Your hotel room is all askew and your suitcase is turned inside out. Panic sets in as you realize your passport is gone.
Losing your passport — or worse, having it stolen — is a nightmare scenario that can leave any traveler feeling helpless and wondering: How will I get home? How can I get it replaced? Will I need to change my travel plans? What else do I need to do?
Here’s your step-by-step guide to dealing with a lost or stolen passport.
What to do when you lose your passport
1. Report the loss or theft to U.S. authorities
While it can be a good idea to report a stolen passport to the local police — the information you provide will help them if it does turn up — reporting your lost or stolen passport to the U.S. government is also very important.
In addition to helping prevent identity theft, reporting a loss or theft can also stop someone from using your passport to commit a crime, making it imperative that you report your missing passport. It is also critical to report it because you'll need the loss documented when you go to apply for a replacement, which typically requires you to present your current passport as part of the renewal process.
You can request the assistance of the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services if you need help with the process.
» Learn more: How to get your first passport
2. Apply for a replacement
If you're overseas when you lose your passport, you'll need to replace it quickly so you can get home. If you're home but have upcoming travel plans, you'll need to replace it before your trip. Both of these scenarios require you to appear in person, perhaps traveling to a passport facility or embassy/consulate if overseas. This may take time if the offices are not nearby.
You can use Form DS-64 to report it lost or stolen online, but for a replacement, you must appear in person. The steps you must follow to replace your passport depend on where you are when you discover it missing and when you plan to travel. If you’re in the U.S., you can search for your nearest passport acceptance facility by entering your ZIP code here.
If you're overseas and need to apply for a replacement, you will need an alternate form of government-issued identification, like a driver’s license, to prove who you are. Photocopies of your passport will help, but you will still need to show official government identification.
3. Pay up
Even if your lost passport wouldn’t have expired for years, you will have to pony up more cash for another passport. The regular fees apply. If you're in the U.S., you can pay an additional fee to have it expedited. There is an online calculator that will help you determine the cost of a replacement (typically $110) depending upon your circumstances.
The good news is that if you had Global Entry linked with your old passport, you will not need to apply and pay for the program again. Simply log in to the Global Entry system to update it with your new passport number when you receive it. If you use the popular and much cheaper Mobile Passport app, which requires less time to apply, you will also need to update it with your new document details.
4. Stay put until a replacement arrives
Unfortunately, you cannot travel internationally without a passport. While there are some exceptions for using a passport card (which is good for only land and sea travel between Canada or Mexico and the U.S.), once you report your passport lost or stolen, your passport card is invalid, too.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, applying for a passport could take longer, so apply as soon as possible and be prepared for delays.
If you have a history of losing your passport, the State Department may issue a limited passport that’s valid for only a short period of time until you can get home and go through the steps to get a regular passport again.
» Learn more: The best credit cards for travel insurance benefit
5. Check your travel protection benefits
Some premium cards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, offer concierge services that can come in handy when you need help. Though they cannot do the hard work for you (such as appearing in person to request a passport replacement), a concierge can help with changing flight and hotel reservations that might be necessary.
Travel insurance might also help in covering flight change fees or additional expenses, especially if a police report can show that a passport was stolen and not just misplaced. This type of travel protection comes with many cards including the American Express® Green Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
More passport management tips
Of course, the best strategy is to not lose your passport in the first place. Keep it in a safe place at all times, like your hotel room’s safe, and have a color photocopy of the picture page of your passport. Also, snap a picture to have on your phone.
You can put your email or phone number on the back of your passport in case it was genuinely lost (rather than stolen). It is best not to include your home address for security reasons, though.
The bottom line
If you lose your passport, first make sure it’s really gone, then report it lost or stolen. Check the State Department website to find the nearest location where you can get a replacement and, if you’re out of the country, make arrangements to stay there until your new passport is issued.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card