Oh my, I lost my ID. How am I going to get home?

by Ned Levi on April 26, 2010

US Passport, photo by swimparallel, http://www.flickr.com/photos/swimparallel/

Over at the ConsumerTraveler.com Forums, one of our members had a friend who just returned from a trip to Maui, Hawaii. During her trip she lost her driver’s license. TSA still let her board her flight home.

If you’re a US citizen or resident, traveling in the U.S., and your government issued photo ID, is lost or stolen, or worse, if you’re in a foreign country and your passport is lost or stolen, you don’t have to panic. Your fate won’t be the same as Charlie’s in the Kingston Trio’s song, “The Man Who Never Returned.”

After her driver’s license went missing, our member’s friend immediately filed a police report. The police faxed her a copy of the report. She went to the airport and presented the police report to the TSA agent at the entrance to security. Seeing the report, the TSA agent asked if she had a Costco Card. She did. She caught a break, but you can’t depend every TSA Officer will accept it. The Costco card has its member’s photo embedded in the card. She got through security and flew home.

Most of us don’t have some kind of second photo ID when we travel, but we still can get through TSA security when traveling in the US if our government issued photo ID has been lost or stolen.

According to TSA,

Adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a US federal or state-issued photo ID … in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto their flight.

Passengers who do not or cannot present an acceptable ID will have to provide information to the TSA Officer performing Travel Document Checking duties in order to verify their identity. Passengers who are cleared through this process may be subject to additional screening. Passengers whose identity cannot be verified by TSA may not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint or onto an airplane.

How can you ensure, to the extent possible, you’ll be able to fly home, if your photo ID, and especially if all your IDs, are lost or stolen while traveling?

It takes preparation and common sense.

Before you leave, make three color copies of the front and back of your government issued photo ID. Leave one at home, give one to a friend, and take one with you. Keep the one you take with you separate from your actual photo ID. I usually travel with it in my carry-on, then leave it in the room or hotel safe when not in transit. The one at your friend’s is in case your copy disappears, and the one at home so someone could retrieve it, in case your friend isn’t available. If your copy is missing, you can have the others faxed or “over-nighted” to you.

File a police report. You want to prove to TSA you can’t produce your photo ID. You’ll need a copy of the report to show TSA at the airport.

At the airport, with the police report and the color copy of your photo ID, it’s highly likely TSA will accept the two as acceptable identity verification. They might put you through some secondary screening, but you should be able to fly.

If you’re out of the country, and your U.S. passport is lost or stolen, again, don’t panic. You’ll be fine using common sense and a little preparation.

As I suggested when flying domestically, when flying abroad, make three color copies of your passport. I copy the front and back covers, the inside front cover with my photo, the signature page, and any pages with a visa obtained in advance, entered into my passport. Keep one copy with you, separate from your passport. Leave one with a friend, and one at home.

Electronic Tip:
In addition to paper color copies of my photo ID and Passport, when I travel, I store a complete set of all my travel documents online, including: scans of my photo ID, Passport, credit cards and all other important items in my wallet, reservations, health documents, etc. I store them in pdf files (Adobe Acrobat) which I password protect. There are paid services which will store them for you, or you could use free services like Google Docs, or even email them to yourself.

When you realize your passport is stolen or is missing, contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. Speak to a representative in the American Citizens Service department of the Consular Section. Tell them your U.S. passport was lost or stolen. They will give you instructions for obtaining new passport photos and completing the passport replacement process.

File a local police report. While it might not be required, generally, a police report is helpful when replacing your passport.

It’s possible the consulate or embassy may want you to have someone confirm your identity. Contact a friend or relative in the US, that they might be needed to help you identify yourself for the State Department.

At the embassy, bring the police report and your copy of your passport to prove your identity. The passport copy will also provide your passport number and other important data. You’ll fill out Form DS-64 to officially report you passport lost or stolen, and Form DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport.

Once the forms are complete, and your identity verified, the embassy or consulate will provide you with a replacement passport.

