There’s a reason they say that your passport is your ticket to the world. It is, quite literally, essential for international travel and you can’t cross international borders without one – even when it’s returning to your home country. This means that if you lose your passport in London, you’re in a pickle: you can’t stay in London – and you can’t go home. What to do, what to do?!
I lost my passport in London in 2013 while living there but traveling frequently to other parts of Europe – and that inspired me to write this post to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation.
Know this: you are not the first – nor will you be the last – person to lose their passport in London. This is a frustrating and maybe even embarassing situation, but it can be overcome. Read on to learn the story of my lost passport in London, and the steps you can take if you’re in a similar situation.
The Story of Losing My Passport in London
A black cab at Liverpool Street… where it all began!
It might help to begin by sharing my own story of losing my passport in London – so you know that if you are frantically concerned about this issue right now – I know how you feel. I’ve been there.
Losing my passport was really just a dumb mistake on my part. As is best practice, I didn’t carry my passport everywhere with me when I lived in London, but I had it in a special wallet I used on travel days. I woke up very early one Friday morning for a flight to Munich with friends, hopped in a black cab, and told him to take me to Liverpool Street (to get the train to the airport). I had my passport wallet in my hand the entire time in the cab… but as I hopped out, I left it on the seat.
The cab sped off, turned the corner, and poof! there goes my passport! I realized it almost immediately, but there was no way for me to wave the cabbie down, nor for him to see my black passport wallet sitting on the black seats in the back of his cab.
I was devastated, for several reasons. One – I couldn’t go on the trip with my friends that I was literally on my way to the airport for. Two – I felt dumb, since this was one of the most important documents I had with me while living in London.
Finally, I felt quite exposed. Not having this critical proof of my identity and legal right to be in London made me feel like I could be caught and thrown out at any time. (And my MBA program wasn’t set to complete for a few more months!)
Dejected, I called my friends to updated them on the situation, and made my way home. I’m pretty sure I just crawled into bed and slept a few more hours… that’s how early the flight was, and my tiredness probably contributed to losing my passport in the first place. Then when I got up, I went to the internet to find an answer about where my passport might be (“what happens if you lose something in a London cab?”) and what to do next (“what to do if you lose your passport abroad?”).
I decided to schedule an emergency appointment at the U.S. Consulate to get a new passport for the next day to get a replacement passport. I was able to make that appointment and got a new passport the same day (after many hours of waiting and lots of paperwork!).
In the end, I even got my old passport back: the next passenger in the cab found my passport, handed it to the driver, and he turned it in. I had already called Transport for London, who oversees all cabs in London, to notify them of my lost item, so they had my contact info on file. They informed me my passport had been found and I could claim it the following Monday – though of course, I had missed my flight and weekend away with friends by that point.
My story had a happy ending: I got a new passport and my old one returned to me. In the rest of this post, I’ll share some general advice from my experience to help you if you find yourself in a similar situation of losing your passport in London and don’t know what to do.
Step 1. Figure Out the Urgency of Your Lost Passport
Okay, before freaking out, take a deep breath with me.
The first thing to do is determine how urgent it is that you find/replace your passport. Are you on the first day of your trip to London (less urgent), or the last before returning home (more urgent)?
If you are in a situation which is less urgent, you might try to find your lost passport before replacing it. As I mentioned, I was able to get my old passport back – but I had already replaced it (and thus invalidated it and my visa inside!).
With more time, you can relax for a beat to try and find your passport; if you’re leaving today or tomorrow and lose your passport in London, I recommend skipping straight to the section titled “Schedule an Emergency Appointment at the Consulate” now because you need a passport ASAP to get home.
Step 2. Try to Identify Where You Lost Your Passport
Pubs, transport, and museums are all places you can easily lose your passport!
If you have time to try and find your passport, see if you can identify where you lost it. When did you notice it missing? What did you do on that day/today? Did you take your passport out and leave it somewhere, or was it stolen from somewhere in your bag/wallet?
Unfortunately, if your passport was stolen, the best thing you can do is again skip to the “Schedule an Emergency Appointment at the Consulate” section and get your passport replaced. You likely won’t recover it and it’s a security risk to allow someone else to keep a valid passport with your information on it. Your new emergency passport will invalidate the old one, making it impossible for anyone to impersonate you or cross borders under your identity.
