Introduction: What to Do If Your Passport Is Stolen While on a Trip

Picture of What to Do If Your Passport Is Stolen While on a Trip

Last year while in Ecuador I had a bag stolen with my passport in it.  Here are some things you can do to prevent loss of your passport, be prepared for a loss and what to do in case your passport is lost or stolen.

Step 1: Be Prepared

Picture of Be Prepared
I grew up in scouting so try to "be prepared" per the motto.  Here are a few things that I did (and some that I should have done) that made me fairly prepared.
  • Buy and use a hidden wallet capable of carrying your passport under your clothing.  Or modify some clothing to carry and keep your passport hidden.
  • Scan your passport and relevant visa pages and upload to a secure online storage site that you can access from any online computer.  I used Google docs to store both pdf and jpg versions.
  • Email yourself information like your passport number (some internet cafes have terribly slow connections and may not be able to upload a scan of your passport) and the phone numbers on the backs of any credit cards you travel with in case you need to cancel them. 
  • Keep a photo copy of your passport and relevant visas in a different bag than your original. 
  • Give a copy to someone that will be home and accessible that can fax you a copy if necessary.
  • Read about the scams and dangers in the area you are going.  There are forums on Trip Advisor with some excellent information.  WikiTravel often has warnings about the specific countries or cities you may be visiting.
  • Carry a few extra passport sized photos in different bags. 
  • Know where the embassies are located in the country you're in.  It might even be worth noting their hours of operation. 
  • Take photos of all of the things you are bringing with you.  (See my documentation.) Save these online where you can retrieve them.  Have receipts for anything you might want to file a claim for.
  • Consider travel insurance.  Pay close attention to all of the details of the policy.  Also ask your homeowner insurance provider if your policy would cover theft while on a trip.  (Mine did - but my deductible was $1,000 and the value was about $1,060!)
A few other things you might consider to help be prepared for theft or loss while on a trip:
  • Request a replacement debit card from your bank but do not activate it.  Keep it apart from your current card so you still have fairly easy access to cash just by calling and activating your new card when you cancel the other one.
  • For $10, many cellular carriers will give you a SIM card.  You can activate it with them over the phone when you have a replacement phone if yours is stolen.  I don't usually use my cell phone while on foreign trips but I rely on it once back in the US.  Since I usually have to overnight in Seattle on my return it is handy to have once back in the country.

Step 2: File a Police Report

Picture of File a Police Report

Don't panic.  Really - you might have lost a few stamps in your passport and maybe some photos that are not replaceable.  But you're ok and with a little bit of work you can be back to enjoying your trip.
File a police report.  This is the first thing you need to do.  If you are not very fluent in the primary language of the country you're in hit up an online translation service like Babelfish and type up your story.  Be sure to include all items that were stolen in the police report and not just your passport.  If you paid for travel insurance it may cover some of your expenses and your homeowner policy may also cover loss from theft.  You'll need items to be mentioned in the report in order to file a claim.

I suggest trying to make sure that the police station's location and phone number are on the police report.  Mine was typed on carbon paper with an old typewriter signed by someone and stamped a few times.  No letterhead.  Nothing official looking about it other than the stamp.

Step 3: File for an Emergency Passport

Picture of File for an Emergency Passport
You'll now need to head to the closest embassy.  Here's a list of US Embassies.  Check and see when they are open.  Note that they will probably be closed for both local holidays and holidays back home.  In my case it was a Friday night and they were not open until Monday or Tuesday for passport services.  (So I went to the beach and tried to forget about how exactly i would get home.  I was even able to buy a plane ticket and fly with only my Alaska driver license!) Don't delay too long or they will be mad at you at the embassy.

You will want to have ready:
  • A black pen.
  • Form DS-64 statement regarding a lost or stolen passport.
  • Form DS-11 passport application.
  • Some places require an incident report form which you should be able to find on the specific embassy website.
  • Your police report original.
  • Print outs or photo copies of your stolen or lost passport.
  • Additional ID such as a birth certificate (showing citizenship), and driver license (proving ID).
  • At least $100 cash.
  • A few passport photos of yourself. (Often available for a few dollars at businesses that pop up near the embassies!)
  • A copy of your itinerary that shows you're planning to leave the country.
In 24 hours they had my passport ready for me.  The embassy will tell you the next step.  You may need to get an immigration card replacement before you try to leave the country.