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  • john

    Ned…. Great Article (see I do agree with you occasionally)… Since I have had people go through the lost passport drill, one thing to note is that it will probably be a multi-day afair. Especially if you are going to a Consulate vs the Embassy. Most passport work is done at the Embassy so the Consulate will get your information and pass it to the embassy for processing. Don’t expect it to be like going to the DMV to get a new driver’s lic.

    Having the second copy of your documents is key. Without those, you basically have to provide all of the documents you would have to get your passport in the first place.This can be really tough if your wallet was stolen too.

    If you have one, the other thing to give to a friend to hold is an expired passport. This one document serves as all of the proof you need to prove that you qualify for the passport. If all else fails, you can get it fedex’ed to you and provide that to the Consulate.

  • MidMom8949

    Thanks, Ned! My youngest daughter is about to embark on her first overseas trip, and I just forwarded this to her. Very useful.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    John, that’s a great idea giving a friend one’s expired passport. Once your valid passport has been stolen it’s the best composite proof of identity I can think of, (When you get a new passport, it’s all the identity proof you need to send with your renewal application.) and can be quickly sent to the US consulate or embassy, if necessary.

    (I’d like to note, if one keeps their expired passport, store it in a very safe place to prevent it being used for identity theft. Mine is in my bank safe deposit box. If one decides to throw it out, shred it, again to prevent it being used for identity theft.)

    You’re absolutely correct, John, that it can take at least a few days to get a new passport. In addition, to your point that generally new passports are generated at embassies, I would note that passports are typically not issued during weekends or holidays. If a passport is lost or stolen “after hours” a reissue would generally not occur until the embassy or consulate re-opens. The consulates and embassies close on US holidays, by the way, and usually on local holidays too.

    In the case of a travel emergency, or an immediate need, (Frankly, I’m not really sure what an embassy or consulate would consider an emergency.) an after-hours consulate officer may be able to help, but you can’t depend on that.

  • Frank

    It takes preparation and common sense.

    I cant tell you how many times during deplaning, I’ve had a passport, Driver’s license, a wallet or cellphone turned over to me by other passengers. Children are especially prone to leaving (expensive) electronic equipment in the seatpockets. Two days ago, a small boy sitting next to me at the gate says, “I’m cant find my PSP game.” I told his Mother to get the agent to call the other gate, search the aircraft, etc. No luck. That was a $100.00 mistake.
    Also had a passenger tell me on a flight two days ago, that on vacation, he had his wallet stolen. I offered to buy him a drink. Felt bad. He declined.

    BE CAREFUL OUT THERE, watch your belongings and VISUALLY CHECK your seating area before leaving the aircraft.

  • Fil

    To avoid the delay of waiting for a copied passport to be sent or carrying the copy, I recommend scanning your documents and emailing the copies to yourself. This is printable on demand. Delete the email when you get home.

  • Tad

    I also carry the PDF files of my passport, driver’s license, visas, as well as front & back of my credit cards in my PDA (e.g. Blackberry, IPhone, Palm) which has the advantage of being immediately visible, if you don’t discover your loss until at the airport. You can also send via email or bluetooth, as needed. I can password protect them in the PDA for extra security. YMMV

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    I agree Fil, that having your travel documents online is a great idea, which is why I highlighted that idea in my column, however, I don’t recommend this idea in lieu of carrying a paper color copy of the documents, and/or having a friend have a copy. You may get caught at the last moment (in the airport for example) without your driver’s license, for example, and may not be able to get to a computer with a printer to print it out. If you already have it, you’re set. In addition, Internet access may be problematical for a variety of reasons, just when you need it the most. During my last visit to Paris, the Internet was down for several ISPs over a wide area of the city, for more than 8 hours.

    Not just that, but with regard to obtaining a new passport if it’s stolen, you can’t beat John’s idea of having your expired passport available to you, if necessary. I would definitely leave it with a friend, and not carry it with me.

    Tad, I like the idea of putting your travel documents in your smartphone. While many don’t have that ability, it doesn’t diminish the idea for those who do. I certainly would password protect the files to protect you in case the phone is lost or stolen. I actually go a step further with my iPhone. In addition to password protecting my files, since I have a lot of confidential information on the phone, I’ve password protected access to the phone, and in addition, set it to delete all the phone’s content if a specific number of consecutive attempts to enter the password are unsuccessful. I can also delete my phone’s content remotely when the phone’s in use.

