That Time I Lost My Passport

going into the sunsetI’m a man of routine. Whenever I fly, I put my boarding pass in my passport, and then put both of those in the magazine pocket in front of my seat. I flip through the bad in-flight magazine. I put it back. I tune out to my music. Grab my passport and exit the plane.

Except this time, I missed a step.

Stepping out of the restricted area at the airport, I suddenly had an awful realization.

“Oh shit!”

I had left my passport on the plane.

Rushing to the airline’s office, they said they would call the plane to get it. It hadn’t been more than 15 minutes, so I figured there was a good chance it was still going to be there.

Except it wasn’t. They couldn’t find it. Maybe someone had turned it into the security office. The cleaning crews usually hand things in there. I figured given how quickly they clean and turn around planes on low-cost airlines that seemed the most likely. Off I went.

Except the security office didn’t have it. And when I returned to the airline’s main office, they still didn’t have it and now the plane was already on its way back to Copenhagen.

Defeated, I made my way into Amsterdam. I called the security office and the airline again, but my passport was nowhere to be found. It was gone. And along with it, 9 years of stamps. I had added pages to the passport twice as I accumulated those stamps. Now they are gone….and I’m still devastated.

So what happens when you lose your passport abroad?
Losing your passport is really just a big inconvenience. It’s actually really easy to get a new one. However, the new one the US Embassy issues while you are overseas is an emergency temporary passport. These passports have limited validity of either 3 or 6 months. They are basically only good long enough to get you home and aren’t meant to travel around long term on.

To get a new passport, you need to do the following.

  1. Go fill out a police report for your lost passport.
  2. Go to the State Department website, print out this form and this one. Fill them out.
  3. Take the forms to the US Embassy or Consulate during morning hours.
  4. Wait in line.
  5. Wait in line some more.
  6. Show the official your police report, forms, proof of your upcoming travel plans, and a passport-sized photo.
  7. Read every sign made by the US Department of State while you wait even more.
  8. Pay the fee (about $120 USD).
  9. Go home and eat lunch.
  10. Come back in the afternoon.
  11. Wait in line again.
  12. Get your new temporary passport.
  13. Try not to lose this one either.

US PassportAfter filing the paperwork and paying the fee, later that afternoon you will have a nice new emergency passport. Since most countries want passports to be valid for 6 months after entry, these passports aren’t good to travel on. However, in Europe, that rule is waived, so you can travel around a bit before you need to get a real, 10-year validity passport.

Unfortunately, those take time, especially when you aren’t in the US. Outside the United States, they take 10 to 14 days. Inside the US, you can usually get a brand new 10-year validity passport the same day you apply for one if your travel is urgent enough. But you know the government – sometimes things are slow.

And that is what really screwed me.

See, last weekend I was supposed to fly to New York City for my friend’s wedding. I was just going for the weekend and then Monday afternoon (today), I was supposed to fly back to Europe. The trip didn’t give me a lot of time to get a new 10-year passport. Any delay, and I’d miss my flight and my birthday plans for Greece would be delayed and ruined.

But that wasn’t the real problem. If I was just flying back into the European Union, I could probably have gotten by on my emergency passport as long as I showed them proper travel plans and proof that I had enough time to get a new passport. They are pretty easy to please in Europe.

But I was flying through England. And, as the guy at the US embassy said, “those guys are total hard asses.” (I wonder if that is the official government stance?) Having flown through London enough and having almost been denied entry for not having a printed version of my outbound flight, I know they are indeed total “hard asses.”

Everyone, including the embassy, recommended that I avoid trying to re-enter the UK on a temporary passport. Going out would be easy. Coming back, I might face problems. My gut agreed. And with no real idea (everyone has a different story!) about how long getting a new 10-year passport could take while in NYC, I couldn’t risk it. The passport office in New York City requires appointments and make no guarantee of a same-day turn around.

So I missed my weekend in New York City. I missed my friend’s wedding. (She was not happy.) I missed a lot of things. All because I spaced out and left my passport on the plane. Simply put, I’m an idiot.

