Travel Tactics: Protect Your Passport

How to travel with that most essential of documents.

By Hannah Wallace | Illustration by Serge Bloch

Nothing spoils a vacation more quickly than a lost, damaged or stolen passport. After all, a passport allows you to cross borders, check into resorts and more. We interviewed a State Department official and other specialists for tips on how to prepare for the worst.

Make digital and paper copies.

Before you travel, make two paper copies of your passport’s personal-information page and any pertinent visas, advises Kevin Brosnahan, press officer at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “Take one copy with you, and leave the other with a family member or a trusted friend.” When you’re in transit, keep your actual passport on your person and stash the copy in either your carry-on or checked baggage. Also consider scanning and emailing a copy to yourself or storing it in the cloud (which can go down, of course, which is why you’ll want a hard copy no matter what). Cameron Hewitt, guidebook author and content manager for Rick Steves’ Europe, keeps a passport copy on his phone. “It’s nice having the digital copy at your fingertips when you need to fill out your passport information—such as checking in for an international flight,” Hewitt says. If something happens to the original, having a copy will help speed up the replacement process.

Carry a passport card.

The next time you renew your passport, consider ordering a passport card ($30), too. Cards are not valid for international air travel, but they can be used for land and sea border crossings to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, according to Nathan S. Hancock at the Accomplished Traveler, a New York–based concierge service. Should your passport be lost or stolen, a card may also make replacing it simpler, depending on the embassy.

Stash your passport in a safe place.

It’s generally smart to keep it in your guest-room safe when you’re out exploring, though some travelers are more comfortable keeping it in a money belt on their person. If you do leave your passport in the safe, check that the resort has changed the default unlock code (usually all zeros or 1-2-3-4) and carry a copy with you. Brosnahan lived in Brazil for two years and kept a copy in his wallet. “I never needed it, but if something unfortunate happened, like a car accident, it would help explain your status,” Brosnahan says.

Replace a damaged passport.

Over the years, your passport will endure a certain amount of wear and tear, and that’s fine. However, if your passport has been significantly damaged—via water, a rip or unofficial markings on the personal-information page—you will need to replace it. Do this before you leave for your travels, if you can; in addition to filling out the DS-11 application, the State Department requires that you show your birth certificate or Certificate of Citizenship (or a certified copy).

Replace a lost or stolen passport ASAP.

If your passport is stolen or lost while you’re abroad, make an appointment with the local United States embassy (found in the capital city) or consulate (usually in other major cities). Remember, you need your passport for any border crossing; even if you’re staying put, you may need to show it as a form of identification. The process varies, but typically you will be issued an emergency replacement within a day or two. You will have to complete a declaration that your passport has been lost or stolen, so if you end up finding it, you still won’t be able to travel on it. “Once you report it, you have to get a replacement,” Brosnahan notes.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2017