  • Dawn

    Having worked with over 30 consulates all over the world, I have to correct John. First, a consulate can exist in or out of an Embassy. A consulate is there to serve American citizens first and foremost. They no longer have to send information to the Embassy to process a replacement passport. Every consulate has the equipment to process a replacement passport. Second, it is rarely a multi-day affair to get a replacement passport. Maybe multi-hour, but not multi-day. All of your passport information is available to the Consular Officer in a secure online system. Your photo and original application, as well as passport number. Therefor, it’s simply a matter of collecting the fee (yes, it does cost to get it replaced!), processing the replacement application, and printing the replacement passport. I’ve seen it take as little as 30 minutes when the applicant is properly prepared with copies of the lost or stolen passport, new photos, and cash. Third, in some cases, consulates are not always open every day of the week. For example, the consulate in Edinburgh was open one day per week and only for American Citizen Services – they did not process VISAs there. However, if it was an emergency, a consular officer would come in and process the passport. They will not leave an AmCit waving in the wind. (although, there are a few who would deserve it!) They will do everything they can to help an American Citizen. However, that being said, they are not Burger King. There are laws, policies, and procedure that have to be followed. They are not a bank or butler service. These officers are responsible for so many things most Americans never even think of happening overseas: prison visits, identifying the remains of dead AmCits, assisting family members in returning their loved ones remains to the US, issuing certificates of birth abroad to children born overseas so they can prove their citizenship in the future, and much more.

    Nothing beats preparation and personal responsibility, though! I always travel with multiple copies of my passport, hidden in various places. I also have extra passport photos, just in case. I never carry my real passport on my body once I’ve arrived in a country. I place it in the hotel safe along with other valuables.

    I do like the scan/pdf tip and plan to implement it on my next trip!

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  • DaveS

    Excellent tips and follow up comments. But I need to say that not every consulate can process a passport directly. A member of our traveling group lost her passport on the south coast of Spain, and we went to a nearby US consulate. We were told our options were two: Send our application to Madrid to have it processed, or go to Madrid to have it processed. The former could have been done in two days, but we were due to leave the country in two days, and didn’t want to risk it, so we made an extra trip. We had photocopies of everything, which did really expedite things in Madrid.

  • Nigel

    Just one more idea to add to the excellent information – if you are travelling as a couple, each carry the copies of the other person’s ID. If one person loses or has stolen the ID container the other has the copies. The same can be used whentravelling in a group as well.

  • Mel

    Ned—good article—informative, concise, and helps to reduce the anxiety that comes with lost documents. Mel

  • Aka

    this website can create passport photos:
    http://idphoto4you.com
    it uses face detection

  • Robin Johnson

    Useful also, generally, for non-US citizens.
    There’s no Australian consulate in Montreal: we found out at the airport there, while trying to check in for Eorope after traveling in Camada for three weeks, that our padssports were midding. With the aid of the friendly people as the Australian High Commission in Ottawa, we were able to get temporary replacement passports within a few hours after driving there. The snag for our aubsequent plams came when the USA would not accept this documentation, even for a direct international transit through a US airport.
    I would add to the preparation for an international trip, obtain addresses and phone numbers for your country’s diplomatic representation in the cities/countries you plan tio visit.

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  • Ed

    Digital copy.
    I have a digital copy of my passport on my smartphone. I also keep an itinerary and digital copies of my flight information and tickets on my smartphone. Digital is the way to go for things like this.

  • James

    The US recently introduced Passport Cards, although only good for Travel to Mexico and Canada it is still a US Government ID. I usually carry that in my wallet, separate from my Passport. Should I need to replace my passport, I’m pretty sure that having the card would be useful for looking up the regular passport information. (I think the numbers are probably connected to each other).

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    Hi James,

    It turns out I’m going to have a new column coming up which will revisit the Passport Card again, but I will mention it here because it’s important to be very clear about the use of the Passport Card.

    The Passport Card can be used to travel to Mexico and Canada, but only by car, or by ship, not by air, nor can it be used to return from either country by air. It’s also good for travel by ship to any other WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) country by ship, (land is impossible as all the other WHTI nations are islands) but not by air.

