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What To Do If Your Passport Is Lost or Stolen

There is no worse feeling than being in the middle of what was an otherwise enjoyable vacation in a foreign country, only to discover you've either lost your passport or it has been stolen.

Anyone who has traveled outside of the United States knows the importance of having a passport. Without one, you cannot gain re-entry into your country of citizenship.

What is a Passport?

A passport is a document which is issued by a national government as a means of identification for the person who holds it. It certifies the identity and nationality of the person listed on the document, which is important when traveling internationally.

In the United States, passports are issued through one of the State Department's 14 passport issuing centers. They also can be issued through clerks at federal and state courts, designated post offices and U.S. consular authorities in foreign countries for citizens who are living abroad.

Passports expire every 10 years for citizens over the age of 18 and every five years for those under 18. Upon expiration, passports must be replaced if the holder wishes to continue having one. Because people change in appearance with age, passports cannot simply be renewed, but must be completely replaced, including with an updated photo of the passport holder.

When Do I Need a Passport?

Passports have been required for entry into foreign countries, as well as re-entry into the United States from foreign countries, since Dec. 15, 1915, when an executive order was issued requiring all who traveled abroad to possess one. Prior to that, passports rarely were used for foreign travel or re-entry into the United States from a foreign country.

There are only a few exceptions to this rule, including closed-loop cruises, which leave and return to the same port. Land or sea travel into Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean also does not require a passport, but travelers on these kinds of trips still must possess an enhanced driver's license or a Nexus Card.

What Should I Do if I Lose my Passport?

If you are overseas when you discover that your passport is lost or stolen, the only way to deal with it is to visit the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Once there, you will need to speak with someone in the American Citizens Services unit. It is important to provide information about how soon you need to leave the country when you report the passport lost or stolen so the officials know how quickly they must act to help you replace it. You will be directed to the best place to have a new passport photo taken, and led through the steps necessary to replace the passport. You also will be required to provide proof of identity during the process.

If your passport has been stolen, you also will need to report it to the local authorities to help prevent identity theft.

Prior to leaving for any trip overseas, it is helpful to make photocopies of your passport and leaving the documentation with a trusted friend or family member. That information can be faxed upon request and used by the proper authorities to help replace a lost or stolen passport in a speedier manner.

If you are in the U.S. when you discover you no longer are in possession of your passport, you will need to report it lost or stolen to local authorities for the purposes of identity theft prevention. Then you can start the process of replacing it through the local passport-issuing agency. If you require a replacement in a short period of time, you can pay extra money to expedite the process.

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