Your emergency passport is valid for one year but remember that most countries require a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the date of entry or issuance of a visa.  Fortunately, you can send in your emergency passport and use a special form to receive a new full passport free of charge.

Note: This step (going to a local embassy) is impossible in Cuba for US citizens.

Step 4: Replacing Your Immigration Card

Picture of Replacing Your Immigration Card
If you were given an immigration card upon entering the country you will need one to leave.  Have the embassy write down the specific name of what you need in the country's language and give you the address to the closest immigration office.  Also ask how much the fee will be for the replacement immigration card.

  • Your new passport
  • A copy of your old passport
  • Your police report
  • Copy of your incoming and outgoing itinerary
  • Some cash
You'll want your old passport copy just in case your name was entered incorrectly when you entered.  One little typo and they won't be able to find you.  Between your name, your passport number and your incoming flight date and number they should be able to find your record.

Pay the fee, grab your immigration card, and get back to enjoying your trip!


jonniex (author)2011-12-31

Losing a passport could really ruin a trip. Doing research on how to replace a lost passport I found that there are services that can get you a passport replacement in one to two days.

Here is the one I used to replace my lost passport in 2 days.

Replace your passport online at

nyoung7 (author)2011-08-08

Thanks for your post!

Last month two of my clients (Marianne Lee and Harry Fok, from Toronto, Canada) were robbed of their belongings, passports, cameras, money, accessories, etc.. she wanted me to pay for that but I only gave him the service of the tour. I have a tour operator called Go Panama! and all I could do was not to charge for the tour and help her translating her report and sent her to the police station. She thought I was an insurance agency! if you go on a trip please do not blame the travel agent or try to make them pay for your lost items. It is not even proof that she had that in her bag... great tip to take a picture and save all receipts.

The sad thing is that she wrote a review in tripadvisor saying that I didn't help her and didn't responde for her belongings...this was in Panama, at theNational Park: Chagres where natives provide a tour into their village (Embera), this 2 bandits came from the can I responde for something like that?

They had to renew their passports, almost 200.00 each!

Thanks for reading,

Go Panama!

incase (author)2011-05-29

Hey great instructable! Thanks for the tips

zigzagchris (author)2011-05-29

The great USA sent me our family a strangers passport 2 days ago instead our social security cards we asked for. Yesterday some lady came to take it back after we called to tell them.

Ridiculous_One (author)2011-05-06

Thank you for your excellent write-up. I've been working overseas in some places where there aren't even Embassies for a few years now and you've provided some information herein that hadn't even occurred to me. A couple of points I think you glossed over that may prove pertinent are: 1) Register with the embassy in the country you are traveling in. If you are unable to get to them and they do not know you're missing you may be sunk. 2) Carry enough cash to get home no matter how badly things go. Carry aforementioned cash in several locations throughout your person, bags and any safe location you can establish, the idea being that if you need to bribe someone or you get robbed they don't get it all, you will need to plan to have that happen and still have enough to get home. 3) Depending on where you are American Dollars may be more valuable than the local currency, do your homework and know before you go. Never go anywhere that you don't have a reliable contact, a means of egress (getting out) and reasonable assurance of your safety. Thanks again and good luck in your travels.

Heliosphan (author)2010-01-14

Excellent 'ible you wrote, Thanks!

<Q>Some people are uncomfortable putting their real name online, posting their email address anywhere, or giving out their address.  Obviously this suggestion won't work for those people.  But it worked great for me.  </Q>

I don't doubt it works great for you, it is a good idea, except it will also work out great for the lads in Lagos, Nigeria, too! You know, those 419 scammers, in fact more generally, any scammer / hacker the world over.

Just note these things about the internet-

-The internet is, of course, on all the time!
-Sites (incl Google Docs) are being poked at by hackers for vulnerabilities all the time!
-There are huge online communities and black markets peddling CC numbers, hacking techniques and findings, hacking services, Zombie botnets, VXers, the world over, all relatively untouchable. 
-Chances are that Google and everywhere else are being slowly punched away at 24 / 7 / 365 for random account access just for whatever goodies might be within. Its pretty much nearly free to set up and do, its weird to think it, but they'd be mad not to do it for the riches they could pull in! 
Time is on their side and its why you keep hearing about compromised personal information from sites that store it all the time.
Its not just the criminals either, its opressive governments, just look in the news at the efforts of China punching away at (hacking) Google for quite some time now!

