If you’re reading this because you have lost your passport then I’m really sorry. If you’re reading this out of curiosity then please keep your passport safe and try to not lose it.
Losing your passport with all its memories in form of Visas and stamps can be a traumatic experience in itself, add to it the process of getting a new passport, rescheduling tickets, etc. it’s a nightmare. But you would also not be the first person to experience it. The embassies know what to do and they will guide you through it no matter what country you are from.
In May 2017, I was robbed at knifepoint in Colombia and that changed the course of my journey. I was going to leave in 2 days but those few moments in which I lost my passport, camera, bank cards meant I had to spend 2 more months in the same city to sort the mess I had found myself in.
The only upside to that incident seems to be this blog post.
Starting with your action plan to continue traveling or to get back home, either way, you would have to follow through the below steps.
Steps to follow until you get your new passport
1. File a police complaint
This should be your very first step when you lose anything of value. The police report is not only needed to process documents at the embassy but would also be required to claim Insurance later.
While the instinct is to see a police officer immediately, in some countries the entire process is online like in Colombia. There is a form one has to fill out and at the end of it, a copy is generated for you to use. It doesn’t get stamped even if you visit the police station and this is the copy I used for all official purposes.
2. Notify the nearest embassy
This could even be your first step. The embassies have experience handling such situations and will guide you through the uncertain times in a foreign land.
You could choose to intimate them via email or through their phone numbers and make an appointment to visit the embassy in person. Embassies are heavily guarded, directly showing up may not be entertained.
Being alone in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the local language, did make the situation all that much harder for me. I felt completely alone and helpless until I visited the embassy that is. I was welcomed with a cup of tea and invited for lunch with a bunch of other Indians. They were empathetic and unlike I had expected, did not blame me for the situation I had found myself in. They were only helpful.
Note: The experience of visiting an Indian embassy in a foreign country is not like visiting any government office in India. There’s a world of difference, the former is very pleasant and professional.
There is only one Indian embassy between Ecuador and Colombia which is in Bogota (Capital of Colombia). This is where I was robbed, so at least I didn’t have to spend more money reaching Bogota.
3. Notify the embassies you had a Valid Visa for
This is a crucial step that can get overlooked in the madness of setting things right. Identity theft is a real issue in spite of the modern passports that are issued these days. There have been cases in the recent past that have highlighted these issues. In order to pass this burden, do make sure you do your part of informing the right people.
Notifying the third country embassy occurred to me for two reasons-
- I presumed there would be a way for me to get a duplicate Visa basis my previous Visa details (I had a copy of it).
- I was suddenly afraid someone would use my Visa to enter the third country illegally. I am brown, my passport was stolen in Colombia where my photo could easily pass as a local’s.
I only had one valid Visa left on my passport which was crucial to my travels – US Visa. The visa had cost USD 160 which was a huge dent in my travel budget after 4 months of full-time travel. I could not imagine paying that money AGAIN.
I wrote to the embassy attaching a picture of my valid Visa and they guided me through the process which in this case entailed:
- Filling this form – https://photos.state.gov/libraries/consulate/29633/consular_images/Stolenlost.pdf
- Fill the above document, scan it and send it along with a copy of your old passport to – BogotaVisaPerdida@state.gov
- You could then proceed with the application process for a new Visa.
Yes, there was no way to get a duplicate Visa or get any form of concession based on the picture of my still valid Visa that I had gotten only a month ago and that was now probably lying in the dirt somewhere.
I was expected to go through the entire process, AGAIN. From biometrics to interview, everything.
Note: While the process was longer in Colombia than Ecuador to get a US Visa and had a longer waitlist to book interview slots, the interviewer was kind and empathetic.
Also read: US Visa for Indians [Two Experiences]
4. Apply for a new passport/emergency travel document
Here is the saddest part, if you lose your passport in a third country while on a tourist Visa, the norm is you’ll be issued a document called – Emergency travel document.
Emergency travel document/ Emergency Certificate (EC):
An emergency certificate is a piece of paper with your return flight details on it. Because the details are written on it, the document can only be used for a particular flight.
EC can be used to transit from only certain countries like Netherlands and Turkey. As other countries would require a transit Visa and it cannot be issued on EC, it requires a valid passport.
