Help! My Passport Is Missing!

Passports, money and credit cards need to be kept safe when traveling.

Nobody leaves on a trip expecting to lose their travel documents or have them stolen, but it does happen. Sometimes the thieves are so slick, it will be hours before you notice your passport is gone. You’ll obviously notice it much sooner if your purse, along with your money, credit cards and other items, is stolen.

Such thefts are devastating and can ruin your holiday abroad. Even if you’re careful and take precautions, it can happen. It happened to me, and it can happen to you, too.

That’s why it is important to prepare for your trip as if your passport will be stolen or otherwise go missing. Then, if the awful event occurs, you’ll be ready and can spring into action to lessen the damage. Do note: you can minimize your loss if you leave all unnecessary identification documents and credit cards that won’t be used at home.

Photocopy Passport ID, Visa Pages

Preparation starts at the nearest copy machine. Always make a copy of your passport’s identification page. Better yet, make several copies. Put one in your suitcase and give other copies to your traveling companions to keep in theirs. You can also scan the page in and email it to yourself if you have an email account that is accessible anywhere in the world. While you’re at it, copy or scan in any visas; if you lose your passport, you’ve just lost those visas, too.

If something happens to your passport and other identification, the copies will come in handy. After a thief stole my purse on the French Riviera, the copy of my passport’s ID page in my luggage was the only proof I had of who I was.

A copy of this page will also make it easier to get a replacement passport. Other countries may handle this differently, but the United States requires its citizens to provide proof they had a passport to begin with. The copy of the ID page does this, which means you can get a temporary passport in one trip to the embassy or consulate. If you don’t have it, the embassy or consulate abroad will need to verify this in the United States. Because of time differences, you may have to make a second trip to get your new documents. This can be time-consuming and expensive if the United States doesn’t have a presence where you are visiting and you must travel to the nearest facility.

The temporary passport is only good for three months, so when you get home you’ll need to apply for a new permanent passport. There is no charge for the new passport if you apply while the temporary one is still in effect.

Be aware that if your passport turns up after you’ve reported it stolen, tough. That passport is no longer valid, and you’ll still need a new one. If your passport has gone missing rather than being stolen, make sure it really is missing and not just misplaced before you report it gone.

Let’s back up to when the theft occurred. If you know where the theft happened, check all the trashcans within a two- or three-block radius. That’s because the thief may have just taken the cash out and ditched your bag and its contents. If you didn’t find anything, you need to immediately notify your bank and credit card companies to cancel the accounts. This can be done on the phone or online.

File a Report with Local Police

After banks and credit card companies have been notified, it’s time to report the theft to local police. Chances are good the police will never find the thief, no matter how accurately you describe him, and some may not even bother to look. But you need the police report of the theft; this makes the theft official. You’d be surprised how many agencies want to see it before issuing replacement identification documents, such as a driver’s license or library card.

Your new U.S. passport will note it is a replacement passport.

Unlike the old song that goes, “there will never be another you,” if a thief gets your documents, there’s a good chance there will be another you. Identity theft is common these days. A thief with your credit cards could go on an online spending spree and, for a while, no one would be the wiser. It is important to file a report with a credit bureau as soon as practical; this can be done online, so you could do it while you’re still on your holiday. The United States has three major credit bureaus; you only need to file one report and this agency will share your information with the others. You’ll be alerted when someone applies for a new credit in your name, a sure sign that you are a victim of identity theft.

One final note: Anywhere abroad or after you get home, keep receipts for any money you’ve shelled out for new documents. You may be eligible for reimbursement for some of these expenses under your homeowner’s insurance policy.

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About the author: Cheryl Probst

In a previous life, Cheryl Probst was an award-winning photojournalist writing about natural resources, health care, and politics and government (all levels). Now retired from the daily work rat race, she spends her time writing about travel, especially about China, where she lived for two years, and the Pacific Northwest, where she now lives. Her guidebooks, “DIY Beijing,” “Parents Guide to Beijing, ” "Yellowstone on a Motor Scooter" and “Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom,” are available in print from and for Kindle from Amazon. She returns to China once every year or so for information to update her website, Cheryl’s China.

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