Here’s What Happens If You Lose Your Passport Abroad
Halfway down the steps from the Palais de Chaillot to the Seine, I opened my purse to grab my phone and take the obligatory photo of the Eiffel Tower peeking out from over the treetops. And then my stomach somersaulted as if I’d fallen down the remainder of the stairs straight into the river. My passport wasn’t in my bag — I was I.D.-less in the middle of Paris.
I searched through every pocket of my purse. Nothing. I checked my pockets and mentally retraced my steps as a cold terror trickled from my heart down to my toes. I Googled the location of the American embassy because that’s what I thought you were supposed to do in a scenario like this one. But truthfully, I was lost.
Here’s what I should have done:
My vague instinct to contact the embassy was the right one. If you find yourself without your passport abroad, that’s your first move.
You can find a list of every United States embassy in every country around the world on the U.S. Embassy website. They have helpful Google Maps directions available for every location. Now, we’re not paranoid travelers, so we’re not going to advise that you have the embassy address saved in your phone. But it’s not a bad idea to check out the general location on the map before your trip.
At the embassy, you need to talk to someone in the consular section. Have your travel details with you, including your departing flight confirmation numbers. Depending on how soon you need to leave the country, you might be issued an emergency passport or a replacement passport.
Expect to pay a fee for a new passport. It’s $140, just like if you were renewing it at home. An emergency passport can be issued within 24 hours, but it can only get you home. You’ll have to wait for a normal replacement passport once you’re back stateside. A new full-validity replacement passport can take a couple of days to arrive, but it’ll work anywhere just like your original one.
You’ll also need a new passport photo. You can streamline the entire process by getting a new photo taken even before you go to the embassy. You can get passport photos taken at post offices, photo studios and even certain convenience stores.
Here’s what’s not going to happen:
No matter what you’ve seen in the movies, you’re not going to be stuck in whatever country you’re in if you lose your passport. That’s not your new home. As long as you contact the embassy and play by the rules of your visa (whatever rules you followed to enter the country), you’ll be able to get home. It’s possible you might have to delay, cancel or buy a new flight, but you’ll be able to go back to the States.
Here’s what you should do to prepare for the worst:
Before heading abroad, there’s one easy move you can make to help your future forgetful self in case of a misplaced passport. Take a photocopy of your passport and put it somewhere safe. I like putting mine inside a toiletries bag — incidentally, where I had forgotten I’d hidden my real passport the night before my Parisian panic. No one ever digs through someone else’s toiletries bag.
It’s also worthwhile to send a copy of your passport to someone at home. Just in case your paper backup gets lost/crumpled up in the bottom of your suitcase, your ally at home can email it to you. This copy will prove to the U.S. Embassy that you had an American passport even if yours is sadly no longer with you.
You’ll also always want to have a secondary I.D. on you when you travel, whether it’s a driver’s license or other government-issued I.D. That’s one more level that proves you’re you. If your entire wallet or purse is stolen, you can decide whether or not to file a police report with local authorities. And again, you have that super helpful friend at home ready to send you a backup of your I.D. Thank goodness for travel friends.
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