But on the bright side, at least I now know the process for replacing your passport overseas.

  1. sabrina

    i would cry if i lost my passport. i don’t have an accumulation of stamps or anything, but losing my passport is one of my biggest fears. i’m sorry you lost yours!

      • Chris

        Well, after this week I can only sympathize. I live in Spain and am a Spanish resident but hold a uk passport. Caught a ferry to the uk for a business trip and lost my passport. Now I am told that as I have lost my passport in the uk I cannot get an emergency travel document to allow me to return to Spain.
        If I was anywhere else in the world no problem, but as it was lost in the uk then I will need to wait a week!
        Trapped in the uk and all I want is to go home and join my family….. Must pay more attention I hear you say.
        Traveling anywhere broadens ones horizons, the learning never stops, but I am a bit taken aback at the British attitude to helping its own citizens.

  2. David

    Don’t worry Matt, you’re not an idiot, as you put it. Can really happen to anybody, although I can imagine that the 9 years of collected stamps really sucks… as well has having missed the wedding.

    In the end, life goes on.

    Safe travels in Greece,
    David in Greece :)

  3. Aurora Marinari

    thank you sooo much for posting how to go about getting an emergency one! that is vital information that isn’t well know. thanks again! hopefully I’ll never need it but just in case…

  4. Oy, things have changed in the last few years! My sister lost her passport in Israel (of all places!) and spent a day getting a replacement. Back in 2004, the replacements looks exactly like a normal passport (except maybe half the pages), were valid for 12 months and cost the same as a new 10 yr passports so when you got home and applied for a new 10/9 year passport, essentially it was “free” because you already paid the fee when getting your replacement.

    And I am sorry, but putting it in the seat pocket in front of you??!?! The moment I read that, my sympathy went out the window. Doing that was an accident waiting to happen. No matter how many times you fly, always have your passport on your person! I always fly with zipped pockets for this reason. Or at the very least (and still would make me nervous) in a bag that you put under your seat and KNOW you aren’t going to forget. Never have it separate from everything else your carrying.

    Oh well, lesson learned!!! Hopefully this will save someone elses ass someday.

  5. I was wondering why you tweeted about having an emergency passport…this explains it. Sorry for the headache…Hope you’re on to better things now:)

  6. So sorry about the passport and missed wedding. I know I poked fun at you a little about how Amsterdam wasn’t a bad place to lose a passport but this really sucks. I know missing the wedding was a bummer but I might be more devastated about losing all those stamps. It is definitely a pain to go through all of that but at least you were in Europe and not some place that would have REALLY been inconvenient. I guess that’s the bright side of looking at it.

    But honestly, which part upsets you the most – the wedding or the stamps? I have to go with the stamps but granted she wasn’t my friend! :)

    • NomadicMatt

      hmmmm I think I might be more upset about the wedding. I can get more stamps but a wedding happens once in a lifetime!

  7. That’s possibly my worst fear while traveling, especially if it’s a less developed country. It sucks how something so small can screw up all of your plans. But at least you got to make a post and provide information on something that you probably wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. 😉

  8. That is my worst nightmare! It would be one thing to lose your passport with a really good story to tell, like a kangaroo running off with it or something, but my own human error- that would drive me insane! Especially loosing all my stamps! Thanks for the good info for what to do in case of and the wake up call to us all to check, check, and triple check that we have our documents in our hot little hands!!!

  9. so….while living in Taiwan, my passport was in a cargo pocket of a pair of shorts that my (then girlfriend, now wife) put in the laundry. When she pulled it out of the laundry and it was in a little blue ball…well, there were a few very tense moments, but the reality is, like you say it’s really nothing more than a big inconvenience. The equivalent of a consulate here put aside their bureaucratic inefficiency for a moment and issued me a same-day emergency passport (we were traveling to Cambodia in like 5 days). I did manage to get a one-year passport.