And if you think nothing can be done with a pic of your Passport stored online, think again. Ever had a loan taken out under your name? Online banking makes it possible, esp with the info you propose people put online! 
You ever use a debit card in a shop? Of course you have, some companies are very lax when it comes to data retention and storage of your personal details - I had my debit card cancelled once, the bank only told me it was because the card # was found to have been in posession by criminals, I think it was to do with the highly publicised T K Maxx (TJ Maxx) million plus credit card rip off - I had used my card in there a few months prior to my card being cancelled, but I couldn't be sure it was this.

TK Maxx are only at the pinnacle of the problem because they had a vast amount of CC#s stolen from their computer systems, across the internet. Its the biggest amount of numbers stolen to date. It is literally happening all the time, and if you don't follow the IT news, you wont see it. Some people I speak to even believe the situ is getting better, far from it because scammers are actually making real money from it, its a growing 'profession'.

I work in IT, I keep up to speed on the real issues with internet security. I would NEVER store photographs of my Passport, store credit/debit card numbers, anything like that online ever and I would recommend to anybody that they dont do it. The more people do it, the better a reason for scammers / hackers to poke away at sites like Google Docs with more intensity.

Think I'm being paranoid, check it out for yourself - just take a look at homepage right now, look at the internet and mobile security stories right now. Theres something on their about it every day, so it doesn't matter when you look!
Heres one recently posted one I just found -
You would think banks would put the investment into making sure things like this dont happen!

Sorry for being all negative, but I'm afraid its all factual. I'm sure other ways of protecting yourself if your docs are stolen when travelling would be preferable, maybe keeping such docs on your password protected smartphone, but I don' t know how much more secure this would be than Google Docs.

Speaking of stuff like this, has anybody seen scammy type adverts pop up on their system, like - "You're computer is vulnerable, click here to scan for viruses"? I'm talking about on the Instructables site! I haven't seen it recently though I'd hope the admins have cleared it up by now.

Have a nice one!

wethecom (author)Heliosphan2010-07-07

i keep my id a and birth certificate etc online it has saved me alot of hassles if you zip the images or pdfs with winrar and password protect it it is impossible to crack .unless brute force .and that may take years .the longer the password ..the longer in years exponentially like hundreds of years to thousands to crack

tkjtkj (author)Heliosphan2010-07-06

Your comments are valid ..thanks! But you do leave out a very important option: ENCRYPTION! It is, for all , and i mean ALL, practical purposes, IMPOSSIBLE to hack into any AES256 encrypted file if it was made with a long and complicated password. So, make your scans, save the forms (DS11, eg), include all the stuff recommended in the i-structable, thEN : ZIP it .. but do NOT 'create a password-protected zip file! they are trivial to break into. Ie, make a normal zip file, THEN encrypt it, eg, using the free and excellent 'TrueCrypt', found at: and THEN and only THEN upload that encrypted file to a NUMBER of sites .. not just one .. ya never know how long any site will exist! If your encryption password is good, you're safe, IF yo'uve never written the pw down .. Yes, commit it to memory .. Or remember perhaps the page number of a book you have and can find a copy of anywhere ..just remember the page number, etc ..and MODIFY the chosen line on that chosen page .. so: ya dont really have to remember any thing so complicated ! A good pw will include characters (upper and lower case), numbers, and the special things like: (*(**&^%$%#$@ , eg. Bon Voyage! (btw, any AES256 pw will have a 32 byte pw.. But a good encryptor (truecrypt ,eg) will have a 'key hash'er which will significantly increase security by letting you use an 'initial pw' of any length .. It, the 'hasher' will create the appropriate 32 byte string (as an aside, the FBI recently admitted it totally failed to break into a disk encrypted with TrueCrypt's AES256, after spending a full year in its attempt)

nemaster203 (author)Heliosphan2010-07-04

Just use Truecrypt to create an encrypted file container using AES to make a secure file storage that only you can access easily. You can then upload this to an online hosting site of your choice. I prefer Dropbox because it's so easy to upload to it and easy to access your files from any computer with an internet connection. Remember, AES is a military-level encryption algorithm so your data will be safe, especially if you use a keyfile or 2 as well as a password.

Heliosphan (author)Heliosphan2010-01-14

Ahh I just thought! 
I suppose you could upload these things to Google Docs or cloud file-store sites, but PGP it up first (encrypt it).
Does Google Docs allow you to upload encrypted files?
Note - MS Office password protected files are NOT enough! ;-)

zieak (author)Heliosphan2010-01-14

I made sure to "delete" my files from the online storage after i returned.  After all, i now have a new passport to scan and upload before my next trip...