    In fact, the Passport Card can only be used for US Domestic air travel, and only for flights which land and take off solely in the US (no intermediate stops outside the US).

    Form DS-64, Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport, is necessary to fill out whenever your US passport has been lost stolen, while in the US, or outside the US. The form requires you to fill in your passport number and the date it was issued. You know the rest of the information on the form.

    According to the Dept. of State, your Passport Card number and Passport number are not related in any way. In fact, the State Department can look up your Passport information just by knowing your name or address, and when you’re out of the country will generally do so, as long as you can somehow prove you are who you say you are. The Passport Card will provide proof of your identity to the embassy or consulate. That being said, I would still have your passport information with you, including its number and its date of issue as further proof of who you are. With the mindset of the federal government these days, the more proof the better.

    Moreover, I would never depend on merely having a Passport Card as my backup in case my passport was stolen. If it’s on your person along with your passport, they both could be stolen, and if it’s in your luggage or at the hotel safe, that’s not a sure thing either. I would still have a color copy of your passport with a friend or relative, and one left at home, as per my article. Frankly, I still might have a color copy of the passport with me too, as a good way to have the number and date, if I had no other good way of having it with me which I could count on.

    That being said, your idea is a good one, as proof of identity, and is part of the upcoming article. The big question is for me, is the extra expense worth buying it in the first place?

    Thanks very much for your good post, and idea, and your readership.

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  • Anonymous

    Domestically, you have always been able to sign an “attestation” to board a flight without ID – assuming that you have satisfied some other requirements of the TSA – like having som eother form of ID, etc.

  • http://chrissytravels.com/ Chrissy Travels

    That is a great tip for any traveler. I am definitely bringing my Costco card with me next trip!

  • Lisaweiss50

    leaving from London to thailand in 8 hrs and can’t find my passport.  I doo have copies of it and a valid drivers license with my photo on it.  Flight is at 9 AM, before american embassy/consulate opens.  what do I do

  • Steven

    I lost my ID when I took a trip to Denver back in 2010. I showed the agent my old expired ID, Credit Card, Social Security Card and Voter Registration Card and she let me right through no problem

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  • Hiramholbroo

    Wow never ever thought of taking a copy if passport lost. Thanks for the Advice. I will travel with copy of my passport and also give it to my friend while travelling.:) Fitness Holiday

  • madtad1

    I also keep full color copies (pdf or jpeg) of my passport and DL stored on my cell phone.

  • SC Parent

    @ Steven, you should never, ever, travel with your social security card or even carry it in your wallet. Leave it at home!

  • Kate

    My drivers license was recently stolen and I am flying to Orlando for my flight attendant training in a week! I have a color copy if my drivers lucense. Does anyone know if I am able to fly with ahowing a color copy of my DL, my original birth certificate, and social??? I am so nervous now.

  • DCTA

    As a Travel Agent, I take photocopies of all passports, scan them, and then file a PDF copy in CRM. I explain to clients that this is precautionary and smart – that someone is in my office during business hours and can be contacts and can email the PDF to the client OR to the US Consulate (as we have several times) to ease the process of replacement. Clients are also encouraged to leave a copy with next of kind and one in their home.

  • DCTA

    No. But you certainly have time to get a new license!

  • DCTA

    Yes, your expired ID no doubt had a photo on it.

  • Gregvx

    While travelling in Costa Rica a few years ago, all of my ID was stolen in a room break in. I had copies of all my ID, the Canadian embassy put their official stamp on my copy, and while it was meaningless, when I was stopped at a checkpoint the officer was very impressed that it was “official” and accpeted it!!

  • docqualizer

    See above…

  • TexanPatriot2

    And don’t forget it will cost you some modesty — but is it worth a blue glove in your junk?

  • ashley

    I am under 18 and I’m traveling from gainsville airport to west palm beach airport but I live In west palm beach.. I got to gainsville in car but didnt know I had to fly back home and I only have a picture of my ID … can that help me pass through TSA? please help!!!!

  • Charles Leocha

    No problem. TSA can help at the airport.
    Good luck.

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