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This 2-Second Travel Mistake Cost Me Hundreds of Dollars

An upset woman at the airport sitting near a window next to her suitcase.

Image source: Getty Images

It’s every traveler’s nightmare. You’re standing in line for immigration after a flight as you head out or return from a trip. You check for your passport. It isn’t there. Trying not to panic, you check your pockets. You empty your bag. Still no passport. After much searching, you realize you must have left it on the plane.

It takes two seconds to check around your seat before you get off an airplane. Look in the back pocket of the seat in front of you, and see if there’s anything on the floor. It’s all too easy to drop your wallet, passport, or other travel documents during the flight. And, as I discovered the hard way, that quick check can save you a lot of time and money.

What to do if your passport is lost or stolen

There are many ways you can lose your passport while traveling. If, like me, you lose it on a plane, the first thing to do is go back to the gate or ask an official for help. They can contact the airline and get someone to look around your seat — you may be able to get your documents back without any further trouble.

If they can’t find it, you’ll need to explain your situation at border control. It will help if you can show a photocopy of your passport or other documents that show your identity. If you’re entering the U.S., you’ll need to explain your situation to the immigration officials. They’ll likely try to complete the screening process using other forms of ID, such as a driver’s license.

If you’re on your way into another country, things can get more complicated. A lot depends on what country it is, your immigration status, and other factors. You might have to go to the U.S. embassy or consulate to get an emergency passport. In a worst case scenario, you might not be able to enter the other country at all and have to return to the U.S.

Lost or stolen passports in the U.S.

As soon as you realize your passport is missing, report it to the State Department. You can do this online, by phone (1-877-487-2778), or by mail. To get a replacement, you’ll need to fill out a form and provide it, along with evidence of your U.S. citizenship, ID, and a photo. For adults, a new passport book costs $130, as well as a $35 execution fee.

Ordinarily, passport renewals can be done online. Unfortunately, if you don’t have your old passport because it’s been lost or stolen, you will need an in-person appointment.

  • If you’re in a hurry, call the National Passport Information Center to schedule an appointment with a passport agency. There are two options, a life-or-death emergency service and an urgent travel service. The expedited service costs an extra $60 and fast delivery costs $19.53.
  • If you have more time, you can use a passport acceptance facility. These are a mix of post offices, clerks of court, public libraries, and other government offices that accept applications. You can find your nearest facility online.

Lost or stolen passports abroad

If your passport is lost or stolen when you’re out of the country, the process is a bit more complicated. You’ll probably have to go to the U.S. embassy or consulate, and each one has its own process. You may be able to get a temporary emergency passport and replace it when you’re back in the U.S.

As with a missing passport in the U.S., you’ll need to provide a completed form as well as various documents to prove your identity. The fee also depends on what country you’re in. To give you an idea, according to the websites for the U.S. embassies in both the U.K. and Peru, the charge to replace a missing passport for an adult is $165.

Will insurance cover a lost or stolen passport?

Many travel insurance policies will help if your passport is lost or stolen. Plus, if you have a travel credit card that offers extra insurance as a perk, this may also apply. Make sure you file a police report quickly — sometimes it’s required within 24 hours. Check for other documentation that the insurer might ask for when you claim.

Here are some aspects of your insurance policy that could apply:

  • Emergency telephone line: Some policies have 24-hour hotlines you can call for assistance if your passport, or other documents are lost or stolen. You can get help filing a police report and submitting paperwork.
  • Trip delay coverage: If your missing passport means you have to delay parts of your trip, you may be able to claim back some of the costs.
  • Baggage and personal effects coverage: Personal effects often include passports and similar documents. As such, many travel insurance policies will cover the cost of replacing your passport.

Be vigilant about identity theft

Sadly, replacing your missing passport is not always the end of the story. In my case, the airline never found my passport and it wasn’t handed in to the border security. Authorities block passports as soon as they’re reported missing, so nobody can travel using my identity. But there’s a lot of personal info in that passport that may now be in someone else’s hands. That means I’m now on alert for potential identity theft. I’ve frozen my credit and am checking my bank statements more carefully than normal.

All in all, it’s a lot of hassle and damage to my bank account balance for something I could have avoided. That said, lost passports are a pretty common occurrence. At the time it can induce panic, but it’s relatively easy to get a new one — especially if you have scans or photocopies of your important documents saved and travel insurance to cover your costs.

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