You Lost Your Passport – Now What?

I was young and had only been living in Europe for a few weeks when it happened––losing my passport, that is. I would like to say it was at the hands of some skilled pick-pocket in the dicey streets of Naples, but the fact is it just vanished. I’m not prone to misplace things, but losing my passport invited a sinking feeling like none other. In my case, humiliation gave way quickly to frustration with desperation slipping in for the emotional choke hold. If you haven’t put plans in place to deal with a lost passport, that just compounds the aggravation. Fortunately for me, I had a backups in place, and the whole affair was relatively painless.

Preparing for a lost passport starts long before you ever depart, and includes making copies of your passport and other important documents. I even store a digital image of my passport on my phone just in case the copies go AWOL. I also push those copies to “the cloud” just so they’re available when needed. If you make paper copies, and you should, stick one in your luggage with your phone number written on the copy. When I was a travel guide, I had a client misplace her bag. Hours later the bag was found, albeit mostly empty, because a do-good citizen called the number found on the copy of her passport, which had been stashed deep in a pocket of the bag. You never know, right?

If your passport does get nicked, or in my case gets inhaled by aliens, the first thing to do is call the State Department. The State Department’s Overseas Citizen Service Line is set up to get things in motion to deliver a new passport to you as soon as possible. (202-647-5225) If you’ve lost everything, including your paper copies, head to the nearest hotel to retrieve copies from “the cloud.” Having no identification on your person is scary business and a situation which needs to be immediately remedied.

While a call to the State Department feels good, nothing feels better than visiting the nearest embassy if one is available. At this point there are a couple things to keep in mind. For starters, nothing is free. If you can prove you have a current passport you’re in luck. If not, the $150 File Search Fee will serve nicely as salt for your wounds. You’ll likely get whacked for expediting fees, which can tip $60. At this point, you’ll need to complete a Form DS-64 and a Form DS-11 and submit those to the appropriate passport authority. Completing these forms is also something you can do in advance at a hotel or some other internet equipped resource.

As all of this sinks in, you’ll quickly realize your travel plans are shot to bits, even if temporarily. That train you planned to catch? That’s not going to happen. Replacing these documents takes time; time you didn’t build into your travel schedule. So, as you wait for the bureaucratic wheels to turn, begin redesigning your travel itinerary. It’s a setback, sure, but it doesn’t have to be the demise of your trip, just part of the adventure.

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.