It’s your worst nightmare. You reach into your day pack or handbag to check for your passport and it’s not there. Or worse still, your whole bag is stolen. Either way, your heart sinks to your feet.
It’s stressful and inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world – or your holiday. Here are some tips to help you try to prevent the loss or theft of a passport and be prepared for what you need to do should the worst happen.
As part of your holiday preparations, take scans and photocopies of your passport and all your important travel documents, including credit cards, drivers’ license and birth certificate. As part of this documentation, include printouts of the phone numbers and addresses of Australian embassies, high commissions, or consulates.
Pack one copy in your luggage, making sure you keep it completely separate from the originals, like at the bottom of your suitcase or in a small internal compartment. Give one copy to friends or relatives who are not travelling with you, along with your birth certificate. Email the scanned versions to yourself, keep the files on a device you are travelling with and/or store them somewhere on the cloud.
With multiple backup copies, and a number of options for accessing them, you will have at your fingertips all the details you’ll need to provide to the authorities should anything go awry. Take some extra passport photos with you so it’s easier to get a replacement while you’re away if necessary
Obviously it’s better for your passport not to go missing at all, so here are some simple precautions you can take to help keep this valuable little booklet safe and sound.
While you are in transit, you’ll need ready access to your passport when crossing borders and entering new countries. It should be quite safe in your hand luggage until you arrive at your destination. Once you’ve arrived, keep it close to you, either buried deep in your bag, or transfer it to a pouch or money belt under your clothing. Never keep it in a bag that will be away from you in the luggage compartment of a train or bus.
If your accommodation has an in-room safe, this is the best place to store your passport while you’re sightseeing or shopping. It’s a much safer option than carrying it around with you. If there is no safe available, lock it in your suitcase and make sure it’s well concealed. If you’re more comfortable to have it with you, or you’re in a country that requires foreigners to have their passports with them at all times, it’s definitely worth sourcing a good quality pouch or money belt that you can conceal under clothing.
You should also consider keeping your passport in a plastic zip-lock bag to protect it from water damage. Apparently, the most common cause of damage to passports is fluid of some sort – like spilled drinks, sweat, or going through the washing machine. If your passport is damaged, it will need to be replaced, so it’s worth taking some precautions to protect it from harm.
This is where all that pre-travel preparation will pay off. Around 40,000 passports were reported lost or missing to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) last year. This figure is just a fraction – less than one percent – of the total number in circulation.
That’s an awful lot of passports, so the more information you have on hand, the more able the Department will be to process a replacement quickly.
You have a legal obligation to report a lost or stolen passport to the local authorities as soon as possible – as your passport is the property of the Australian government. This entails informing the local police, as well as advising the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, either online, or by contacting an Australian embassy or consulate.. If using the online service, you’ll need to know your passport number. You will also need to be able to confirm your identity and you’ll be asked to describe the circumstances of the loss.
When you inform local police, make sure you obtain a copy of the report as you’ll need these reference details when you contact Australian authorities.
Once reported as missing, your passport will be immediately cancelled. This is a permanent cancellation. Your passport will not be reinstated and you can’t use it if you happen to find it after you’ve reported it missing. The immediate and permanent cancellation of your passport is one of the measures taken by DFAT to prevent the criminal misuse of it, should it end up in the wrong hands.
A replacement passport will take about three weeks in total to get to you. If you need to travel immediately, emergency passports can be issued temporarily with a validity of up to 12 months, but you’ll need to discuss your options directly with the nearest Australian consulate or embassy. An emergency passport is enough to get you on a plane home, or to your next port of call, but, it won’t include all the biometric information that a normal passport would, so entry might be more complicated than usual in some countries – particularly in the United States.
To replace your passport overseas, you’ll need to fill in an application form, which can be done online. You’ll also need all your ID documents to prove your identity and citizenship, as well as two colour photographs that meet Australian passport photo requirements. With any overseas passport replacement process, you’ll need to go through an application process, including an interview.
There are fees for emergency replacement passports cost and you will eventually have to re-apply for a normal passport that has a validity of five or 10 years. There is an additional surcharge added for passport applications lodged overseas.
Your emergency passport will need to be sent from the official printing houses in Canberra, London, or Washington, so you’ll need to allow sufficient time for processing and transport.