What to Do – Lost Travel Documents Abroad

BY Beth Williams

Having travel documents lost or stolen while traveling – especially overseas – can quickly become a traveler’s worst nightmare.  A typical scenario that has sent many travelers into a dizzying experience is one such as this:

You are in the middle of your trip overseas at an airport when you realize that your wallet, passport, and smart phone have been stolen or lost.  What makes this incident particularly unnerving is that you are keenly aware that losing a passport overseas can be especially frightening, since U.S. citizens, along with visitors, must have one to get back into the U.S.

Either way, when these thefts or loss of documents occur, the following questions quickly come to a travelers mind:

  • How do you get past airport screeners without your driver’s license?
  • What if your boarding pass was saved on your missing cell phone?
  • How do you pay your hotel tab with no credit card?
  • How can I travel without a passport?

Technology eases ticket burden 

Yesterday, losing a paper airline ticket was a big thing, however today it is very different, especially with the advent of electronic tickets.  E Tickets are never really lost as most airlines can easily print up a new boarding pass or itinerary anytime during the journey.  Most of the time the airlines can simply pull up your name and confirmation number to find your ticket.

Usually when this happens, expect that when you get to the gate, you may have to wait until everybody else had boarded the aircraft in order to make sure no one has picked up your ticket and boarded the flight with it.  Airlines want to make sure that nobody had checked in with your name then they will usually let you on the flight.  You might have problems finding space for your carry-on luggage then, but at least you can fly.

What about a lost driver’s license

A lost driver’s license is a trickier matter, since a valid government-issued identification with a photo is required to get through airport security screening.  Again, this is usually a problem once you get to the airport – especially at gate or TSA check-in areas.

Airport personnel have been dealing with these issues for some time now and they may usually let you enter the airport if you can provide multiple forms of ID – with at least one being issued by a government authority.  For some lucky travelers, this form of ID may even be a library card, which is certainly issued by a local authority.  Other travelers have had luck with a “Sams Club” ID with your picture on it.

The Transportation Security Administration requires valid government-issued identification, however not having ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly.

TSA officials can verify the identities of passengers who provide additional information through other methods such as public databases.  Showing other types of ID may be useful, but travelers should know that if their identity cannot be verified by TSA, they may not be allowed to pass through the screening checkpoint or onto an airplane.

Police Report may be needed

For many travelers, the airlines and TSA may require you to get a copy of a police report before you get to the airport.  If you have to do this, having someone fax you a copy of your passport to the police station may help verify your ID.

Lost passport is trickiest 

Losing a passport overseas can be especially frightening, since U.S. citizens, along with visitors, must have one to get back into the U.S. On its website, the U.S. State Department advises travelers to report missing passports to local law enforcement, as well as the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they can get a new document, often within 24 hours.

What about your hotel if your credit card is stolen and you can’t pay your bill?

If your credit cards go missing when you are at a hotel, most hotels will work with you. In many cases, hotel management will ask you to send them a check when you get home – but this is not guaranteed.  Usually, someone call and give a credit card number to the hotel desk to help pay for the bill.

Prevention Tips

State ID cards serve as backup 

Consider buying another state issued ID.  While most travelers just have a state driver’s license, they do not know that they can also have a state ID card issued. Usually, for around $10 you can get a second state-issued ID. Once you have this card, keep it hidden in my briefcase or travel bag so if I ever lose your driver’s license, you have a valid state ID card.

#1 Reason to Travel with Your Passport on Domestic Trips

Have you ever lost your wallet or had it stolen from you? At one time or another, most of us have experienced either one or both of these scenarios.

Now, imagine if you were traveling and your wallet is stolen the day before you have to get on the plane for a domestic trip. You remember the question they ask you at the ticket counter and at security, don’t you?

“Your ticket and a valid form of ID, please.”

What if your only valid form of ID was your driver’s license, which was conveniently tucked into your wallet – the same wallet that was stolen? It’s unlikely that you’re going to get on the plane today.

Have a backup source of ID – Even when traveling within the U.S.

You might want to travel with your passport, hidden away of course, someplace separate from your purse of folder where you keep you travel documents. This way if your wallet or travel documents folder is lost or stolen, you have backup ID hidden away in your luggage or other location so you can continue your trip.  Here are a few thoughts to consider when traveling with your passport as a backup ID.  These ideas can be used no matter whether you are coming or going:

  • On the return leg of your domestic trip, even if your first form of identification is stolen or lost, you can still get home with your passport as a backup form of identification.
  • On the outbound leg of your domestic trip, having your passport on hand as a backup form of identification can mean that you don’t lose all your trip costs.

Now, traveling with your passport requires a certain level of vigilance, but it is considered the ‘top dog’ when it comes to valid forms of identification and it will certainly get you on that flight.

If you don’t like the idea of carrying around your U.S. passport, consider applying for a U.S. passport card as your backup and keep it separate from your driver’s license when you travel. The passport card cannot be used for international travel, so it’s only useful inside the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Keep your old expired state issued drivers license

Some travelers even keep their old expired drivers license for ID use in emergencies.  Again, because it is expired, they may not let you board, but depending on your circumstances, it may work.

Travel Document Pouches

Placing documents in neck wallets and packs underneath the clothes are great ways to make sure your travel documents stay safe.  Travelers have many options for different variations of wallets and the like for their travel papers.

Online Storage of digital copies of your ID and documents

Alternatives include online storage systems for travel documents and other pertinent papers. Many travelers scan their important ID and travel documents and email them to themselves to help in emergencies.  In some circumstances, being able to provide digital copies when needed may be fine.