The first in a series of articles where we will show you how to travel safely. Kicking off the series we start with the very important subject of keeping your passport safe from loss, damage and most importantly thieves. We will also explain what actions you need to take if it does get stolen or lost.
The only times you must present the original copy of your passport is generally at border crossings, at airports, hotels, and at the request of a police officer. In all other cases it is sufficient to remember the number and expiration date, or have a copy of the original at hand. My advice is to always keep your passport in a safe place, even if not necessarily easily accessible: DO NOT; leave in bags or your backpack, as they are very vulnerable, especially if you leave them unattended. Personally I always keep my documents in my “money belt”, a thin pouch that can be worn under my shirt or inside my trousers, I’ve found this is the safest place to keep it, as well as cash and other valuables. It is very discreet and can be hidden under your clothes, so thieves don’t even know where you’re holding your money and passport, alternatively people like to keep their money belts wrapped around their upper arm or ankle.
Another possibility is to leave your passport at your accommodation: many hostels have a safe where you keep your documents. My advice is to use common sense, make a decision based on how secure the accommodation is and whether you trust the person behind the reception. Personally I prefer to close my passport in my backpack with a good lock (not those found for 1 € at the market), lock the room and keep the key on you, so the people at the reception won’t go in the room as they may think you’re still in your room.
As mentioned at begining of the post, apart from border crossings and airports, there is no need to show your original passport at all times; many travellers rely on a photocopy, a great way to reduce the possibility of theft and loss of the original.
A valid alternative is to memorize your passport number and the expiry date, so that when required, you will not need to “pull out” the original. This method is very useful for checkin at hostels / hotels, at train and bus stations and all those occasions where you only need to fill out a form with your details, including passport number.
The digital copy
I believe the safest solution is to take a picture with your digital camera (or a cell phone) of your passport page, the one with your photo and number on it and send it to your e-mail address: in this way it will never be lost (unless you delete the email of course) and it will be always available in the event you need to show a copy.
What to do if you passport is lost or stolen while abroad?
- First report any passport losses or thefts to the local police in the country you’re in as soon as possible. You’ll need the crime reference details for your embassy.
- Secondly report the theft or loss to your embassy, consulate or high commission of the country you are in. You can get details of your local embassy, consulate or high commission by going to your embassy website.
- When you make a report to the embassy, consulate or high commission, they will give you a Lost or Stolen Notification form. You should fill this in and sign it and return ASAP. The embassy, consulate or high commission will record the loss or theft of your passport and forward the information to IPS. IPS will then cancel your passport to reduce the risk of someone else using your identity.
- Your passport is your most valuable item while abroad; take special care of it, to avoid spending hours if not days at your embassy office.
- Never let your passport out of your sight when giving to friends, acquaintances, travel agents. You should always accompany them, so you know exactly where it is at all times!
- Never leave as a deposit at hostels or other tourist sites. (Use a driving license instead as it’s much easier to replace)
- Never let a police officer take your passport off you, unless really necessary.