Heliosphan (author)zieak2010-01-15

Deleting the data after the trip is a very good move, and recommended to everybody.
As I said, the danger comes in your data being 'exposed' to possible theft over the internet for long periods of time, possibly between travelling (I don' t travel very often myself, maybe once a year at best).
Am I right in saying that many nations password validity period is ten years? It is in the UK.

lynleyboyd (author)Heliosphan2010-01-21

In New Zealand it used to be every 10 years (every 5 years if you were a child, but the second application in that time was free).  Now it is 5 yearly for everyone and the price increased from NZ$80 to NZ$150.  A good money spinner for the govt.

zieak (author)2010-07-06


judyspak (author)2010-01-14

Many years ago as a college student who was going to spend a semester traveling in South America, I prepared to secure my passport by making very deep pockets in my jeans.  I cut open the bottom of an existing pocket and added enough length to it that I could carry my passport and travelers checks low enough that I could comfortably bend at the hip to sit on a bus or a train for long stretches.  The denim was thick enough that one didn't really notice the pocket.  When my friends and I were held up in a remote national park near Santa Marta, Colombia, I walked away with all my things intact except for the small amount of "mugger money" I carried in my pocket.  

JermsG (author)judyspak2010-07-05

Well planned. Reminds me of that story when magician David Copperfield and his ex-supermodel wife Claudia Schiffer got mugged on the street somewhere; she handed over her cellphone, money, jewelry, etc. He turned out empty pockets, despite the fact he was also carrying cellphone, cash, credit cards, etc. It's handy to know prestidigitation in situations like that!

zieak (author)judyspak2010-01-14

Very wise.

Beulah520 (author)2010-07-05

For U.S. Citizens, see


It's the State Department/ Consular Affairs website (the guys that run all the legal officialness of U.S. Passports). There is a lot of info (all of the legally necessary info I would assume) about getting or replacing U.S. Passports and finding embassies, and a lot of other things.

I'm sorry I don't know where to direct anyone outside of U.S. for their info, but I would imagine keeping your searches to official government sources will be most productive and keep the scam artists out of your pockets.

Nice instructable. Good to have options for everyone's different comfort levels with various security issues.

gia (author)2010-07-04

What about losing a non-US passport while in US? Or a permanent resident visa, or green card..? Keeping a copy of them for sure never hurts, but how fast or effectively does DHS (or whichever department does those) replace them?

m15cell (author)2010-01-20

This is why I always stash my passport in a security belt

karfrica (author)2010-01-16

My Canadian passport was stolen in northern Mozambique in 2003 having a copy of it in another bag got me a police report in Moz, back across the border into Malawi and communicating with the High Commission in Zambia to get it replaced.

It was a mission. I cannot reccomend strongly enough that a paper print out of your documents in another safe-ish spot in your bags is very handy.

I hope that people in trouble get to this instructable if they google it from somewhere back of beyond. Thankfully, I had a partner who hadn't lost their passport with me when I lost mine. The feeling of being without it is hard to describe but very difficult to work through when you're in the midst of sorting out how to get through all the admin and work constructively with the administrators.

Happy travels to all -- it's worth it!

chandlerlacy (author)2010-01-14

really good instructuable, thanks

luvit (author)2010-01-14

thanks! i printed this, folded it nicely, and tucked it into my passport holder.

eva0820 (author)2010-01-14

I had to open a file I received last November that was created in an unknown program and up popped Google Docs.  From memory, Google docs offers a warning that docs opened are available in Google memory banks (paraphrased).  I've tried to recreate the scenario or find details in the help section but can't seem to find it.

If you're uncomfortable posting the info to an email address, Google docs, etc., consider using a service like  Other upload sites like rapidshare have time limits for files; they're deleted if not accessed within a certain amount of time. doesn't delete files and there's no directory anywhere that lists the files they have (that I'm aware of).  Save the passport info, cc info, etc. as files in a zipped file (with password, if you're really security conscious) or as a multi page pdf file.  Put the link to your files in a safe place because if you lose that you won't access the info.


dr_john_fowler (author)2010-01-14

 Taking a photo of my passport and emailing to myself (ie. putting it 'in the cloud') really helped when I lost my passport  a few months ago. Definitely a good idea...

