What If I … Lose My Important Documents?

Expect to spend a lot of time on the phone if you lose your important travel documents.
Expect to spend a lot of time on the phone if you lose your important travel documents.

By Molly Jensen

There are various documents you have to take with you when you travel, and you do your best to keep these documents safe when traveling, but sometimes things just go wrong. Here’s what to do if you find yourself missing any of those important papers.

The first step in travel-document safety starts before you leave. Prior to departure, make two copies of important documents – your passport, driver’s license, airline tickets, credit cards, and drug prescriptions — front and back, pack one copy in your luggage and leave the other copy with family or friends.

While the number of travelers using traveler’s checks has fallen sharply in the last 20 years, they’re still alive and kicking. If you’re traveling old-school, make sure to keep two copies of the checks’ serial numbers, too. When you use a check, cross its serial number off the list, then if any checks are lost or stolen, you know exactly which ones are missing.

Also, only take the documents you’ll absolutely need on your trip. The less documents to worry about, the better. Ditch your extra credit cards, your Social Security card, and even your library card. You don’t need them when you’re on the road.

Maybe most important, if any of your important documents — like your ID or passport — are stolen, whether domestic or abroad, file a police report. Having a copy of the police report will help with the different processes you’ll go through to replace your stolen documents and it will also help confirm your identity.

Personal ID: If your ID has been lost or stolen, you can still get through airport security. By accessing publicly available databases, the TSA can confirm your identity if you provide personal information (like your birthdate, address, or employer). If you find yourself in this situation, it’s smart to give yourself extra time to check in because you might have to go through additional screenings. If your identity can’t be confirmed or you’re unwilling to provide information about yourself, you won’t be allowed to board your flight.

Passport: If your passport has been lost or stolen while in a foreign country, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to get home. But don’t worry — it’s not impossible! If you contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and ask to speak to the Consular Section, they can help you report your passport lost or stolen and get a replacement passport for you as soon as possible.

When you go to the embassy/consulate to get your replacement passport, take as many of the following documents as possible: passport photo, identification (driver’s license, expired passport, and so on), evidence of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of missing passport), your travel itinerary and tickets, and a police report. If you don’t have all of these documents, the consular staff will still do their best to replace your passport.

Replacement passports are normally valid for the full 10 years for adults and five years for minors. Limited passports are issued if you have urgent travel plans, if multiple passports are lost/stolen, or if you borrow money from the State Department to fund your trip home. These limited passports can be turned in for a full-validity passport when you arrive home. Normal passport fees are applied to replacement passports, unless you are victim of a serious crime or disaster.

Cancel lost or stolen credit cards as quickly as possible.
Cancel lost or stolen credit cards as quickly as possible.

Other Documents:

  • Cancel lost or stolen debit and credit cards as soon as possible. Not only does this prevent anyone from trying to use them, but it also limits your liability.
  • There’s no need to replace printed airline reservations, because when you arrive at the airport usually the airline can look up your reservation.
  • If you need to replace hotel or car-rental confirmations, call the hotel or car-rental agency and explain what’s going on. They’ll give you the next steps.

Finally, you can get help with lost documents by buying travel insurance, like the products offered by Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Their 24/7/365 travel assistance includes help replacing lost documents. They do this sort of thing all the time, so they know the process and who to call.

If any of these processes, especially getting a replacement passport, take longer than expected, you might want to cancel and/or reschedule hotel reservations and any flights. Not doing so could cause you to lose deposits and/or refunds.

In the end, be as positive as possible. Being flexible and patient with everyone helping you sort out your issues will help these processes considerably. Your trip isn’t ruined; you’re just adding an adventure you didn’t anticipate.

Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

One thought

  1. Helpful information especially the final comments on positive kind behavior toward the helpful people within your unplanned adventure.

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