Problem Solved: Lost Passports

National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: I’m an American who has lost my passport in Buenos Aires. Now what?

My Answer: Take a deep breath, and know that you’re in good company. Some 300,000 Americans lose their passports or get them stolen every year.

First, report the loss to your nearest embassy or consulate. Doing so renders your passport unusable, and then you can apply for a new one. Americans will need a passport photo, an ID, evidence of their U.S. citizenship, a travel itinerary, and a police report if available.

By the way, here’s where having a copy of your old passport can help (I use Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, so a digital copy is easily accessible from anywhere); it can quickly satisfy many of the requirements.

Now all you have to do is wait. It takes between 24 and 48 hours for your emergency passport, which is valid for up to a year. That’s plenty of time to take in a few of the sights in Argentina’s capital.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the August/September 2014 issue). Follow Christopher’s story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

Do you have a burning travel question? Share it with us in the comments section below for a chance to appear in Traveler magazine.


  1. Betty
    June 1, 2015, 10:05 am

    Mine was stolen on Saturday May 30th, 2015, Leaving the Royal Caribbean in San Juan. I appreciate the advice you gave, but I must say that I find it wrong to have to report to the US State, and than they do not immediately invalidate it, after waiting 1 1/2 hours on Phone. They claim that I will get a letter by Mail in a Couple of Weeks? No confirmation # given, after Phone call. Plus I find that as a US Citizen, having my Pass Book Stolen out of my Hand>>> Internationally, I now have to file a DS 11 a DS 64, Birth Certificate, Front and Back of License and another Fee as though I never owned a Passport, to be unacceptable. Why should I pay for the theft?

  2. Marcia
    March 1, 2015, 2:55 pm

    I, too, carry the following: color photocopies of passport in purse, checked luggage (hidden inside), carry-on; also of plane ticket in my purse;; also name and phone number of my husband; and copies of everything in my iPhone, too. Overdone I admit. Btw not every city has an embassy!!

  3. Kalpesh Patel
    November 10, 2014, 4:31 am

    I always carry 2 copies of coloured printouts of the main pages of the passport. Its already there on my gmail and icloud. Along with it I keep a picture of those pages, and my tickets and bookings in my cellphone as a PDF (ibooks).

    Call me over prepared but when shit hits the fan… I know even all this won’t be enough.
    hope I never get into a situation like this.

  4. jack
    September 17, 2014, 11:46 am

    Probably no one is commenting because the “reader submission” is obviously made up. Nobody who lost their passport is going to post a question to the consumer advocate of some magazine then wait around in the foreign country to see if/when the question gets answered. Obviously they are just going to call the US embassy right away. The chance that someone literally lost their passport, then sent an email to Christopher Elliot of this column asking ‘now what’, then waited for his answer is zero (0). It seems rather that the author of this column had some useful advice about passports and needed to conjure up an appropriate question which he could “answer” with that info.

  5. Trupti Modi
    September 17, 2014, 12:35 am

    The idea of taking a deep breath is wonderful bcoz people get crazy when they know that they have lost passport. Rest of ideas are really helpful. Thanks!

    September 16, 2014, 1:39 pm

    so much help from Elliott at the time of need. Great ideas. smart.

  7. Mila D
    September 16, 2014, 12:32 pm

    This is really good advice, i’m surprised no one else has commented. Thanks!