    With the length of time required, and the bureaucracy involved in getting a full-validity, 10-year passport, I haven’t bothered to take care of that yet, and that may come back to bite me as we are leaving from here to Peru in 3 days with a short stopover in the U.S….we’ll see, and I’ve got my fingers crossed.

    • NomadicMatt

      I think that might be worse. At least I can keep hope alive that my stamps are somewhere out there….yours were just gone for good!

  10. It happened to me once and you definitly feel so stupid when you see the inmigration guy to explain that you probably forget it in the plane. They looked for the passport and didn’t find it. Fortunately they allowed me to enter with the other papers I had and they finally found it a few days later.
    But I was quite lucky. Just for all the stamps I have I hope it won’t happen again. And it’s such a pain in the a… when you have to make a new one outside home.

  11. I’m glad you covered this.. I would have absolutely no clue on what to do if I lost my passport away from home… It’s bad enough when I can’t find it in my filing cabinet.

  12. I lost mine in a remote part of Thailand. It took about a week to get a temporary one and get on my way. The local police weren’t much help, I was really frustrated. I even tracked down the TukTuk where I believed it was lost.

    That was like 7 years ago, i’m still bitter. 😉

  13. Loosing my passport is the worst fear I have, that’s why I wear it always on my body as a “second skin” :) Carrying a zip bag tight on your waste is sometimes annoying, I know, but you once you get used to it, you develop a natural touch for it. And yes, that’s the only way to prevent loosing your passport. Sorry about all the inconveniences you went through by loosing your passport. But as Rebecca said, by putting it on the seat back in front of you it was an accident waiting to happen…as we say in german “we never stop learning”…

  14. Oh that is a horrible feeling! I thought mine was a bummer when I had to replace my passport b/c of a name change….all those stamps gone. But yours, oh man I could only imagine. I feel for you. And then dealing with the gov is never fun.

    • NomadicMatt

      Actually, I’ve been to embassy in many countries and have always found things to be pretty easy. Other than some waiting, everything is always a smooth process.

  15. I was surprised when such a seasoned traveler such as you said you lost your passport. But I like to think it lends a little credence to some of the stupid things we, as less seasoned travelers, do. However, I do wish you a quick resolution and back on track with your plans. :-)

  16. Leslie Bateman

    I can appreciate how bummed you were to lose your passport and the stamps. Sorry that happened. But Matt, as an international flight attendant with 34 years of service, I have to tell you it happens frequently to people who put their passport anywhere BUT in their bag, immediately after showing it. I have helped many passengers in tears search for their passport after a LONG flight, when they are exhausted. It’s time to learn a new habit.

  17. Ah, that’s terrible.. I’m glad that you were able to get the new one though.. but it’s too bad about the wedding. I hope that your birthday goes smoothly 😀

  18. Shit man, that must have sucked!!! I once lost my passport after all the stress of getting a new one about a month later police called me and said they found it in a park about 200 kms away from where I actually lost it…

  19. I know the feeling! I had a similar experience when my handbag was stolen in Amsterdam with passport inside. I think my experience was worse though! :)

  20. Dorian


    I left my wedding gift from my father in law in that damn pocket.. I realized fast enough and ran back; got my “Rolex”.. That would have been very painful..


  21. Sorry to hear that you lost your passport with all these stamps!! It must have been really painful :-( You might have to keep traveling to get them all again 😉

  22. Sorry to hear about that… I feel sorry for you friend’s wedding and also for the stamps…

    I got pretty lucky in 2002, when I lost my passaport in Barcelona, actually I was feeling home and didn’t relaize that it was missing… one day I was searching for and the next day, before I went to the Brazilian Consulate, a woman saw me and she had it!!! She recognized me and went her home to pick it up… she kept it for five days (I’m really not kidding). I was not that worried because after Barcelona I was traveling back home, the only thing valuable there was my USA visa.

