When I was in business school, I went to South Africa as part of an economics class. Seeing South Africa was a dream I had for many years, and it was a nearly perfect trip. In the airport on the way home, I discovered my passport had been stolen right out of my bag. (See also: What to Do If You Don’t Have Your ID at the Airport)
Picture this: I was the last person in line at airport security, it was Friday at 6 p.m., and the next day was my birthday. None of my friends could come back through security to stay with me. I was alone and stranded in South Africa for an entire weekend without my main proof of ID, something you need to stay at a hotel or purchase any travel tickets when you are abroad. It was a harrowing journey to get a new passport under these circumstances. On the upside, it taught me about the kindness of strangers and what to do if you lose your passport. (See also: 10 Things You Should Do Immediately After Losing Your Wallet)
Report the loss immediately
Whether at home or abroad, it is important for you to report your lost passport immediately. If, like me, you are traveling when it happens, contact the local police department and file a report. Make sure to keep a copy of the report for your records. Additionally, the United States Department of State must also be notified to prevent fraudulent use of your passport. You can contact them by phone at (877) 487-2778. Once the passport is reported missing, it will be made invalid, so even if you do find it later, you’ll no longer be able to use it.
Contact the U.S. embassy
If you are traveling internationally when you lose your passport, you need to contact the local U.S. embassy or consulate to get a replacement. Unfortunately, my passport was stolen after the embassy was closed on a Friday evening so I had to wait until Monday morning to get a replacement.
When you go to the embassy or consulate, you will need a recent color headshot facing the camera taken within the last six months. Make sure the photo is two inches tall and two inches wide. Your head must be between one inch and one and three-eighths inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. I know this sounds nitpicky, but passport photos have very specific requirements.
Also, be prepared to pay the passport replacement fee, provide proof of your identity and U.S. citizenship, and bring the police report and your travel itinerary. The embassy or consulate will have the forms you need to file to get a replacement passport. The wait at the embassy or consulate can be a few hours and you may need to answer a number of questions. Replacing my passport took the better part of a day from start to finish.
Be prepared to pay
If you are in the U.S. when you lose your passport, you have some additional options depending upon when you next plan to travel abroad. You can put in for a rush order if you are willing to pay an additional fee of $60 and can visit a regional passport agency office in person. Just as when you are abroad, you will need to bring a photo, proof of your identity and citizenship, the police report, and your travel itinerary. This rush option is for people who are traveling abroad within the next two weeks.
If you have more time, you can go to an authorized passport acceptance facility, such as a local post office, to get your replacement passport. The State Department website has a list of approved U.S. passport facilities that you can filter by ZIP code. It will take about four to six weeks to receive your new passport through an authorized facility.
Replacing a lost or stolen passport is an inconvenience, but don’t beat yourself up over it. You are not the first person, nor will you be the last to have this happen. Fortunately, there is a well-detailed process to get a replacement no matter what the circumstances. And, like me, it may just give you an interesting travel story to tell when you do (eventually!) arrive home.