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Traveling Abroad? Pack Your Papers!

Those of you who have been estate planning clients and have heard my speech about keeping hard copies of documents in a place that is accessible to others may be amused to hear that I don’t always practice what I preach.  An anecdote from a recent trip provides a real-life reminder about why that advice is important.

Over the last year, I have heard many stories of wonderful foreign travel from clients, family, and friends.  In September, my husband and I traveled to Germany with good friends. This trip was a (postponed) milestone trip for us. After our daughters left for college in 2020, making us empty nesters, we planned a journey to celebrate the milestone. COVID delayed our travels until this year. 

Our trip was both exciting and relaxing. We stayed in several lovely towns throughout Bavaria and the Rhine Valley. We met up with an old friend from Vienna and spent a day with him in his beautiful hometown.  Traveling by train, we enjoyed gorgeous scenery including many picturesque towns and castles.       

With a few days left in our journey, as we traveled between hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and St. Goar, I misplaced my canvas handbag, which contained my credit and debit cards, Global Entry card, Covid Vax card, and yes, my US Passport. Train travel is delightful; however, please take care to never leave anything on the train!

Because we were at a small, rural station, there were no rail workers to help us.  It was now 12:30 pm on  Thursday and our flight back to the US was departing Sunday morning.  I needed to act quickly if I wanted to get home.  And if you are ever away from home without identification, you immediately feel very homesick!

I filed a lost item report online and quickly tried to get an appointment with the nearest Consulate (Frankfurt) for an emergency passport.  We were traveling during the very busy Oktoberfest time. The website was not working and I was unable to get an appointment despite many efforts, including multiple calls to the Consulate (which directed me back to the website). Around 8pm, I received an email reply from the Consulate’s staff asking me to show up at 7:30 am Friday morning with my completed application and supporting documents.

While I was ultimately able to get an emergency passport and return on my scheduled flight, I want to share some helpful advice with you as you prepare for your next international journey. Hopefully, my experience will help you and your loved ones avoid or mitigate travel mishaps.

In order for me to get an emergency passport, I needed to have the following:

  1. Passport photo (actual photo)
  2. Printed photocopy of Passport
  3. Printed photocopy of TX Driver’s License
  4. $165 dollars (cash or credit card)
  5. Completed and printed DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport

While I had photos of my passport and license on my phone, they were not printed. The hotel owner let us use his printer when we arrived late that evening. Electronic copies will do you no good at the Consulate.  Although I didn’t know it ahead of time, electronic devices are taken at the security gate. Please also note that once your turn in all your electronics, there is no way to contact anyone outside of the building. Obtaining a new passport photo was not practical – we arrived at our hotel at 9 pm and had to be on a train to Frankfurt by 5:15am to make it to the Consulate for my 7:30 am appointment. 

At the first check-in booth inside, I was informed that I could get a passport photo at the single working booth, but I needed 6 Euros (exact change). I did not have anything other than American cash. I did not want to leave the building, however, for fear I’d surrender my appointment and chance to get back to the US on time.  And yes, there were tears.  Mercifully, the booth attendant, Andre, presented me with 6 Euros and told me God is good. Yes, Andre, and so are you! With Andre’s help, my passport photo (definitely looks like a mugshot, sleep-deprived and scared), completed paperwork, and a queue number, I patiently waited until my number was called.  After working through the process (including interviews with other Consulate workers) I was given an Emergency Passport and able to keep my return trip intact.  After a total of three hours at the Consulate, we returned to St. Goar and met our friends for more sightseeing along the beautiful Rhine River. 

Talking with one of the Agents within the Consulate, I made a list of things to do that may help you in case you are ever abroad and your passport is lost or stolen.

Before you depart the US:

  • Pack paper copies of your passport, license, Covid card – keep a copy with you and a copy in your suitcase/other bag. If possible, also give a copy to your travel partner(s).
  • Bring extra original passport photos
  • Consider getting a passport holder to keep your passport/money safe
  • Complete and bring single-sided copies of DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport 
  • Cash/debit card
  • Bring a backup credit card (have two)
  • But do not take more than two credit cards, in the event belongings are stolen/lost 
  • If you bring your license, keep it separate from your passport, so you do not lose both

Once abroad, as soon as you realize you lost your passport:

  • Locate and make an appointment at the nearest Consulate or Embassy
  • Choose the earliest available appointment
  • Send an email (or multiple emails) to the emergency contact listed on the form for that Consulate explaining your situation, date of return trip, etc. 
  • If you get a return email, follow the directions given to you – including when to show up for your appointment for your emergency passport
  • If you don’t get a return email, I recommend arriving at that Consulate/Embassy an hour before they open and explaining your situation. Bring printed copies of your passport, license, passport photo, credit card, local currency, and cash.
  • Try to remain calm and be polite and respectful – they want to help you, but it is much easier to receive help when you offer kindness.

If you are able to get an emergency passport, please allow ample time at the airport to have your passport reviewed, etc. You will be issued a new passport number, so you may need to update your airline profile information and hotel (if applicable).

In my case at least, all’s well that ends well, and I hope my experience will help you to be prepared should you find yourself in similar circumstances in your travels.


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