Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Travel Gear: Wot, No Passport?

On a recent flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, I found a Canadian passport.

The owner of the passport would have been in for a surprise when he reached for his passport at US Border Control. Maybe he had a NEXUS card, or maybe United Airlines would have to fly him back to Tokyo where he would apply for a replacement passport at the Canadian embassy. Either way, it would be a hassle.

A passport is probably the most expensive thing you can lose when traveling abroad. The cost of extra travel, extra hotel nights, and lost work days could add up to thousands of dollars.

I handed the passport to a flight attendant who located the passenger. Pax didn't even say "merci."

My passport is the most important thing I carry on an international trip. If my wallet is lost or stolen, I have a credit card stashed elsewhere, or I can easily order a replacement. If my backpack disappears, I can buy stuff. If I lose my passport, I may have to abandon an entire trip.

The infographic at the top of this post and the following table summarize some passport-loss scenarios.

You discover you don't have your passport...
Most likely options...
At the US boarding gate where you board your first international flight.
Go home, you cannot board without your passport. Passports are always checked at the gate prior to boarding flights from the US to international destinations.

The airline may also refuse passage if there aren't enough blank visa pages, or if the passport will expire too soon after your return.
At a foreign country Border Control
You will be refused entry to the foreign country. The airline is required to fly you back to the origination point of the flight you arrived on.

Or, you can buy a nonstop ticket back to the US. This is the best option if you have just arrived from another foreign country.
Prior to boarding a flight back to the US
You will have to stay in the country and replace the passport. A US consulate or embassy will provide a replacement within one working day.
At US Border Control
You will be admitted to the US, but it will be a hassle.

Needless to say, I take good care of my passport. However, I mostly use it while jet-lagged when I'm likely to be careless and more vulnerable to theft.

I've taken these steps to minimize problems replacing a passport:
I've logged my passport details with the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). I add travel plans to the account before each international trip.
I keep a scan of my passport's data page (the page with the photograph) in a secure online folder
I carry copies of my passport's data page on paper and on my phone. I use a copy when filling out passport information on a landing card. It's best to keep the passport stowed. 
I've signed up for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency's Global Entry program. This speeds my arrival back in the US. Having my fingerprints on file might help prove my identity when replacing a passport.
As well as replacing a lost passport, I may have to replace a foreign country's departure (embarkation) card. If a border agent staples a card into my passport, I take a photograph of the departure card.
I've never lost my passport, and I don't insure against losing it. If I have to stick around a few extra days to replace it, I will try to choose to regard that as part of the adventure and make it worth the extra expense.
Note. The "Wot, No Passport" title of this blog post is a nod to Mr Chad. In WWII Britain, long-nosed Mr. Chad was chalked on walls, usually with comments like "Wot, No Bananas?" This was a way to shrug off wartime shortages.

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