Most Important Passport Security Tips

BY Beth Williams

The Most Important Passport Security Tips for Travel

Your passport is your key to proving citizenship and is the document that the US and other countries use to recognize you and to let you enter the country.  Sure you know that you need to protect your passport.  If you’re traveling abroad, especially for the first time,  take a few minutes to read up on the latest security tips for protecting your passport. However, equally important is being aware of the latest scams designed to relieve you of your passport. Your passport is your key to traveling the world, as well as getting back home.

Most U.S. citizens must use a U.S. passport to travel overseas and reenter the United States. A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies your identity and citizenship. Only the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassies and Consulates have the authority to issue or verify U.S. passports.

Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. Some countries may allow you to enter with only a birth certificate, or with a birth certificate and a driver’s license, but all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air, must present a valid passport to reenter the United States.

A stolen passport can cause a lot of problems for you when it’s time to come home. Not only will you not be allowed to travel, you could lose your non-refundable airline ticket costs and face additional unexpected travel expenses while you try to get it replaced. In addition, you could return home to find that your identity has been effectively stolen.

Here are a few tips on protecting your passport, avoiding passport scams and what steps you should take before you leave home in case your passport is stolen.

Know When Your Passport Expires

Do not leave it until the last minute to check when your passport expires. Many countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry to the country. Therefore if you are planning to travel and your passport is due to expire in less than a year, you should strongly consider renewing your passport prior to departure. You should also make sure you have at least one clear visa page in your passport for immigration stamps.

Back Up Your Passport Before You Leave Home

Always make a note of your passport number and take a photocopy of the personal details page and always keep this separately from the passport in case the original is lost.  Having a copy will speed up the replacement process if the original passport is lost or stolen. You can keep a photo of the important pages on your phone too.

Know that sometimes, no matter what you do, things happen, and sometimes at the worst time possible – which might be when your passport disappears. There are a few things you can do before you leave home to expedite the passport replacement process. In this case, the objective is to quickly and easily prove your identity so you can obtain a new passport at the local embassy. Think of it as a contingency plan.

Keep a Scanned Version of Your Passport Online

Scan the first page with your name, passport number, and all important information. You should be able to access this from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection. For example, the scan could be in your DropBox account or Google Docs or in your online email account. Be sure to include key long-term visas in case you wish to re-apply for or replace those.

Leave a Scanned Version of your Passport with Someone You Trust

Although having a scanned copy emailed to yourself or in your Gmail or dropbox account should be sufficient, leave a scanned copy of your passport with a trusted person (parents, friend, lawyer) who can be counted on to respond and act quickly to your call for help.

Place Emergency Contact Information Inside Your Passport

Place your emergency contact information for a family member inside your passport in case someone has to access it in an emergency you are sick and unable to speak.

Tuck a Paper Photocopy of Your Passport  in Your Travel Partner’s Luggage

This is for those cases when internet access isn’t so reliable when your passport disappears.

Cover Your Passport

Sometimes you may travel to a country where you may not want to let everyone know you are an American so keeping it covered may be a good idea. Not only does a cover keep your passport in good shape, but a blank passport cover from another country can be used to keep things low key and to keep people guessing. The best passport covers have RFID shielding too.

Consider a Laminated, Wallet-Sized Copy of the Main Page of your Passport

While it’s necessary to hand over your actual passport to a border guard, countless other situations (e.g., hotel desks, credit card ID, local transport booking) may require nothing more than something with your name and passport number on it.

A credit card-sized laminated photocopied version of the front page of your passport fits easily in your wallet and won’t disintegrate as rapidly as a regular photocopy. You’ll be surprised how often this official, yet not-at-all-official, a piece of plastic works.

Carry your Passport on Your Person if Possible

Know that when you carry your passport, it should always be carried in a location that is difficult for pickpockets to get to.  When you are traveling make sure you keep it in your money belt or some other place that is zipped up, out of sight and hard to get to. The worst place to keep your passport? Stuffed in the back pocket of your jeans or an exposed pocket of your backpack. It screams, “Please lose me!” or “Please steal me!”