Jayefuu (author)2010-01-12

Invaluable information and some good tips there I'll be sure to follow if I go outside the EU (or even if I don't)

zieak (author)Jayefuu2010-01-13

If someone wanted to collaborate on a less American-centric tutorial I'd be happy to open this to them...

babbish1 (author)zieak2010-01-14

 My wife and I were burgled in Spain last year and lost both our UK passports which were in the same bag.  I normally carry the small bag with me at all times but we were burgled and the bag was downstairs in the house.

Here are my suggestions for UK people.

Before travelling go to a photographer and have credit card sized images of the passport main page taken and laminated.  Carry them in your wallets and keep one of each passport in your accomodation.

Leave photocopies of passports with a friend or relative. Leave bank phone numbers and credit card company numbers (and card numbers) also in case of wallet loss.

Dont leave your bag with passports cash, credit cards near the front door like I did!!!

Keep a credit card separate from your other valuables. Keep a phone separate.

Check embassy and consulates near your destination(s) and note their phone numbers and opening times.

Do the things that are shown in this 'ible also.

Don't be paranoid - be careful.

Jayefuu (author)zieak2010-01-13

I think most people sensible enough to read this before going away would be clever enough to adapt it to their specific country :) Congrats on getting featured.

srilyk (author)2010-01-14

 You can also buy cheap cell phones when abroad, or at the very least you can buy a sim card for your phone.

zieak (author)srilyk2010-01-14

And sometimes you can even rent them in the airport!

BobmanJCT (author)2010-01-14

"Scan your passport and relevant visa pages and upload to a secure online storage site that you can access from any online computer.  I used Google docs to store both pdf and jpg versions."

Scan all your personal details and put them on the internet?
I thought this was about security??

zieak (author)BobmanJCT2010-01-14

Some people are uncomfortable putting their real name online, posting their email address anywhere, or giving out their address.  Obviously this suggestion won't work for those people.  But it worked great for me.  The embassy staff were very happy to have a copy of my information. 

The way I see it, my information is more secure online than if i carry a photocopy of it in every bag on my trip. 

But I'm not overly concerned about identity theft.  Heck, my passport is floating around out there somewhere right now.

Phil B (author)2010-01-13

US passports are often desirable to thieves because nefarious types, like terrorists, can buy and use them to gain entrance to the US.  A key precaution would be to keep valuable documents in a shoulder wallet worn inside one's shirt.  People are often too careless with purses and backpacks.  Thanks for making people aware. 

johncar (author)Phil B2010-01-14

Didn't think one needed a US passport to get in, Nigerian ones seem to work pretty well!

trebuchet03 (author)johncar2010-01-14

Ha! Yes :p The more infamous ones had no problems using their very own passport without a problem :p

Passports are fairly useless to other people (except in movies :p).

It's somewhat like your SS#... We're told to keep it under lock and key - but it's super easy (as in $25-$50) to find someone's by running a credit check. This is especially useful (for businesses) when independent contractors don't want to give up their info... There's a lot more than a SSN needed to do anything :p

yochee (author)Phil B2010-01-14

damn those terrorists.. damn those foreigners that wanna get in ^^

lalunette (author)2010-01-14

We traveled through China 2 years ago and, before leaving, I purchased what looks like a fishermen's vest. It was festooned with pockets, both external and internal.

The nicest feature was an internal zippered pocket where my Canadian passport fit nicely.

Needless to say that vest never left my back in public.

It was also handy for carrying my cash for the day, gum, camera, travel documents, etc...

On the other hand, my wife relied on a passport pouch she wore under her shirt... where only I could get at it. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

g_robb53 (author)2010-01-14

Great info - thank you!

clonanster (author)2010-01-13

in addition to keeping a photocopy of the passport (and anyrelevant Visas) in a different bag - I also usually leave a copy with a trusted person at home. That way if EVERYTHING gets lost/stolen you have an extra backup!

zieak (author)clonanster2010-01-13

That's one that i forgot on the list... Thank you.  I added it.

garmentlady (author)2010-01-13

before you go, scan it to a file and email it to yourself. then you can pull it up on email in any internet cafe anywhere in the world

lemonie (author)2010-01-13

Bound to be useful to someone, download the pdf to something and take-with?


oakback (author)2010-01-13

Good lord, I think I'll just stick to looking at other people's pics online and staying in my home country.

randofo (author)2010-01-13

Not sure how you lost it, but when I travel I carry my passport with me in one of those highly annoying money belts on the inside of my pants at nearly all times. This cuts down on the risk of this happening.

That said, if I were to lose it, this would be a great Instructable to go read.

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