You Lost Your Passport. Now What? - No Paywall |

You Lost Your Passport. Now What?

News Jun 12, 2024

While many documents are easily accessible online, a lost passport remains one of the few analog emergencies that can disrupt an international trip.

Here’s how to replace a lost passport based on urgency, budget, and location. (The process for last-minute renewals of expired passports is quite similar.)

If you’ve got at least three weeks

You’re in good shape. Visit the State Department’s website to report your lost passport and follow the replacement process. There, you’ll find a list of 7,500 passport acceptance facilities, including post offices, public libraries, and court clerk offices, where you can schedule an appointment or visit during walk-in hours. They’ll verify your documents and send them to the State Department, and you’ll receive your passport by mail.

Before your appointment, check the required documents, which include proof of U.S. citizenship, payment (acceptable forms vary by facility), the necessary forms (DS-11 and DS-46 for lost passports), and a properly taken photo.

Routine processing time for replacing a passport is six to eight weeks and costs $165. For an additional $60, expedited service will deliver your passport in two to three weeks.

You might even receive it sooner than expected, according to Matt Pierce, a managing director of passport services for the State Department, noting that the pandemic-era backlog was cleared up by December.

Avoid delays by following instructions carefully, and consider spending an additional $19.53 for faster shipping.

When time is tighter

If your trip is less than three weeks away, you’ll need to go through one of 26 passport processing offices across the United States. If you’re not using an outside expediter, you must schedule an appointment online or by phone, up to 14 days before your trip.

Walk-ins are no longer accepted, but the State Department has increased capacity to make them unnecessary, according to Mr. Pierce. These offices prioritize documented “life-or-death emergencies” involving immediate family members. You’ll need to bring all your documents and proof of imminent travel, such as a plane or cruise reservation.

Securing a next-day appointment can be challenging. In such cases, you can call for an appointment or contact your local member of Congress.

Laurie Lee, the CEO of Chicago-based Swift Passport and Visa Services, an expediter, has seen clients on the brink of missing significant events spend hours refreshing the site for a last-minute appointment and even booking flights across the country to secure an opening. This, of course, costs both time and money.

At the passport office, the process is similar, but you’ll likely be able to pick up your passport later in the day. In most cases, said Mr. Pierce, you won’t have to return the next day, though it can happen. You can also have your passport mailed to you if you have time.

Using an expediter

If you have at least three business days and can afford to spend hundreds of dollars, consider Swift or one of the other 200-plus agencies registered with the State Department as couriers or expediters.

Expediters are especially useful for those living far from the nearest passport office who cannot or do not want to travel there. They can also help anyone struggling to get a timely appointment, as they have reserved slots to bring client applications directly to certain passport offices. Swift, for example, can submit 10 applications daily to the Boston office and five to the Chicago one. Depending on urgency, Swift’s services range from $155 to $599.

To work with an expediter, you must still visit your local passport acceptance facility, like a post office, where workers verify and seal your documents in an envelope. You then send (or hand-deliver) this envelope to the expediter, who takes care of the rest and returns your new passport to you.

What can go wrong

If you’re traveling to a passport agency, allow plenty of time to get there. Errors on the form can cause delays that may jeopardize your trip.

“Common mistakes include signing in the wrong place, not dating the application, having an incorrectly sized passport photo, or not being properly framed in the photo,” said Steve Diehl, chief corporate development officer of CIBTvisas, a large expediter.

Once you get it

When your passport arrives, make digital and paper copies. Update your number on trusted traveler programs like Global Entry, and remember that if your old passport had a visa for your destination country, you’ll need to rush a replacement for that as well.

If you find your old passport later, keep it as a memento: It’s no longer valid.

If you lose it while abroad

First, try to avoid this. Unless traveling in a country that requires you to carry your passport, keep it in a hotel safe and carry a photocopy and your driver’s license.

If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, report it online to protect yourself from identity theft, then contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for an emergency appointment. You’ll need a copy of your passport and similar documents to those required for a replacement in the United States. You may receive either a replacement passport or an emergency version, usually valid for one year.

In a real emergency, you can ask the airline to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection for permission to enter the country without a passport.

Preventative measures

Several expediters noted that many clients misplace passports during moves. When packing, remember where your passport is stored.

Before giving up on that lost passport, check your home copier or scanner. “I can’t tell you how often people find it in their copy machine,” said Ms. Lee.


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.