I had the ultimate travel nightmare when my passport was stolen during a trip abroad. Here's how I got a new one in less than 24 hours.
- My passport was stolen during a recent trip to London.
- I had to catch a flight days later and thought I was going to be stranded.
During a recent trip to London, I experienced every traveler's ultimate nightmare when my backpack was stolen.
I was sitting on my friend's bed, freaking out about my lost laptop. Then, I remembered what I had left inside the front pocket — something far more important.
My US passport was gone.
It was just after midnight on a Thursday. My friend's wedding in a tiny English countryside town — an hour and a half from London — was the next day, and my flight to Spain was two days after that. Frantic thoughts started to rush through my head. I was sure I'd miss my flight, the wedding, or both.
Somehow, though, it all worked out. Here's how I got an emergency passport as fast as possible.
My first step was to contact the US Embassy in London
It sounds straightforward, but this step was actually pretty frustrating, especially when you're feeling stressed and panicked.
You can't just rush straight to the US Embassy and get an emergency passport, which I had hoped to do the day before my friend's wedding. First, you have to get an appointment.
According to the US Embassy website, you can only request an emergency passport if it's at least five working days before an "urgent overseas travel date." Since it was a Thursday and my flight was on Sunday, I knew I qualified.
Then I had to fill out an online application, which required my basic information along with the date, time, destination, and flight number for my trip to Spain.
I sent my application off by 10 a.m. that Thursday, but the website wasn't exactly encouraging.
"Once we have received this information, we will then advise further, but please be aware that this may take several days as we review other US citizens with equally urgent travel requests," it read.
I frantically called the number listed for the embassy, but everyone I spoke to said it was unlikely I'd get an appointment before the weekend. One woman told me that "quite a few Americans" had lost their passports the night before.
Since the US Embassy in London is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, my trip to Spain seemed more and more unlikely. So I hopped on a train to the Cotswolds, where my friend's wedding was taking place, and tried to forget about it. It was out of my hands until I got an appointment.
But four hours after submitting my application, I received a new email from the US Embassy: I had an appointment the very next day at 9 a.m.
I prepared as much as I could to expedite my emergency passport appointment
I needed to take a 6 a.m. train to London for my embassy appointment, then had to catch the 12:50 p.m. train back to the Cotswolds in order to make my friend's 3 p.m. wedding ceremony — a daunting task.
I had no idea how long it typically takes to get a new passport, but I knew I had no time to waste. So I printed and filled out the required documents listed on the US Embassy website, which included:
- A US Department of State application for a US passport
- A statement that permanently declares my passport has been lost or stolen
I also needed a passport photograph. While there's a photo booth at the US Embassy in London, the website states "we cannot guarantee that these will be operational," which did not sound promising. But I was able to get my forms printed and my photo taken thanks to the very kind people at Cotswold Pharmacy in Northleach.
I also printed out copies of my birth certificate and stolen passport, and brought a copy of the police report I had filed for my stolen backpack.
My US Embassy appointment was long but fairly seamless
After a train ride, two tube changes, and a short walk, I finally made it to the US Embassy in London. The building's modern design reminded me of rippling waves, or those little cups bartenders use to measure shots for cocktails.
I arrived 20 minutes early for my 9 a.m. appointment and was allowed to walk inside immediately. I then checked in at the front desk and was assigned a number — my identity for the rest of the day.
I rode an elevator to the top floor, which was specifically designated for US citizens, and found a seat. The space was large, clean, and bright, with a little café by the elevator selling coffee, tea, chips, and pastries. The floor was still fairly empty when I arrived, and it was easy to overhear snippets of people trading their own stories of lost and stolen passports. Others were frantically trying to rebook the flights they could no longer board. As the day went on, the room became so packed that there were few chairs left to sit on.
About 40 minutes after I checked in, my number got called to a window. I handed over my documents and was then asked to show my US driver's license. Since I still had my license on hand, the woman said I didn't need to show my birth certificate (this is still listed as a requirement for the US passport application, so I'd bring it just in case).
Then I was told my number would be called to pay the $135 application fee. I was elated! This was going so fast, how long could it really take to pay for something? Well, definitely longer than I expected.
Around 40 minutes later, I heard my number and sprinted over to give the clerk my credit card. My eyes were on the clock — this was going to be close.
My number got called again 20 minutes after I paid, and this time I was summoned to a room instead of a window. A woman with an American accent asked me to take a brief oath, swearing I had been honest in my application. She then stamped a few things and said my passport was being printed.
"Do you know how long it'll take?" I asked.
"Everyone always asks me that, and I always tell them the same thing," she replied. "I have no idea."
Forty minutes later, I finally had my new emergency passport. I was informed it would be valid for the next year and given forms explaining how to renew it back in the US. It was just after 12:10 p.m. The entire process, not including travel time, had taken nearly three and a half hours.
After a mad dash through multiple tube stations, I made it just in time for my 12:50 p.m. train and got to see my beautiful friend Sophie tie the knot. Two days later, I was on my flight to Spain with zero problems.
Overall, I was really surprised by how efficient the embassy was — I was shocked you could get an emergency appointment and a new passport within 24 hours. I also knew I was extremely lucky — as lucky as you can be in a situation like this — to have lost my passport in a major European city with a nearby US embassy, and the means to pay for a new one on the spot.
It's been a crazy summer of travel for everyone. If you're stuck in a terrible situation and need some advice, or a little calm, I hope this helps you out — even just a little.
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