What can you do if you urgently need to leave or return to your country but you have no passport? That’s what an emergency passport is for.
It was a beautiful morning in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the day before I should board the plane back home, and I had a busy agenda attending a workshop. Whenever my hotel room has no safe, I generally carry my documents for safety reasons. Nothing against Brazil in specific. Those of us who travel a lot have heard all kinds of theft stories even in 5 star hotels in France. I put the passport in my pocket for imagining that’s where it would be safer, as on events sometimes we leave bags and backpacks unattended during the breaks.
I walked for less than 5 minutes between the hotel and the corner of the block, and when I suddenly put my hand inside my pocket it was gone. I walked back and forth the same route several times, turned my room upside down, walked into every single bar, bakery, newspaper stand, subway and everything else that was open that Saturday morning. But found nothing.
I even returned to the subway several times (it was right beside my hotel) to check if maybe someone found it on the floor and returned at the station thinking that that’s where its owner was headed. The subway system in Sao Paulo has a great lost and found service which works very well. If that ever happens to you, you can use this link to search online for your documents (just write down your name in the pop-up box that appears in Portuguese. Other than that, everything is in English). But with no luck I had to move on to plan B.
Initial Steps to Get an Emergency Passport
From now on, I’ll describe my exact experience. I’m not a lawyer nor an expert on this topic, so use the information below as a basis for your own research.
My first concern was to get back home in the U.S., so I called the airline company (I was flying United) after reading stories about people who managed to re-enter the country only bringing their green cards. They obviously applied for a new passport in their local consulates later on, as it’s easier to do so from home as compared to when you’re overseas. Yes, I’m a permanent resident here, and as they confirmed this is indeed possible, I relaxed and continued with my activities as if everything was alright.
Only after a couple of hours I remembered that in Brazil there’s passport control also on the way out of the country, which means you must have a passport. I called every phone number I could find, but on a Saturday, it was only possible to reach the Emergency Office for the Passport Authority. And guess what?! They don’t deal with THAT kind of emergency.
There was no way I’d get a new passport on a weekend (even if I had gone to their office first thing in the morning). The only solution would be to reschedule my flight and apply for an emergency passport on Monday.
???????? I lost my passport & my flight is tonight
???????? Perdi meu passaporte e meu voo é hj
Info➡️ Snapchat???? renatapereiraTV pic.twitter.com/MgR96G78zR
— Renata Pereira (@renatapereiraTV) April 3, 2016
What a nightmare! Now it was confirmed: my husband was coming back home by himself. So I added an extra night to the hotel and got United Airlines agreeing to leave my plane ticket open until I could resolve the situation.
What if it Happens to You?
As I was in my country of citizenship, I had to go through the application process like any Brazilian would, through the Federal Police. If you are in a similar situation – let’s say you’re from Argentina and you’re there on holidays but live in Canada – you most likely will need to go through the regular application process for Argentinians.
But if you are in a third country you need to contact your Embassy or Consulate. Only they will be able to provide the correct instructions. Here are some examples:
- USA: Americans absolutely need a passport to return home and the process is very similar to the one I went through. Consulates abroad are very helpful (it happened to my husband too about 3 years ago and was also able to get a new passport on the same day). You will need to bring a passport photo, ID, evidence of U.S. citizenship (a copy of your missing passport should be enough), your travel itinerary and a police report if available. You will need to fill in a couple of application forms, but you can do it at the consulate. Here you can find detailed information directly from the government.
- UK: British call it an “Emergency Travel document”, but in practicality it’s like a passport. You will need to bring a passport photo, proof of your travel plans, a police report and an application form. It’s all explained in detail on the government’s website.
- Canada: You will need 2 photos, ID, proof of citizenship, an application form and a declaration concerning lost or stolen travel documents. If you are in the USA and you have enough time to wait, you can submit and application via mail. The government also has a detailed page about how the whole process works.
A few things are the same in most of the countries:
- You have to apply in person. So if you are in a city where there’s no consulate, unfortunately you will need to put your travel arrangements on hold and make your way to the nearest office
- Like me, chances are you won’t be able to apply on weekends and holidays either. Consulates don’t open both when it’s a holiday in their original country and when it’s a holiday in the country where they are located. They do have an after hours person in charge though, so try to speak to this person and explain your situation. But generally speaking they only open up exceptions for life and death cases
- Although some Emergency Passports are good for up to 1 year, as it was my case, the recommendation is to only use it for 1 trip. After that it’s assumed you had the time to apply for a regular one. In some cases your passport may even be taken at the passport control upon returning to your country of nationality
???????? I got an emergency passport and I’m on my way home
???????? Consegui um passaporte de emergência e tô voltando pra casa pic.twitter.com/SICGUz90ao
— Renata Pereira (@renatapereiraTV) April 4, 2016
And here are some Tips
- All emergency passports have a fee. Check with the consulate in the country you’re in how you can pay this fee, so that when you arrive at their office there are no surprises. If they require a money order, for instance, there may not be a location near the consulate, so ask the hotel concierge for help
- If you can, avoid going through the whole process on a Monday. Mondays are normally very busy, it’s like people spend the weekend getting their documents ready and on Monday, first thing, head to the consulate. It’s generally super crowded. Also, when there are updates in their internal system (which are normally done on weekends, Monday is the real deal, when they will see if everything will work. That’s what happened to me that delayed my whole process in Brazil. Their internal system was offline for 6 hours following an unsuccessful update.
- Print everything you can (the hotel will most likely help you, not even charging to use the Business Center when you explain your situation). Sometimes you will need an additional document you overlooked, and guess what?! There’s always a small shop right in front of the consulate charging 10 times the price you’d find anywhere else.
- As things happen, it’s good to have a local phone with 3G/4G connection, so that you can immediately follow-up on anything else that comes up. For instance, I left my flight open with United before heading to the Passport Authority in Brazil, and despite having the confirmation number, it was not enough. They needed the e-ticket. So I immediately called United and they issued a same-day ticket in less than 2 minutes. Having the confirmation e-mail on my phone, I crossed the street and printed in a small shop where they obviously charged way more than they should. But at least it was done.
- It also helped me to be able to talk directly to Mileage Plus (yes, in such moments that elite status really comes in handy) and their costumer service was fantastic. No waiting in line and very professional representatives. Another lady who was in the same situation and had booked via a third party website took more than one hour to issue her ticket
- If you have the time, before starting the whole application process check in all lost and found services in the city where you’re in. In Sao Paulo, for example, in addition to the subway, the “Correios” (mail service) offer a well recognized and acclaimed service. Maybe a good soul saw your passport on the street and without knowing how to contact you simply dropped it in one of these places. You never know.
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All the best,