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What to Do If You Lost Your Passport and Wallet Abroad – Six Steps You Need to Take

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Tale of a Lost Passport

I woke up at five-thirty in the morning and splashed my face with iced water sixteen times before feeling awake enough to put shoes on. I grabbed my pre-packed bag, because I’m responsible, and headed out the door with my two friends to take the six-thirty bus from Zurich, Switzerland to Lago di Como, Italy. As we hopped on the tram at Wiedikon toward the Main Station, we looked at each other in silence with soft smiles. We made it, our faces said. My friend Amy joked, ‘got your passport, Mol?’

I did not.

Despite the several reminders I had given to my visiting friends about their passports, I had forgotten my own. I looked at the clock and sighed exasperatedly. There was no way I could get off this tram, board another tram in the opposite direction, grab my passport from my apartment, and get back to the Main Station in time for our six-thirty bus departure. Naturally, I started to brainstorm.

My thought process went something like this: Well, I have been to Como many times before this. Sometimes they don’t even check passports! How could you forget your passport? I could risk it. Where is your passport? What if I get caught at the border? Is this something I could go to jail for? I can’t believe you. What if there’s a fine? You can’t afford a fine right now. You can’t chance it. You’re an idiot. You have to chance it.

My mind was racing. We eventually concluded: my friend Paige was taking a later train from Zurich and meeting us in Como that afternoon. I could ask her to pick up my passport from my apartment and bring it with her. If for whatever reason I get caught without my passport on the way to Como, I’ll show them the saved passport copy on my phone and explain a partially fabricated story about leaving my passport in Como and meeting my friend there to retrieve it. Genius.

Paige saved the day and brought my passport to Como. The kicker here, however, is that no one ever checked my passport, neither on the way there nor on the way back. And as I walked off the bus from Como to Zurich, feeling as though I had cunningly avoided a stormy situation, I left my passport behind, with my wallet in tow, sitting idly on the bus seat.

It seemed as though no matter what I did that weekend, my passport wanted nothing to do with me, and took all of my credit cards and important identification cards along for the ride.

This is the second time this year I’ve left my wallet and passport sitting idly in places they should not be left, and felt inspired to write this article about ‘what to do next’ since I am now a self-proclaimed expert. If you’ve been overseas, you know that to lose your wallet, passport, visa, or all three in my case, is the nightmare of all nightmares. But, the truth is, things happen and the process, though inconvenient and costly, is not at all impossible.

 

Lost your passport and wallet? Take these Six Steps:

 

1. Was your Passport Lost or Stolen?

To your best ability, determine whether your items were lost (with the potential to be found) or stolen. Sometimes the stars align, you can be irresponsible with your things, and friendly people in the world give them back. Flixbus Customer Service is ready to block my number because I’ve called every day since that dreadful incident. Unfortunately, this popular bus service will only respond to lost item claims via online submission, and will only get back to customers by email. This is a hard pill to swallow, and I’ve talked to five different Flixbus agents to no avail. Fortunately, passports are the Lost and Found Bureau’s highest priority, which is likely the case for most transportation services.

If your belongings have been stolen, file a police report as soon as possible with the local police station. Keep multiple copies of the report available. You’ll need them later.

 

2. Make a List of Your Lost Items

This helped me cover all my bases. I made a list of everything I could think of in my wallet. Next, to each item, I wrote an action to indicate what needed to be done to start the replacement process and prevent identity theft.

 

3. How to Handle Lost Credit Cards and Other Forms of Identification

I canceled one debit card and one credit card and had the reissued cards sent to my permanent address in the States. I kept my travel credit card open because it is attached to Apple Pay on my phone, and I didn’t feel comfortable canceling all of my forms of payment for an undetermined period. I check my online banking account regularly for suspicious activity. Apple Pay is a good option if you have access to at least one of your credit card numbers.

Make sure to consider other forms of identification or membership cards that may be in your wallet, too. I had to renew my U.S. driver’s license and order a new Swiss half-fare card.  Ka-ching, ka-ching.  (Note: The Swiss half-fare card (Halbtax) lets me buy half-price tickets for train, bus, boat, and a few mountain railways throughout Switzerland.)  

 

4. Make a U.S. Embassy Appointment

Make an appointment as soon as possible with the U.S. Embassy located near you, especially if you have out-of-country travels coming up. Do some research beforehand and make sure the embassy you’ve chosen will grant emergency passports. For example, I live in Zurich, and the only embassy near me that will issue emergency passports is a few cities away in Bern.

If you’ve lost all of your government-issued identification, the process might take longer because your identity requires further verification. Printed copies of your government issued IDs will be useful. I gratefully found a copy of my passport and license buried in my email inbox, but it’s better to keep them in an organized file somewhere in cyberspace for times like this.

 

5. Visa Inquiry

Along with my passport, I lost my visa. The U.S. Embassy may not be able to help out with this. I fished through my email to find the email address of the man who originally issued my visa and reached out to him for assistance. You can also email or call the contact on the consulate’s website, or make an appointment to see someone in person. They will help you move forward in the replacement process. Indeed, if you have one, attach a copy of your visa to the email or bring a copy to your appointment.

 

6. Print, Print, Print

Before going to the U.S. Embassy or consulate, make sure you have everything you could possibly need printed and ready to show. These documents include but are not limited to, your police report, a passport copy, a government-issued ID copy, and a visa copy.

 

Takeaway

Whether you lost your belongings or they were stolen from you, it’s hard not to stew over the what if’s and the why’s. But it happened. If anything, it makes you a savvy world traveler with one more story to tell. Honor your travel scars and wear them proudly. Learn the lesson and keep moving onwards (even if it takes you two or three times to learn!) Would it be an adventure if it weren’t for the rugged roads along the way?

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