If you found this article via a search engine, then you probably lost your passport or, if you are like us, had your passport stolen. Since no one can go back in time fix it, there is only one thing to do and that is head to an Embassy and get a new one.
But what if you cannot wait the 10-15(+) business days for a full replacement passport to arrive? Well, the emergency passport is your answer.
Since there is hardly any information published online about getting an emergency passport, what they are, and how they work, we are publishing our experience to help those who may find themselves in a similar situation.
What is an Emergency Passport?
As the name suggests, an emergency passport is issued for those who simply cannot wait the 10-15 business days most Embassies need to order a full passport from your home country.
Although they are not able to issue full passports on-site, in emergency cases the Embassies are allowed to issue short validity passports that help you get on your way and can have them out the door the same day in most cases. These are essentially the same as a full passport except they have limited pages (ours had 5), do not have the internal chip like the full passports, and have a statement at the end that it was a replacement for a stolen passport.
So what is the big issue with these passports? Their validity period can be a bit flexible!
Emergency passports may be good for only a few months all the way up to one-year depending on the Embassy you go to and the situation requirements for your trip. The key in getting the right validity period lies fully in your itinerary and the needs of the country you are visiting.
Validity Dates Are Important
If you are traveling just through one country when your passport is lost, you’ll probably have no issue with a short validity period on your passport. You get your new passport, go home, and replace it with the permanent passports later on. You pay your fee at the embassy for the emergency passport (full price) and, if you haven’t had a history of stolen passports and are from the USA, you can have that replaced for a new one at no cost within one year.
The problem for long-term travelers like us is that some countries require a 6-month validity to enter and, in some cases, even leave the country! Having lost our passport due to theft in Peru, with an upcoming trip scheduled to Ecuador and Galapagos, that was exactly the scenario we found ourselves in.
We asked the Embassy in Lima about passport validity dates and were told they most often provide only six months. This would not have given us entry into Ecuador. But after telling them about our travel plans we were given an eight month validity passport to get us in. It was pretty simple, and all we had to do was tell them our travel dates.
Unfortunately one of our later countries on the same itinerary, Mexico, also has a six month validity requirement, so we had to make an appointment with the Embassy in Guayaquil to have our full passports issued while abroad rather than waiting until we got home. Thankfully, our timing in Ecuador was much more flexible to make it happen.
Note – Some countries do not issue proper emergency passports like the USA. We met one traveler from Canada who was returning home a few days later and was only given a paper travel document that he said was collected at customs in Canada (he showed it to us to verify). It may have been because his travel dates were just a few days away, but we are mentioning it here to highlight the fact that every country is different.
How to Get An Emergency US Passport
So, what do you need to do in order to get an emergency passport?
First off, although all Embassy sites say “call immediately when you lose your passport,” you’ll likely find that they only have select hours for calls and do not view lost passports as life or death emergencies.
In fact, the worker at the consulate in Cusco, Peru yelled at me for calling on a Sunday even though the website specifically said to call immediately. She later came through and sent our information over to the Embassy in Lima via email, but it does highlight the fact that lost passports is not viewed highly on the importance scale relative to other emergencies.
Although there is little the Embassies can do for you via phone, it is best to call to see what the procedure is. Normally you have to schedule appointments to get a real passport issued (and in major cities like Lima these appointments can be full several weeks in advance), but most often you’ll find that emergency travel is a front-of-the-line pass that lets you get in the door immediately.
If you are from the USA you’ll need forms DS-11 and DS-64 plus one to two passport photos (double that if you’re applying for an emergency and replacement passport in the same go). It is best to have these filled out and ready to go before you arrive for reasons we’ll get into in a minute.
Next you’ll want to find the opening hours of the Embassy. The one we went to in Lima was closed for Memorial Day and the last Wednesday of the month, so we had only one day to choose from during our intended dates in Lima.
Finally, and this is most important, go as soon as they open. This is a process that takes some time, and depending on the number of workers and people in line you can be at the Embassy waiting for hours. However, we got to the Embassy in Lima about 20 minutes before they opened, were the first people in line, and the first people into the waiting room. This meant we were the first to get a number, the first to see a worker, and the first out the door.
We had everything done in under 60 minutes.
We are not kidding, only 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, if you were the person in line behind us, or had to get out of line to get your photos taken and forms filled out, we just kept a worker busy from helping you for a solid hour. Throw in 2-3 others who lost their passports and you may end up sitting there for a very long time. Get there early and thank us later if it helps.