This makes booking return tickets complicated and in my case, a lot more expensive. All my savings that were my travel budget was less than the flight cost of flying directly from Colombia to India via Turkey or Amsterdam.
Note: Emergency certificate costs $52 in Colombia/Ecuador.
If the embassy makes an exception to issue you a new passport to continue on your plans (Congratulations), then do remember it takes at least 5 working days for it to arrive as it arrives from India.
And before, you insist on a new passport, an important thing to note is it costs a lot more to apply for a fresh passport in a foreign country. I had applied for a jumbo passport (60 pages) that cost me about $230 (This includes the $50 courier charges).
Full cost list for New Passport in Bogota – https://www.eoibogota.gov.in/docs/1609774353CONSULAR%20FEE%20CHART%20WEF%20JANUARY%202021-English.pdf
5. Inform the Host country
If you’re headed back on the emergency certificate, then this is not needed. The police report would suffice. However, if you have been able to get a new passport then you would need to inform your host country and follow through with the process so there are no issues when you’re leaving the country.
One of the questions I was faced with was, I had entered Colombia on a US Visa, with my passport I also lost my US Visa, so what was my status in the country?
In my case, I had to run around their offices multiple times, wait for hours with no information on the status. I had to submit a handwritten letter in Spanish (I took the help of a lady in the office to get this done). Because I was traveling long term, I had also forgotten the date I had entered the country (which would have been mentioned on the entry stamp), so the embassy helped me with the exact date and I could plan my exit date.
6. Notify the Insurance company
Once you have completed the process of applying for a new passport/EC, replaced your Visas, etc. It’s now time to reach out to your Insurance company.
Ideally, this is done once home but because I was traveling with no return date, I started the process right after I got the US Visa.
Expectedly, there was a lot of back and forth on documents.
In case you do not have Insurance:
My travel Insurance had expired about a month before I got robbed. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation then try to see if you have insurance through any other travel product. A lot of companies throw in insurance as a benefit.
I utilized the insurance cover I had gotten through one of my travel cards (my travel Insurance was from the same company). They only covered the cost of replacing documents but it still felt great because, at that point of grief, I had lost faith in systems and people.
What to do when you get your new passport
Once you do get your passport again, it’s important to be prepared for the worst i.e. in case it’s lost again.
1. Take color copies and email them to yourself
By now, you must have understood the importance of having soft copies of all the documents. While earlier I used to get properly scanned copies, I now take a picture on my phone or use a scanning app on my phone to do the same.
I then email these documents to myself with the subject – Passport copy, so I’m not lost in a gazillion emails looking for this email (I need a lot of cleaning to do in my inbox).
2. Get a laminated version of your passport
I had seen this with another traveler and loved the idea. I get a color copy of my passport’s information page and get it laminated. This card (same size as a passport) is the only thing I carry with me to clubs as ID proof, if they don’t accept it, I’m not going in.
Note: There would still be situations where the card wouldn’t be accepted like in Banks to exchange currency original passport is required.
3. Stick a paper on it with your email id
While being able to get a new passport on the road felt amazing, and being alive felt better, I do occasionally miss the dozens of stamps I had collected on my passport. I would probably never be able to a trip like that again (a year in South America mostly by road, crisscrossing borders).
A passport is not much use to anyone esp. to petty criminals, which is why I believe one would be willing to return it. I have pasted a scotch tape on the back of my passport which says ‘If found please email email@example.com“. It may not always work but what if it does. I would be happy to get my old passport even today (I lost it in 2017).
4. Take pictures of new Visas and email them to yourself
Just like your passport, do take pictures of your new Visas and email them to yourself. It makes life easier.
5. Register yourself on the embassy website
I learned while traveling that every Indian embassy website has a portal for Indian travelers to register themselves when they are traveling in that country. It helps embassies track Indian travelers easily. I’m not sure how it’s used by the embassy but a kind lady asked me to do this and I continued with the practice.
In the end, I want to add that it can be tremendously sad for someone like me to lose their passport. Something that was a testimony to what I had experienced esp. after starting with a nearly empty passport. Since then the Visa norms have changed, I would never get those Visas and those stamps crisscrossing between Argentina and Chile again, but at the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that memories stay. They will fade, sure, but nobody can steal that from us like a passport.
I wish upon you lots of passport stamps.