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You’re all packed for your trip when suddenly you realize, “I can’t find my passport!” Panic sets in. You’ll need your passport to board your flight, and you begin to wonder what to do as you frantically search for it.
If you can’t find your passport, stay calm, even though it feels like a disaster. Believe me, I know, as it’s happened to me. As someone who’s lost a passport before a flight, I’ve been through several scenarios on how to rectify the situation.
Unfortunately, the pandemic set in motion a delay that continues to make applying for, renewing or replacing a passport much more time-consuming than before. But, don’t lose hope.
There are ways to solve this problem, though you’ll need patience, travel flexibility and some extra money to pay for the inconvenience of replacing a lost passport the day before a flight.
Here are some helpful suggestions if you can’t find your passport, but remember each person will experience different hurdles depending on where they are, their travel timeline and the reason for travel.
What to do if you lost your passport in the U.S.
First of all, if you’re flying domestically, you don’t need a passport to travel — you’ll simply need official U.S. identification, like a driver’s license.
If flying internationally and you lost your passport before a flight, the speed at which you can get your passport replaced will come down to the purpose of your travel. If you’re traveling for vacation, the priority for the passport agency to replace it will be lower than if you’re traveling for an urgent work trip or a family emergency.
Make an appointment
Your first step to getting a last-minute replacement of your passport is to try to secure one of an extremely limited number of appointments at a passport agency. Call 877-487-2778 to see if there is availability at one of the 26 regional passport agencies across the country.
Since you will need to report to the office in person, you may have to fly or drive to one that is some distance away, which can be costly. In my experience, I had to fly to New York, and I met people from Anchorage, Honolulu, Denver and Tucson in line with me.
Appointments are for those with emergency needs, those traveling internationally within two weeks or those who need a foreign visa within the next four weeks. Since your flight leaves tomorrow, you’ll want to act fast. Keep in mind, getting an appointment is tough, but there’s always a chance that a last-minute spot has opened up.
Still, the likelihood that your application will be processed in the next 24 hours is slim — unless you live right next to a passport agency and are lucky enough to score an appointment there. It’s wise to begin thinking about delaying your trip a few days, looking for an alternative domestic destination or postponing the trip entirely.
Don’t go to one of these agencies in hopes of a walk-in appointment — you will be turned away. Also, it is important to note that if you do get an appointment, it can still take the entire day — or longer — for the replacement passport to be issued.
Once you secure an appointment, you'll want to move quickly to make the flight or travel changes you think might be necessary, keeping in mind that a replacement may not come the same day as your appointment. Mine took 36 hours despite the fact that I sat there all day waiting.
» Learn more: Do you need a passport for a Caribbean cruise?
Use a third-party expeditor
If you’re traveling for vacation, applying for a replacement passport through a passport expeditor can simplify the process, albeit for a fee. Options include companies like RushMyPassport and CIBT. Both can help you get a replacement on a faster timeline than applying on your own through the post office. Just keep in mind that post-pandemic delays have slowed the process.
You might have to pay several hundred dollars for their help, but for those in a rush, this is the best option. Contact the company directly to find out which expedited options are available to you.
If you apply on your own through the U.S. Department of State, it can take as long as 10 to 13 weeks to replace a passport, or seven to nine weeks if paying the passport agency for expedited service. Using a third-party expeditor can cut this timeframe substantially, sometimes to as short as one week or less.
If you do decide to reschedule your trip, keep in mind that if you have travel plans within nine weeks, it’s possible to make an appointment for a replacement passport.
If you’re traveling for an emergency
If you lost a passport before a trip and have a family emergency (such as a death or imminent death), you have a higher priority than leisure travelers for getting a replacement. You’ll need to have proof of the situation as well as your travel itinerary.
The National Passport Processing Center allows immediate family members in this unfortunate situation to make an urgent appointment at a passport agency if traveling within three business days. You can call 877-487-2778 during business hours or 202-647-4000 (after 8 p.m. ET on weekdays or weekends) for an appointment if you are traveling for a life-or-death emergency situation.
» Learn more: What to do if you lose your passport
What to do if you lost your passport abroad
Passport replacement is a different process if you’re already outside the U.S. You’ll need to seek out your closest U.S. consulate or embassy, which may only be open on weekdays. This means you’ll need to begin rescheduling your remaining travel plans, as replacing the passport may not be immediate, especially if it’s the weekend.
When you’re traveling by air, you need to complete Form DS-64 for lost or stolen passports, as well as the standard DS-11 form when visiting the embassy. If your passport was stolen, it’s recommended to bring a police report, too. Proof of immediate travel, a passport photo and another form of U.S. identification are also necessary.
When a replacement passport is issued outside the U.S., you may receive an “emergency passport.” These temporary documents allow you to travel right away, but you’ll need to apply for a normal passport book when you return home.
» Learn more: Can you take your own passport photo?
How to avoid extra costs from a trip delay
If you used a credit card with travel insurance to pay for your trip, you may want to contact the card issuer’s insurance carrier to see if your policy covers expenses you incur while dealing with your lost or stolen passport. With many policies, this is a covered reason for a trip delay. Some hotels may also be generous or flexible if you contact them directly and explain your situation. There are no guarantees, but it’s always worth a try.
» Learn more: How free travelers insurance through credit cards works
Do you have to report your passport lost or stolen?
As soon as you’ve exhausted every possible avenue in your search for your passport, it’s in your best interest to report a passport lost or stolen to have it invalidated. This is to help you avoid any type of identity theft by someone who comes into possession of it. Just remember that once you report your passport lost, if you find it again, it’s no longer valid and you can’t use it to travel. So search very carefully, as there’s no turning back. Believe me, I learned that the hard way.
Note that reporting it lost or stolen doesn’t start the process for a replacement. To get a new passport, you’ll have to appear in person with form DS-11 to apply for a new one.
What to do if you lost your passport the day before a flight
There are steps you can take to replace your lost passport. You’ll need to be flexible with your travel plans, take urgent action with next steps and be willing to pay the extra expenses to get a passport quickly.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get a passport on the same day, and it requires some luck to get a last-minute, same-day appointment. In these situations, you still may not be able to make your flight the next day, but you might be able to salvage part of your trip if you can’t postpone it entirely. Life-or-death emergencies will have priority for faster application processing.
Either way, replacing a passport at the last minute is an extremely frustrating process, and post-pandemic delays in processing haven’t helped.
That said, losing a passport isn’t the end of the world — try to put things in perspective to not be too disappointed. There are methods to get a replacement passport, but they requires patience.
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