We suggest you give strong consideration to carrying your passport in a hidden belt, or a special travel purse or travel bag that has anti-pickpocket zippers, as well as other security features that will help protect your passport from theft for peace of mind.

If you don’t want to invest in special travel security products, and you are a woman and are going to carry your passport in a purse, put it in an inside pocket and zip the pocket. A shoulder bag that’s worn across the body is best to make it difficult for a pickpocket to steal. Keep the bag in front of you and keep the zippers and snaps closed up at all times.

One Adult, One Passport

Some people make the mistake of keeping all the passports together and held by one person. That action simply means losing more passports at once rather than keeping them all safe. Each person who’s old enough carries their own passport. Spread out the kids’ passports among the adults to minimize the impact of a single theft.

If You Leave Your Passport, Lock it Up

If you leave your passport behind, lock it up. If you’re relatively confident in the safe in

your room, you can use that, but be sure that others can’t get into the safe while you’re gone. Many of the hotel and cruise ship safes are just not that safe. Use a hotel room safe lock for extra security, learn more here about the Milockie.

If you can leave it with the hotel concierge or hostel and have them lock it in their safe behind the front desk. If you need to leave it in your hotel room, but it does not have an in-room safe, consider a locking travel safe such as these.  If you don’t want to buy a travel safe, lock it inside your hard-sided luggage that you can lock to an immovable object in your room.

Be Wary of Those Who Want to Hold your Passport

This practice isn’t very common today, but in some places foreign hotels will ask for your passport and keep it. In some cases, they’re required to report the information to local authorities. If you’re uneasy with this practice – and you should be – ask the establishment to accept a copy of your passport in lieu of holding the document itself.

Passport Tips for Travel Abroad  – The Scams

Passport Scams: Corrupt and Fake Police

Although you will likely be humbled many times by the kindness of strangers when you travel, the truth is that not everyone you meet has your best interests in mind. Corrupt and fake police officers trying to separate you from your passport and money are a reality in some parts of the world – especially third world countries, but thieves and scammers posing as fake police officers can occur anywhere in the world.

If someone who appears to be official (i.e., in a police uniform or some other official-looking outfit) stops you on the street for no reason and asks for your passport, do whatever you can to not to hand it over, at least not initially, until you can somehow verify they are legitimate. One way to help in this situation is to pretend not to speak the local language.  Even if I do speak the local language, you might want to pretend not to and I play stupid if the situation warrants it. If you are indeed facing a fake cop say, “Huh? I don’t understand” in loud, annoying English with shoulder shrugs will cause frustration. The reaction to this will help you further sort out whether you’re dealing with a real police officer or a fake.

If the official-looking person you’ve been approached by insists on seeing some sort of documentation — and you are indeed convinced that they are authentic — consider handing over a passport copy and explain that your passport is back at your hotel for two reasons.

1. Fake police officers: Scam police officers – people dressed in a police uniform – are common in some parts of the world. Once your real passport is in scammers’ hands, they may play you further and extort money from you in order to give it back.

2. Corrupt police officers: Another unfortunate reality is that corrupt police officers can play a game similar to the one played by fake police officers. Once a corrupt officer has your passport, he can use his authority to intimidate you and ask for money to return your passport.

If you think you may be dealing with a fake police officer, do not pull out your passport until you are in a public place and feel absolutely safe. The key: don’t instantly crumble to intimidation. Hold your ground. If you are dealing with a fake cop or a corrupt one, he will usually leave you alone once he realizes you are not a pushover when it comes to your passport.

The truth is that if you encounter a real police officer with a real reason to see your passport, he or she shouldn’t have a problem taking you to a nearby police station and walking with you to your hotel to retrieve it. In both locations, if you can manage it, pull your passport out only when you are in sight of a group of people, and usually the hotel can help you verify that this person is, in fact, a police officer or fake scammer. There is always safety in numbers.

Check Regularly – In Private

Check regularly that you’re still carrying your passport where you think you are – especially if you are traveling internationally – but do this in private. If you make it obvious, a thief who’s watching will know just where to look for it. Check in the privacy of your room before you leave for the day and use opportunities like visiting bathroom stalls to verify its still where you think it is.