Losing your ID when traveling can be a daunting, anxiety-inducing experience, especially if you are in a foreign country when it happens.
While it obviously isn’t ideal to lose your ID, it doesn’t necessarily have to ruin your travels, just as long as you know what to do.
Table of Contents
1. Immediate Steps You Should Take
Stay Calm and Assess the Situation
It can be hard, but your first step should be to take a deep breath, stay calm and assess the situation.
If you lost your ID while traveling domestically in the U.S., it’s frustrating for sure, but it might be more of an inconvenience than anything else.
But if you are in a foreign country, losing your ID may affect your ability to check into accommodations, cross borders, or access certain services.
Understanding the situation you find yourself in will help you determine the urgency of any actions to take.
Retrace Your Steps
Your next step should be to retrace your steps and try to remember the last time you used or saw your ID, then go back to the area to try and find it.
Sometimes you might get lucky and find that you didn’t actually lose your ID, it was in your bag or pockets all along, or you left it in your hotel room. Or maybe you left your ID behind at a restaurant, café, bar, or tourist spot, and it was handed to a member of staff.
Contact Local Authorities and File a Police Report
If you weren’t able to find your ID, it’s time to report the loss to the local authorities.
You should find the nearest police station or law enforcement office and explain the situation. You will then be guided through the process of filing a police report for your lost ID.
This step doesn’t guarantee that you will get your ID back, but the report can serve as an official record that you lost your ID and can therefore be very helpful.
Contact Your Embassy or Consulate
Once you have done all of the above, it’s time to reach out to your embassy or consulate in the country you’re visiting.
Tell them about the situation and provide as many details as you can, including the police report.
Your embassy or consulate can guide you in obtaining a replacement passport or an emergency travel document, if applicable.
One thing to keep in mind is that many U.S. embassies and consulates may be unable to issue passports on weekends or holidays when the embassy/consulate is closed.
If you’ve already reported your passport as being lost or stolen, it is no longer valid and therefore can’t be used for international travel. In other words, definitely make sure that your passport actually has been stolen or lost before officially reporting it as such.
2. Contact Your Airline
When you lose ID, it would be wise to contact your airline, tell them about the situation, and ask for advice on how to proceed.
It’s possible that you can provide alternative forms of identification or additional documentation to verify your identity before you are allowed to check in.
If you are able to check in, the next barrier is proving your identity at airport security.
Explain your situation to a TSA agent, who will take the necessary steps to prove your identity.
According to the TSA, “The TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity.”
If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint, but will be subject to additional screening, including a patdown.
Make sure you get to the airport at least 2 hours in advance, as this process will take some time.
If you are in another country, the process is unlikely to be as straightforward. You will likely need to contact your embassy to replace your passport.
3. Use Temporary/Alternative ID
If you lose your ID, others forms of ID and temporary documents can help you out.
- Use Copies /Pictures of Your ID: It may not be enough to allow you to fly (at least in isolation), but having a copy or photo of your ID can help prove your identity when you are asked to, such as checking into a hotel.
- Obtain a Replacement ID or Temporary Travel Document: While it can depend on the destination and circumstances you find yourself in, you may be able to obtain a replacement ID or a temporary travel document.
- Use Alternative Forms of ID: If you don’t have a copy or picture of your ID – and many people don’t – you should at least have something that can serve as a secondary form of identification, such as a credit card, business card with your photo on it, a work ID badge etc.
Having a strong online presence can even be helpful too, as some places may accept your social media profiles as a means of verifying your identity if you explain your situation.
Take Preventive Measures for Future Travel
Whether you are reading this article because you are curious about what might happen if you lose your ID or have actually lost your ID, it’s important to take preventive measures for future travel plans.
- Make Copies of Your ID: Making copies of your ID, especially your passport and driver’s license, can serve as valuable backups in case your original documents are lost or stolen.
- Store Copies Digitally: It’s best to have both hard and digital copies of your ID. You can make copies digitally by storing them in the cloud or emailing them to yourself.
- Carry Backup ID: It can be a good idea to carry a backup form of identification, such as a secondary government-issued ID. While you need a passport to fly internationally, another government-issued ID may be enough to fly domestically without having to take other steps to prove your identity.
- Review Travel Insurance Policies: Some travel insurance providers offer coverage for lost or stolen IDs. So if you miss your flight due to having lost your ID or are forced to pay other expenses related to obtaining replacement documents, you may be reimbursed.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).