If you, like me, know exactly where you lost your passport, this gives you a better chance of finding it, but it’s no guarantee. Read on to the next section for some tips on getting your lost passport back.
Step 3. Reach Out to Try and Recover Your Passport
If you left your passport somewhere, retrace your steps. Visit the museums, pubs, restaurants, etc. that you visited. Ask for security, management, or lost and found departments in each place, to see if someone has turned it in. You can also try calling, though I find that it’s easier to do this step in-person since people will take it more seriously.
Additionally, anywhere you go to try and find your passport, leave your contact information – a name and where you are staying with a phone number and/or email. This will mean that if your passport is turned in, the company will be able to reach you.
If you leave your passport in the Tube, a London Bus, a London black cab, or a mini-cab, you’re in luck: all of those modes of transport are overseen by Transport for London, which has a fantastic lost property system (and a cool museum for lost property that is never claimed!). Assuming a passenger turns in your item or it is found by a driver/staff member, it will go into the system and be cataloged for possible retrieval.
All you need to do is contact TfL to start the process, and if you item is found by them, they will contact you. You will also pay a finders fee to TfL, which is paid directly to the staff member that turns in your passport. This encourages staff to turn in lost property!
Step 4. Schedule an Emergency Appointment at the Embassy
In any event – whether you know where you left your passport or not – I recommend reaching out to your local consulate immediately to request an appointment for an emergency passport to get yourself home. If you have more time, you can set this appointment 1-2 days before your departure from London, thus giving yourself time to try and recover your passport on your own (and save the money/time of getting a replacement).
- The U.S. Embassy in London provides full services to Americans abroad, including emergency passport replacement for lost passports. The number to reach the American embassy is +44 20 7499 9000.
- The High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom provides similar services for Canadian citizens in the U.K. The number to reach the Canadian consulate is +44 (0) 207 004 6000.
Rather than using any online services, I recommend calling to schedule this appointment. This allows you to explain your situation and receive priority for an appointment.
As you’d expect for the U.S. government, here are some forms you need to fill out, so you may want to use the hotel business center where you’re staying or find a local print shop who can help you get everything in order. You’ll also need to get lots of other information lined up – so be sure to review everything you need to present at your appointment when you’re on the phone with the embassy.
Tips for Keeping Your Passport Safe
Also known as “tips for not losing your passport in the first place!”
I know it’s useless advice at this point since you lost your passport in London and need to solve that problem first, but I recommend a few extra tips to keep your recovered or replaced passport safe going forward.
- Don’t carry your passport with you unless you need it. Store your passport securely in your accommodations, using a safe or other such security measures. Not carrying it at all unless you’re actively using it that day reduces the chances of your passport being lost or stolen.
- Keep it on your person when you do need it. There’s all kinds of weird advice about keeping your passport safe – don’t put it in your carry-on! don’t put it in your checked luggage! – but at the end of the day, the best place for your passport is on your person. Consider traveling in a jacket with an inside pocket where you can hide it, or have it in your purse/bag that never gets checked or leaves your sight.
- Keep your passport in a secure, inside zippered pocket. This will make it much harder for thieves to get away with your passport than if it’s in an outer pocket.
- Add a sticky note with contact details for each trip inside. While you can’t modify your passport physically, a sticky note detailing your travel dates, accommodation, and contact details – plus a reward, if you’re willing to pay one – may incentivize the person who finds your passport to contact you to return it.
- Keep a digital copy on your phone. Back when my husband and I first started traveling internationally together, he created us a folder on Dropbox called “The Football.” We store digital backups of all kinds of important documents, including our passports. This won’t get you through immigration or anything, but ensures you can prove your identity as you work to resolve the situation.
Trust me, I get it that losing your passport in London really sucks. It makes your whole trip more stressful – but it can be overcome. Using this advice will help you get through this particular uncomfortable part of your London trip, and the tips will help you keep your passport safe going forward.
Have any other questions about what to do if you lose your passport in London? Let me know in the comments.