Because of the travel disruptions caused by the worldwide coronavirus epidemic, many of us have had to cancel and reschedule our flight plans so many times that we no longer know where we’re going, or when! Maybe it’s been two years since your last flight. Maybe you’re looking forward to tomorrow’s trip. But maybe you’re just looking for your passport.
Obviously your passport is an essential travel document, and you don’t leave home without it. But what do you do when you haven’t used it in ages, and now you can’t find it? Keep looking—and if you still can’t find it, then keep reading and you’ll learn what to do depending on where you are, and where you’re going.
I’m in the US, and I am flying domestically
If you’re in the United States and flying domestically, don’t worry: you do not need your passport to catch a domestic flight. This is true for travel to all fifty US states, including Alaska and Hawaii. All you need is a government-issued photo ID such as your driver’s license to get aboard your plane.
This is also true for travel to the US overseas territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific; plus Puerto Rico and the three US Virgin Islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix in the Caribbean. These destinations are considered domestic, and you do not need a passport to fly there. Any form of government photo ID will do. So enjoy your trip! You can worry about replacing that missing passport when you return.
When you are replacing a lost or stolen passport, you need to fill out the “lost or stolen passport” form, State Department form DS-64, in addition to the usual application for a new passport, form DS-11.
I’m in the U.S., and flying internationally
If you’re in the United States and planning on flying internationally but you can’t find your passport, you have a serious issue. You will need your passport to catch an international flight, and you will not be permitted to board your plane without one. A passport is absolutely essential for overseas travel, even to our neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico. So if you can’t find your passport, what can you do?
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to cancel your trip, or at least postpone it for a few months. How long? Well, because of the ongoing worldwide coronavirus epidemic, it can now take up to 18 weeks from the time you drop off your application until you get your replacement passport delivered to your home. Even with expedited service (which, by the way, costs an additional $60) the processing time still takes up to 12 weeks door-to-door.
This is why experienced travelers purchase trip insurance: to refund some of the purchase price of your flights in a crisis like this.
I’m overseas, and my passport was lost or stolen
Losing your passport overseas is a major problem, because you cannot return to the US without a valid passport. You must obtain a replacement passport at the nearest US embassy or consulate, so you need to start making your way there right away. Call them before you get there to report your passport lost or stolen, and they will tell you what to do next. If your flight is tomorrow, give them your flight details so they can do their best to help you quickly.
At the embassy you will fill out the DS-64 “lost or stolen passport” form, as well as the regular DS-11 passport application. Give the consular staff your travel itinerary (such as your plane ticket/boarding pass info), and, in the event of theft, the police report (if any).
You’ll also need to provide them with a photo ID such as a driver’s license, and proof of citizenship such as your birth certificate or naturalization certificate. Most travelers do not carry a certified copy of their birth certificate to prove their citizenship. One document you can carry which proves both identity and citizenship all in one, is an old and expired U.S. passport. Keep this separate from your current passport, and you can use it as ID at the embassy or consulate.
You will also need to provide the embassy with an acceptable color passport photo. They can’t take your picture at the embassy; you will have to do this yourself. There are some good apps out there which allow you to turn your iPhone or Android into a passport picture photo booth. Capture your image in the backseat of your Uber on your way to the embassy, get it printed out at the nearest copy shop or office supply store, and bring this photograph with you.
The embassy or consular staff will use this photo and give you an emergency passport in order that you might continue your trip. They’ll even lend you some money if you need it. When you get back to the US, you’ll need to pay back the loan and replace the emergency passport for a regular passport.
If you need to get a new passport photo in a major hurry, one that is guaranteed to be accepted by the American embassy or consulate in the event of an emergency, yet still not too expensive, you can’t do better than PhotoAiD. This online app will guide you through the process, and make sure that the final photo meets all the relevant government specifications.
All you need is your smartphone. We take care of everything else, such as size, cropping and aspect ratio. Advanced features include a background removal tool which will turn any background (like the backseat of your Uber) into the perfect uniform white background.
By reading this blog post, you now know what to do in the event of a passport emergency. But you can prevent the emergency by being careful not to lose your passport in the first place. When you’re not traveling, keep your passport in a safe place such as a locked desk drawer, your home safe, or a bank safety deposit box.
When you are traveling, do not carry your passport in your luggage, because as we all know, luggage can get lost. Either keep your passport on your person (in a purse or a pocket, or better still in a pickpocket-proof pouch) or in a secure location (in-room safe or hotel safe).
A good practice is to keep copies of your passport, birth certificate and driver’s license in your luggage. These can function as emergency IDs. Hopefully you don’t lose your passport and your luggage at the same time.
I lost my old passport a few years ago when I moved—can I just plow ahead and renew it now?
No. To renew a passport, you have to possess the old passport. You will need to apply for a whole new passport using the DS-11 form. Lost passports must be reported lost; that’s what the DS-64 “lost or stolen passport” form id for.
Twelve weeks is a long time for “expedited” delivery—can I get faster service for a replacement passport in just a few days?
Maybe. There’s an emergency service which may get you a passport in about 72 hours, but this is for life-&-death situations only such as emergency medical care or a death in the immediate family. You have to make an appointment online and visit one of the 26 national passport agency offices (not a post office), face-to-face.
Is it really necessary to file a police report, just for a stolen passport?
Not necessarily. While a police report is nice to have, don’t waste a lot of time getting one if doing so will cause you to miss your flight out. But if you’ve been the victim of a violent crime, it’s a good idea to get the report.
What if I don’t have an old, expired passport to stash in my suitcase, or any next of kin to hold onto photocopies of my documents—do you have any other good ideas?
Yes, you should download some high-quality scans of your most important documents (such as your passport, birth certificate and driver’s license) onto a USB thumb drive; keep this drive with you, stashed or hidden someplace where it will not get lost or stolen. Also, upload all these scans to your preferred cloud service. And just take some good pictures of these documents, and store them on your smartphone.