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Travel Pains: Lost Passports and Learnings from our Misadventures

Losing passport while abroad is every traveller’s nightmare. In some places it could even be a scary proposition to have no identity. My husband and I are seasoned travellers, so this is not a scenario that we ever thought we would possibly be in. 

Losing our Indian passports abroad was scary. Getting a new one issued was a big ordeal. Then trying to get a flight back home was another hassle. Here’s how it all went.

It was our first long distance flight with our baby son who was just 10 months old. We flew from India to Phoenix to meet his cousin, then from there to Baltimore to meet friends. On the way to the airport for our flight back to India, we realised our passports were missing! We lost our Indian passports in the US…all three passports! 

Lost passports during travel

We had kept our passports in a passport folder with some foreign currency. The whole thing was missing. Frantic searching of our luggage and friend’s house was futile. Our best guess was that we left it in the seat pockets of our flight from Phoenix. We tried calling the lost and found at the airports in Phoenix and Baltimore but they were of no help either. We were distraught. 

Our silver lining came in the way of our location. We were in Baltimore, a short train ride away from Washington DC where the Indian Embassy is located. If we had to travel to a city further away we couldn’t have flown without a passport.

This also meant we could continue to stay at our friends’ place instead of having to spend more on a hotel room. We would also get some time to sight see around Washington DC, which wasn’t part of our original plan.

What to do if you lose your Indian Passport in the US?

We got in touch with the embassy through email and via their Twitter handle. We explained our situation and fixed a time to meet them the next day.

Step two, we were told, was to file a police complaint and get a copy of it to attach with the passport renewal forms. We filed a report saying we lost them in the city as that’s the jurisdiction of the police there and they wouldn’t file a report outside of it. Then they said they couldn’t give us the report we filed as it’s not standard procedure. We had to plead for an informal note at the least.

Our US visas were still valid but when we filed the report, they notified the authorities so that they’re not misused. Your I95 copy works as a provisional visa on paper till you exit the country. After which you have to reapply for a fresh one in your home country.

We reached the embassy in the morning and were given forms to fill under the Tatkal quota which would ensure that we get our passports in 2 days. I filled the extensive forms (times 3 for all 3 of us), paid the exorbitant fee (around USD 300 each at the time), and then we had to run around to get photocopies, papers notarised, and current passport-sized pictures done, all within the hour. These costed us another good bunch of money. 

Finally, we had to race to get all of this to another office of the embassy before they closed for the day. We just about made it.

The Indian bureaucratic system with its paperworks in triplicate, and asking for notarised copies of everything didn’t make this easy. Their Washington offices are in different locations (not close to each other obviously) so you have to shuffle between them and know which one to go to. 

The Indian Embassy, located on a beautiful stretch of road housing other embassies, might just about look the part from the outside, but is a crumbling mess inside. So much for being a superpower!

Getting our new passports

We finally got our passports the next day and then rebooked our flight anew (since they wouldn’t let us change the dates of travel). We were flying British Airways, which would stop at London before continuing to India. At the check in we were to get our next shock. You couldn’t land in London without a transit visa. The process of getting one is as tedious as getting a proper tourist visa.

A valid and stamped US visa works as a replacement but our new passports didn’t have that stamp. So no, we couldn’t travel by that flight or by any other flight that required us to get a transit visa.

Our only option was to book a flight from Washington DC via Qatar. We breathed a literal sigh of relief when we were allowed to board.

Some learnings from our misadventure:

  • Always keep a copy (paper and soft copy) of your passport front and back pages, and the stamped visa page
  • Carry soft copies of other important documents (child’s birth certificate, marriage certificate, address proof, other form of Government issued ID)
  • Distribute your physical money in different wallets
  • Check on the whereabouts of your documents at every step of your journey.
  • If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll need to spend a lot from your savings just to get back home. The renewal fees would’ve been much cheaper if we were applying in India, but abroad it’s a lot, especially if you’re converting INR.

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