Imagine this scenario…you left your passport, ID, credit cards, debit cards and most of your money in your hotel room, hidden in a place where you think no one will ever be able to find them. You are carrying only the cash you need for the evening in case you get robbed while you are out. You return to your room later and find that everything you hid is gone. What do you do? Here are the steps.
Step 0: Before disaster strikes
This is actually the step you do before any of your stuff is stolen…before you even leave on your trip. Take photos, or scans of all your documents, passport, ID, credits cards, ATM cards, with all the contact information, bank phone numbers, etc. If you go online to your bank you can usually find instructions for replacing a lost debit card. The phone number for reporting a lost card while travelling internationally may be different than the domestic emergency phone number on the back of your card, so you should include that in your information. While you are at it, scan all your other travel documents, like airline tickets, as well. Email the photos and scans to yourself, or store them in your secured (password protected) cloud storage where you can access them from anywhere you have internet access. Then make photocopies of all these same documents (or at least copy down the card info, passport number, and other important information) and hide this in your luggage. I know it sounds like overkill, but better safe than sorry.
Step 1: Cancel your cards and arrange replacement cards
The first thing you should do is contact your banks and credit card companies and have the cards canceled to avoid getting any fraudulent charges. Don’t remember the card numbers or how to contact the banks? If you’ve done Step 0, you should have all that available. While you have the banks on the line, you can also arrange to get your replacement cards. If you’re in transit you may have to find a convenient place where you can stop long enough to wait for your replacement cards to arrive. You also need to choose an address that you trust where the banks can send your replacement cards. If you have a friend who lives in the country, you may be able to have the card(s) sent to the friends address, even if you are still moving. Another option is to have the cards mailed to the hotel where you are staying. If you don’t trust the hotel, then you’ll have to figure out someplace else. If you are taking language lessons at a school, have the cards sent to the school. If you have been frequenting a particular restaurant or shop, a business isn’t a bad place to arrange the cards to be sent to.
Replacement debit cards sent internationally can take 7-10 business to arrive. If you need them sooner, you should be able to expedite the shipping for a fee (this varies from $0 to $30 at the top 10 US banks). This will get the card to you within 1-3 days typically. If you happen to belong to a true international bank that has a branch near you, you may be able to walk in to the branch and have them make a new card for you on the spot.
Replacing your credit cards is pretty much the same deal as the debit cards. You need a safe place to have them sent and you can pay for expedited shipping. If your credit card is an airline mileage or frequent flyer card, there will often be no charge for the expedited replacement card. If you’re very diligent you can contact your credit card issuer before you go and find out what their replacement policy and fees are for expedited service.
If your lost card is an American Express card you can walk into an American Express travel service office and get a new card on the spot. They have at least one travel office in a major city of just about every country you’d ever visit, so this is one reason to carry an Amex card.
Step 2: Getting Emergency Money
While replacing your passport is a huge pain in the ass, it may not be your first priority if your debit and credit cards and most of your cash was stolen. The US embassy may be far away from where you are staying and you need funds to live on and travel while waiting for your replacement cards to arrive and go about replacing your passport.
The most common option for emergency funds is to have someone wire you money using a money transfer service like Western Union or Moneygram. These companies charge a fairly high fee to transfer the money but they are available in lots of international locations and you can get the cash quickly. They also provide a secure way to pick up the money, even if you don’t have any ID, using a tracking number that the sender shares only with the receiver. Western Union can provide money to you within minutes if the sender visits the WU office and initiates the payment with cash or a debit card. If you don’t have anyone back home who can initiate the transfer, you can do it yourself but it takes longer to get the funds. You have to create a Western Union account and link it to a checking, savings, or investment account. Then you can transfer funds from this account to a WU location near you. If you use this method, you must use the 3-day transfer option from WU, so you won’t get your money as quickly. If you are a person who likes to prepare for the worst, you could set up the WU account and do the bank verification before you leave so you have this option available with the least delay possible should something bad happen.
NOTE: I recently checked the Moneygram website and it said that the receiver needs to have the confirmation number plus valid photo ID to pick up the money. I didn’t see the photo ID for Western Union. This may be an issue if you have had your passport and photo ID (driver’s license or ID card) stolen.
NOTE: If you have lost your ATM card and you still have a credit card, it may be cheaper (less fees) to get a cash advance on your credit card, rather than using Western Union for cash.
Another option for getting cash, if you have a Paypal account tied to your checking account, is to Paypal money to another traveler (that you trust and who trusts you) and have them reimburse you the cash.
Step 3: Replacing Your Passport
Unfortunately the steps for reporting your stolen passport and getting a replacement are similar to your original passport application procedure. To report the lost or stolen passport, you have the following options:
- Visit www.travel.state.gov and fill out the DS-64 form online. This is probably the easiest.
- Call the State Dept. @ 1-877-487-2778 to report the lost passport and follow the representative’s instructions (I assume they take down the information and fill out a DS-64 for you, but I haven’t done this so I can’t say for sure).
- Download and print a copy of the DS-64 form, fill it out, mail it to the address on the form.
- Contact (or go to) the nearest consulate or embassy to report your lost or stolen passport. Ask to speak to the Consular section.
To replace your passport you must contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The following information is taken verbatim from the U.S. State Department website:
If you are scheduled to leave the foreign country shortly, please provide our consular staff with the details of your travel. We will make every effort to assist you quickly. You will also be directed to where you can obtain a photo for your replacement passport. In most cases, you will need to get a passport photo prior to your arrival at the consular section.
The following list identifies a number of documents/items you should take with you to the embassy/consulate. Even if you are unable to present all of the documents, the consular staff will do their best to assist you to replace your passport quickly. Please provide:
• A Passport Photo (one photo is required; get it in advance to speed the process of replacing your passport)
• Identification (driver’s license, expired passport etc.)
• Evidence of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of your missing passport)
• Travel Itinerary (airline/train tickets)
• Police Report, if available
• DS-11 Application for Passport (may be completed at time of application)
• DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport (may be completed at time of application)
Please note that if all you followed Step 0 you should have at least photos or scans of your missing passport, other ID, and plane tickets, which may be enough to satisfy their identification requirements.
The fees for replacing a lost or stolen passport are the same as the normal passport application fees.
There are a few countries, like Bhutan, which have no U.S. diplomatic offices. Refer to the State Department’s country-specific information for the country you are in to get the best information on embassy locations and what to do if there are no embassies available. For example, the Bhutan information says this:
Because there is no U.S. Embassy presence in Bhutan, getting your lost or stolen U.S. passport replaced can be complicated and costly. If you are without a passport you will be required to seek permission to exit Bhutan from Bhutanese immigration authorities, and also obtain advance permission to enter the receiving country from that country’s immigration authorities. The receiving country’s immigration officials may or may not grant such permission. If permission is not granted, a consular officer from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the receiving country must meet you at the receiving country airport prior to immigration checks to bring you a new passport. The State Department charges fees for this call-out service, which can total several hundred dollars per hour, in addition to the passport fees.
In other words, don’t lose your passport in Bhutan!