  23. Matt, my dear, I can only imagine how you feel because I know I get attached to my passport – I was thrilled that they give the old one back when you get a new one but you KNOW you have those stamps. It’s just a material possession. Andy tells me to just take pictures of things I like and let them go if I lose them. And even that’s not necessary.
    When we travel, Andy never lets me hold on to my own passport – he is paranoid. I would never leave a passport outside my body though. As in, I would always be on my body, in a zipped pouch somewhere because if you fall asleep and if someone saw you put it in that pocket – well the world is nice and all but passports are a rare commodity and they are worth money – then they could snatch it. I don’t know; maybe I am paranoid. But I feel for you and you are far from an idiot. Big hugs!

    • NomadicMatt

      I know. I’m hoping one day it will turn up and I can just stare at my passport stamps and ogle them.

  24. bruin

    so sorry this happened but that’s life i guess. as long as you are safe, healthy, and alive, God is GOOD. yup the most important thing while abroad is THAT passport. You can always make it up to your friend later.

  25. NomadicMatt

    I’m feeling better about it now that the process is over. But I’m still sad about missing the wedding!

  26. I totally feel your pain. I had my passport stolen in Spain. I wanted to die. It was my most beloved possession. So big hugs and just remember you will survive!

  27. I “lost” my passport once, along with my entire Backpack! Actually a couple of girls decided to take an American souvenir with them from my Hostel. Anyway I can relate, it’s definitely an odd feeling being alone in a foreign country with no money, clothes, and no way to leave. Good advice on getting a new passport however. I was in Ecuador and the Embassy gave me a few coupons for free Big Mac combos haha.

  28. really sorry to know about this , Matt.
    well now you’ve got a new passport to fill, maybe that means you’re not gonna have a break from traveling like you’ve planned in a year from now 😛

  29. So sorry — I feel your pain!! I would be beyond devastated if I lost my passport — it’s my most prized possession along with my wedding rings…9 years of travels, 1 UK visa, stamps and countless memories…

  30. Peggy Curtis

    How do I get a replacement passport? I have looked & cannot find it anywhere. The last time I used it was in 2000.

  31. Atusa

    I feel for you. I am a girl of routine. And I recently lost my passport by leaving it on the plane.
    It gets worse. I am an exchange student in the United States, and my visa (i loved my visa. it was so pretty) and my I-94 document was in it. I am leaving in about two months, and I am already in the process of getting a new passport. My I-94 however, I have no time to replace (this is the document that is the evidence for you leaving the States before your visa runs out).. Takes about 5 months to get a new one. 330 dollars too.. But since I have no time, my student adviser (OIE at the college) and Customs and Border protection told me, that it all depends on how good I can convince the officer at the airport, when leaving – that the copies of my I-94 and visa (that I luckily am in position of) are legit. This is a very uncomfortable situation.. “am I in trouble?” – “naah, it depends on how well you can convince the authorities that you are telling the truth”.. great. Especially when you have to apply for a new visa next year.

    How awful a person do you have to be, to steal someones passport? For everyone reading this. If you steal peoples passports, you WILL go to hell. There’s a special place in hell for people like you passport-thieves.

    Gotta go. I feel like punching my pillow.

  32. Atusa

    So did I. So nothing can harm you as long as you have filed the report? They wont stop me next year when I am visiting, and tell me that I am wanted for some insane crime that I did not commit?

    … Are these stupid questions? I am young and inexperienced. I hope that makes it more okay.

  33. Atusa

    By the way, thanks for posting this. I was feeling more miserable before I read this. At least now I know that someone did the exact same thing.

  34. Made me want to take photos of my passport pages just incase! I once did the same thing and left it in the magazine net but luckily my Gf triple searches! wow close shave. Sorry for your lose

  35. Matt – This makes me feel a lot better about my passport getting stolen (pick-pocketed) in Madrid. I was about to fly home after living in Spain for 4 months, although it was actually my whole wallet so I had 5 euro to my name. It ended up all working out and I made it home the next day, but I can relate! Especially on the years of lost stamps…

  36. Ishmeal

    Hello if I lost my passport out side the u.s..and I happend to have scan a copy of my passport can the copy get me back home safely?
    If not what would I need to do in other to get back home dafely..
    thank you

  37. Kevin Bates

    “I’m a man of routine. Whenever I fly, I put my boarding pass in my passport, and then put both of those in the magazine pocket in front of my seat. I”

    not sure why you would DO that, ? why not put the passport/boarding pass into your carry-on bag/luggage? maybe in a inner pocket for easy access?

