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

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

About: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!

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

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

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

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

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.

Bring:
  • 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!

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    45 Comments

    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 ALLpassport.com

    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 forest....how can I responde for something like that?

    They had to renew their passports, almost 200.00 each!

    Thanks for reading,

    Natassha
    Go Panama!

    Hey great instructable! Thanks for the tips

    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.

    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.

    Hi
    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 www.theregister.co.uk 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 - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/12/bank_server_breached/
    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!

    7 replies

    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

    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: Truecrypt.org 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)

    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.

    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! ;-)

    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...

    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.


    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.

    Huh?

    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.  

    2 replies

    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!

    Very wise.

    For U.S. Citizens, see

    WWW.TRAVEL.STATE.GOV

    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.

    user

    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?

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