remind you. Be on time for your appointment. You don’t want to get skipped, have to wait until the end of the day, or have to make a new appointment (two weeks away) because you were late. There might be two lines: one for those with appointments and one for those without. Make sure to ask which line you should be in. My appointment was for the first time slot at 8am and there are already 20 people in the non-appointment line when I arrived at 7:30am.
12. Plead Your Case With Patience And Kindness
If you’re trying to obtain an emergency passport, be nice. Your definition of an emergency might not be the same as the State Department employee behind the counter. So if you want to walk out with a passport, you need to be patient and kind. Tell your sob story, be nice, and hope for the best.
I had all of the appropriate paperwork and tearful eyes when I explained about my six month old baby at home. About an hour after my appointment time, I walked out with a limited validity passport. I was ecstatic. Someone else in line needed an emergency passport because they were scheduled to catch a train to Paris. I thought this was a ridiculous reason, but they also got a passport that day. Be nice and they might make your day.
13. Go To The Airport In Person To Reschedule Your Flight
Like I said before, it’s easier for an airline to disappoint a customer over the phone than it is in person. I highly recommend you go to the airport and explain your situation to the appropriate airline agent to get a replacement flight. You will likely have to fly standby, but, if you’re lucky, the agent will be able to just book your seat if there are a lot of empty ones. That’s what happened to me. (You can read about the 42 empty business class seats on my return flight and the rude British Airways Executive Club representative I talked to over the phone in London Trip Report Part 2.)
Bonus Tip: Renew Your Passport Within One Year
If you are issued a same-day, limited validity passport outside the US in an emergency, your passport is good for one year. They look super fake and officials will eye you with great suspicion every time you use it so get it replaced. I replaced mine within 9 months so I could go on a cruise. I didn’t want to be in Mexico with a strange looking passport.
If you apply for a regular passport within one year, you will not have to pay the fees again (except for Expedited Service fees). Just submit the appropriate form, your limited passport, and one color passport photo to the appropriate address.
I certainly hope no one ever actually needs to use my advice. Losing your passport is not a fun experience. But if it does happen, stay calm, do what you need to do, and try to not let it spoil all of your fun. I went on an incredible bonus adventure to Scotland while I was waiting for my embassy appointment and my kid was totally fine without me. His father, less so.
I’d love to hear your lost passport stories. Please share them with me on social media.