  38. Kevin Bates

    @ embarassed girl: ‘But since I have no time, my student adviser (OIE at the college) and Customs and Border protection told me, that it all depends on how good I can convince the officer at the airport, when leaving – that the copies of my I-94 and visa (that I luckily am in position of) are legit. This is a very uncomfortable situation.. “am I in trouble?” – “naah, it depends on how well you can convince the authorities that you are telling the truth”.. great. Especially when you have to apply for a new visa next year.

    How awful a person do you have to be, to steal someones passport? For everyone reading this. If you steal peoples passports, you WILL go to hell. There’s a special place in hell for people like you passport-thieves.

    Gotta go. I feel like punching my pillow.”

    let’s be honest, it depends on how “hot” of a girl you are and how sad and maybe ‘flirty’ you can seem (if a straight guy is the officer) if a guy does it and has a straight male officer he will be S.O.L.

    the people in poor countries that make $20 a month probably don’t feel ‘guilty’ about taking things from peopel they see as “rich gringos/foreigners” coming to their country, and who are often arrogant/ignorant and look down on the locals, as well

    just saying, the stereotype of “the Ugly American” (or, European/Cdn./Ozzie, etc.) lives on, not all are that way but a good % are. so the people there figure you make in a day what they make in a year and they are entitled to help themselves to your stuff. doesn’t make it ‘right’ but I guess being close to starvation can warp your ‘morals’ & ‘values’ ?

  39. I can understand this feeling.
    Greek Passport. To get a new one = 180 Euro, 2 weeks waiting-time (after 5 years the same action)

    But also you Matt should know, that we can be lucky, that we have a Passport, the option to travel…

    Once the Police stopped me in Slovenia *Europe* because I drove with my bike on the highway… The cop behaved like Robocop and he said: You can pay now 150 Euro penalty or I will take it with me and you pick it up in Ljubljana *capital, at this moment 100 km far away and on the last 900 km by bike I spent 50 Euro / How should I find now 150 to pay that shit…)

    I did not really answer… he went to his car and drove away… I looked like you on the picture from this article…
    Thanks for remembering me to this time in my life… to this moment. Was 2011. Summer. First long bike-trip… *see page*

    All the best dude and don’ t forget… also if we lose this document… we will get a new one and then we can travel… most of the people on this world, will never get this paper, will never have the possibility to do what we can do…

    So, all of us, should really enjoy life and if someone is complaining… he should thing before he is doing this…

    Peace and out.
    All the best on your ways.
    Alexandros, actual in Serbia, Belgrade [Europe]

  40. Mark

    Hey Matt,

    I empathize with you completely as my passport was stolen just two days ago in the secure terminal of the airport in Manila.

    I was re-issued an emergency passport.

    Now I worry about fraud (both impersonation and financial) Has anyone who has had their passports stolen or lost experienced any of these problems?

  41. Me

    Lol Im also an idiot, but the difference is I didnt even lose that shit travelling, I lost it at home, and cant find that crap. I wonder if it was stolen… ?

  42. Lemastre

    I lost my passport in London several year ago, and the process the embassy guy on the telephone described for replacing it sounded exactly like the process for getting it in the first place, including the fee and the two-week wait. I.e., he didn’t mention any procedure like my trotting over to his place and picking up a temporary one of some sort. I didn’t have to pursue this, because within 24 hours I found the passport in the office of the house manager at a theatre I’d attended the night the passport went missing. Some considerate audience-member had found it beneath a seat.

  43. Yikes!
    I haven’t lost my passport but I almost did! I’m British but I live in Berlin and I was on my way “home”. I was in London for a long weekend break and I happened to have a few hours spare before I had to take my flight so I went to the museum!

