At home or abroad, here’s how to make the replacement process less painful.
When I travel, I wear a money belt under my clothing, practically tattooed on my lower back. Among other things, it contains my passport, which I haven’t let out of my sight in years of travel. In hostels, I sleep with it under my pillow and hang it near me when I shower. Returning from a recent trip, I showed my passport to a customs official at YVR and promptly tucked it into its rightful place. Back in my apartment, I breathed a sigh of relief as I flung it on a closet shelf.
Three weeks later, when I went to retrieve it for a trip to the U.S., I couldn’t find it. How you can lose something that’s hand-sized in a one-bedroom apartment I will never know. But after six hours of searching through closet shelves, laundry bins, and filing cabinets, as well as under bathroom cabinets, I was still at a complete loss. My trip—for which I had prepaid transportation, accommodation, and theatre tickets—started in four days. After wailing repeatedly “How? Why? How?”, then blaming my husband, then blaming my cat, I finally gave up looking, hung my head, and admitted my utter stupidity.
Then I got busy on a new passport application.
At least I had the luxury of getting my passport replaced in my hometown rather than at some far-flung embassy. The bureaucratic part wasn’t too bad, but the financial aspect stung. Let’s see: $13 for passport photos, $87 for a new passport, and $30 for express three-day service. (At least I didn’t need the 24-hour, $70 service.) Then there was $56 for the most smartly located notary in Vancouver—whose office is down the hall from the downtown passport office—to watch me swear that my passport wasn’t under my sofa cushions. Grand total: $186.
Wondering how difficult the process would have been had I been abroad, I consulted a Passport Canada brochure on-line at www.ppt.gc.ca. “Should your passport be lost or stolen while you are abroad, you must immediately report the incident to the local police and the nearest Canadian government office,” it reads. “Once a passport has been reported lost or stolen, it is no longer valid.”
I called Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa to find out more. “A Canadian passport is worth a lot on the black market,” said spokesperson André Lemay. “For security reasons, we need to find out what happened.”
He noted that travellers should immediately call the nearest Canadian Embassy or consulate, which will advise them on whether it’s necessary to file a police report. “If for some reason the embassy is closed, all calls are sent back to Ottawa and the phones are manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Lemay stated. That’s even on statutory holidays.
How fast can a passport be replaced when you’re overseas? “It depends,” he explained, on how remote your location is and how it was lost or stolen. “It’s a question of going through the security checks.” But Lemay assured me that if circumstances are urgent, it’s possible to get a new passport within days.
Having access to supporting documents will speed up the application. Before your trip, “make two photocopies of the personal information page of your passport,” advises Passport Canada’s brochure. “Leave one copy with family or friends and keep the other in a different place from your passport.”
The agent who processed my application told me that losing a passport once isn’t that big a deal. But if I lose it again, I could get a note on my file that could cause problems for me in the future. She advised me to bring in my old, cancelled passport if I found it, and they would amend my file.
Whether you’ll be penalized for repeated losses, Lemay said, depends entirely on the circumstances under which the passport went missing, frequency of losses, et cetera. “It’s a question of security, just to make sure there’s not a trend,” he said. “We want to make sure that people are not selling their passport, trading their passport.”
Of course, I did eventually find my original passport. It had fallen off an end table and into a dark corner, where it was wedged between baskets of dusty DVDs.
So what did I learn from this experience?
1. Treat your passport with as much respect at home as you do abroad.
2. Always locate your passport and verify its validity well before you need to travel.
3. Make copies of your passport and ensure that you have easy access to them when you’re on the road.
4. Powder your face before your passport-photo session. According to the photographer at London Drugs, the passport office could have rejected the first set of pictures, in which the flash reflected off my shiny forehead, creating shadows and glare. She sent me over to Cosmetics, where I hung my head as the nice salesperson powdered it before the free reshoot.
5. Consider wearing powder every day.