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How to Protect Your Passport While Traveling

Pro tips for keeping essential travel documents safe in transit.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Protect Your Passport While Traveling

Businessman holding his passport and luggage at airport.

Nothing spoils an international vacation faster than misplacing a passport. (Getty Images)

You've packed the perfect carry-on. You've armed yourself with tech-savvy travel accessories, plenty of cash, an up-to-date passport and photocopies of crucial travel documents (your driver's license and flight tickets). Yet, despite taking these precautions, you're still vulnerable to pickpockets, water damage and losing your passport in a foreign country. And let's be honest: Nothing spoils an international vacation faster than misplacing a passport. After all, a passport is your key to crisscrossing the globe; without it, you'll need to get a replacement from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (or passport-processing location in the U.S.), and you'll be stalled from jetting off to new countries or returning home. So, on your next getaway, safeguard your passport by following these expert-endorsed strategies.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

When it comes to ensuring your passport stays protected while traveling, the key is staying aware of your environment, says Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director of overseas citizen services for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. "I'm not sure anything is absolutely foolproof," she cautions, but carrying a passport card or copy of your passport can help, along with utilizing extra tools, such as a money belt or a concealed pouch containing a passport and cash or a credit card. In some countries, including Russia and China, "it's the law that you carry your passport," she explains, and while there's no tried-and-true method for ensuring your passport is out of harm's way, keeping it concealed underneath your clothing or in an inconspicuous pouch is a smart idea.

"In countries where you're not required to carry your passport, we recommend locking it up," Bernier-Toth adds, noting it's wise to use a hotel safe and keep your suitcase protected with a travel lock while you're away from your room.

Make Multiple Copies

Sure, it may seem like a no-brainer to stow away copies of your passport in different compartments of your carry-on or even different pieces of luggage. But according to Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair, beyond ensuring you have extra copies of crucial documents, you should "always make sure a friend or a family member has a copy." That way, if you do misplace a passport while traveling internationally, you can easily access need-to-know information from trusted allies at home to expedite the process of replacing your passport. He also ensures he has a copy of his driver's license on him while traveling abroad, as an additional form of identification.

Stay Consistent

An easy way to minimize your odds of losing your passport is following smart travel habits. You should always keep your passport in the same place while traveling, says Carol Margolis, the founder of Smart Women Travelers, a website for female travelers that offers recommendations for optimizing safety while traveling. Her method: keeping her passport shielded in a passport cover inside a zippered pocket within her laptop tote. "When I’m at my destination and touring a city, I have a waistband holder for my passport that I wear under my shirt," she adds. When it comes to keeping your passport out of sight while traveling, Margolis says to have it near you at all times, and she cautions against keeping it in a checked bag – or in a carry-on stowed away in an overhead bin. "And keep it in good condition, as damaged passports (ripped pages, tears, stains) may not [get] you into a country," she adds.

Use a Strategic Location

Instead of digging into your back pocket for your passport and praying thieves don't identify you as an unsuspecting target, keep your passport in an easily accessible front pocket or undercover belt, Spagnola says. And when retrieving your passport, make sure you're in a private place to deter lurking pickpockets, he says. If you're traveling to a tourist-heavy destination, Spagnola also recommends blending into a large group and avoiding putting your passport, money, credit cards or any valuable items in a purse, or laptop bag, which can easily be snatched. He cautions that it's essential to understand the culture of the country you're visiting before venturing outside your hotel or resort, where you can easily expose yourself as a tourist. And if your passport is lost or stolen, file a police report immediately and alert the closest U.S. embassy or consulate, Bernier-Toth says. Then, you can take the appropriate steps for declaring a missing passport and arranging an in-person appointment to receive an emergency passport.

Aside from keeping your passport out of sight, it's also important to conceal it from the elements, as passports with significant water damage, particularly on the personal information section and cover, can be deemed no longer valid. "If you're going to be in a zone where a hurricane is bearing down, use a waterproof pack," Bernier-Toth says.

Know When You'll Need a Passport

If you do misplace or lose your passport while traveling abroad, you will need to get a replacement to get through airport security and customs. "In general, it is not possible to travel internationally [without a passport] at least by air," Bernier-Toth explains. Still, carrying another form of identification, such as a Global Entry or NEXUS Trusted Traveler card, can help verify your identity and make the process smoother. And in some cases, such as entering and exiting Canada by land or sea, you may use a passport card, a NEXUS card, a passport or another approved document, including an enhanced driver's license, a state-issued ID card which offers proof of U.S. citizenship. Being aware of when you need various documents will make international travel easier to manage.

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