    I had a great time and then just before I left, I went to the bathroom and put my handbag on the hook on the back of the door. While washing my hands I realized I couldn’t see my handbag. It’s furry and pink! OMG. I began to shake and went back into the cubicles. First of all, the bathroom is always packed with queues of girls and secondly, I couldn’t remember which cubicle I had actually been in!

    I checked as many as I could causing havoc to everyone then in tears I went to security who tried their best to calm me down. They went back into the bathroom with me and right at the very far end of the bathroom was my furry, pink handbag. Passport and everything intact!

  44. jonny

    Matt, we’ve all been there. I also put my passport in the pouch of the chair in front of mine and got off my flight to Naples blissfully unaware that it was still there. Fortunately, as I had flown from London, I had to go through passport control for entering the Schengen Zone – and so I realised within about three minutes of getting off the plane. Cue a mad-dash to the shuttle bus to communicate in my non-existant Italian what had happened. A couple of minutes later, a chap from the airport came driving by with my treasured passport. It sucks that you lost yours, but I’m sure you’ve gained plenty more stamps in your new passport since you wrote this article!

  45. Marvie

    I came across this blog so I thought of sharing my personal experience of losing a passport in HK airport. I traveled with 4 girls(8,6,6&3) in Sept2013. It was their first time to fly so it was a bit exciting for them. Everyone thinks it was so brave for me to do it alone leaving hubbie behind in Australia. Well, I did it with a big hiccup! I discovered I lost my passport just few minutes before boarding our connecting flight to my home country. It was a terrible feeling seeing my daughters crying with fear that we will be stuck in the airport. Since we will be boarding on Cathay Pacific flight, I looked for the transfer desk and told them about the problem. Glad that they were very helpful to find it, they rang the CX plane we boarded that was leaving in few minutes. We anxiously waited in front of the desk and few minutes later the staff called me and told me that my passport was found!!! OMG, I can’t explain how relieved I felt at that time. Our 5 passports were bunched up together inside the pocket of our carry on bag so no idea how it came out. What I can only remember is that we had such a turbulent landing that 3 of the girls were sick and vomitting at the same time that I had to grab tissues and towels from my bag — imagine how busy I was when that happened!
    A CX staff accompanied us all the way to the gate. Half of the passengers had boarded already and since I had some children, we didn’t have to be in the queue so we boarded straight away.
    Well, I knew I secured the passports well but obviously it wasn’t. Lesson learnt– never fly without my husband! We are more secured when he is around and that includes our passports :-)

    Recalling this story makes me ask myself… What if passport wasn’t found at all? :-)

    Thanking Matt, for the availability of this blog :-)

  46. That’s funny, but I definitely hear this every day. My company processes over 100 passports a day, mostly because travelers lose them. It’s easy to do, unfortunately! I’m waiting for the day I can apply for a microchip and be done with IDs!!! :)

  47. Yep, in that boat right now. Had our bag stolen in Puno, Peru with my SLR, computer, and passports. Lost our videos from the last 11 months but luckily have all my photos backed up; mostly hi-res but a few months low-res on Facebook.

    About to go through the hassle of getting an emergency passport in Lima (it has to be 1-year since we’re going to Ecuador in a few days and they require 6 months validity) AND get to jump through the hoops of trying to get into Machu Picchu tomorrow without a passport.

    Luckily we have a police report, copies of our passports, driver’s licenses (thank God they were in my wallet), student IDs, and credit cards as proof of ID which our guide says will be fine- we hope.

    The horrible thing is that 4 people had their bags stolen within the same hour at the bus station, one being us, and the police tried to get us to get on our bus and leave without a police report! They told us to go to Cusco and file there. We refused and got our report which we needed for our insurance since the belongings were worth, well, quite a bit of money.

  48. Esly

    Hey! do not worry about it!
    I got mine one day before leaving!
    I went to the passport agency in hpuston and had it mailed out and the mail man knocked at my door one day before!
    pray alot!

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