Unlike the worker in Cusco, the lady who helped us in Lima was one of the nicest we’ve met in a long time. We submitted our forms and passport images, made an oath that it was valid, paid our fee (via credit card although not all Embassies accept that form so we had cash just in case), and were told to come back at 2:30pm to pick them up.
We left, returned at 2:30pm, and by 2:45pm had our passports in our hand and were out the door.
Overall, getting our replacement passport in Lima was much easier than anything we ever anticipated. The bigger challenge, in our mind, is then dealing with getting a new passport stamp and applicable immigration cards for the country you’re in the following day.
Note – When you make your appointment to get a full passport later on you may find you are called by name rather than taking a number depending on the location. Sometimes walk-in hours are separated from regular appointments but this is not always the case. We still arrived to our appointment in Guayaquil 25 minutes early and were out the door in under 45 minutes when applying for the full passports. Thumbs up to the Embassy in Lima and Consulate in Guayaquil from us.
Getting a New Stamp and Immigration Card
Naturally, since we had to wait until the afternoon to pick up our new emergency passports, it is only fitting that we had to wait until the following morning to get a new stamp and entry card from Peruvian immigration. They are, of course, only open in the mornings.
After checking it out online, we realized that this was going to be the worst part. For everyone else it seemed like a breeze, but with our luck we got the hassle. (We now look at this as a good thing so we can write about it here).
This process is likely different in various countries, so we can only comment on what it was like in Lima, Peru. For your own case you may need to do some online research. No matter what, some of the tips we have will likely apply to you.
The first step in the process is to find the applicable paperwork you need. In Lima there is a stall right by the main door that is manned with someone only providing forms. If you don’t see it, the security guards can help. We asked for “traslado de sellos” which is for a transfer of stamps. The worker gave us the form and told us we had to go pay the replacement fee at the bank (inside the building a few halls over) and go up to the 3rd floor immigration office. All things considered, this part went smoothly.
After you fill out the form and go to the bank, they’ll tell you the fee (roughly 12 Soles) and issue a receipt that you need to take to the office on the 3rd floor with your paperwork. But before going upstairs, head to the copy desk right by the bank in far opposite corner of the entry area (near the hallway you came through to find the bank). You’ll need a photocopy of your new passport and police report to give to the worker (if you are a couple or group you’ll want one scan of the police report each). If you don’t, you’ll soon find yourself running back downstairs like we did several times and losing your place in line each time.
When you head upstairs there are three windows on the opposite side from where you enter, and one of them should say “traslado de sellos” on it. Wait for this worker and give them your forms. They’ll give you a new immigration card to fill out and then look you up on the computer system. While waiting, you may want to say a little prayer because this is the moment where you may end up having to wait a very long time like we did.
If all goes well, the worker will find your information in the computer system, tell you to wait, and about 20-30 minutes later call your name to pick up your passport without hassle.
If they don’t find your info, you’re in the situation that happened to us. Central immigration has no record of you!
After being blamed for not having our information (did they not understand it was stolen?!) we had to explain where we entered the country, the border crossing, and dates. We then had to go to a new line (two windows over) where a more helpful worker took our information and emailed the workers at the border crossing we entered at.
Yes, this really happened. A freaking email. God help us if they don’t even check their emails.
We were told to wait and took our seats. 30 minutes later all of our new friends were gone, 30 minutes after that the next batch of new friends were gone (lots of people get robbed in Peru it seems), and yet another hour after that we were about to go ask what is going on when our names were called.
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We had our passports and everything sorted out, but received no additional information on why it took so long!
It really wasn’t that bad to get our replacement stamps, only time consuming. We had left our hotel at 7:20am and did not eat breakfast because we were expecting it to take no more than an hour or two like our time at the Embassy did. By the time we left we were starving, exhausted, and mentally drained. We fully understood why expat bloggers who live in Lima say this is one building you do not want to be in. It is bureaucracy at its finest.
But now we’re safe, have our new passports, and filled them with the stamps that will allow us to travel and, more importantly, leave Peru.
Time to get out of this country as fast as possible.
*All information featured in this article is as of our experience in May 2014. Please note that we have not updated this post since then so you may want to check to see if the process has changed or is different for your own country.
Have you gone through the process of getting an emergency passport while abroad? If so, please comment below to tell your story of the experience. The more we share in this post the more it’ll help out other travelers who find this article in a time of crisis.