- My passport was stolen on a recent trip to London.
- I had to catch a flight a few days later thinking I would be stranded.
- But the next day I got an urgent appointment and received my new passport in less than 24 hours.
On a recent trip to London, I experienced every traveller’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 in the front pocket – something more important.
My US passport is gone.
It was just after midnight on a Thursday. The next day my friend got married in an English country town – an hour and a half from London – and my flight to Spain was two days later. Crazy thoughts started flooding into my head. I’m sure I’ll miss my flight, wedding, or both.
Still, somehow, it all worked out. Here’s how I can get an emergency passport ASAP.
My first step was to contact the US embassy in London
It sounds simple, but this step is actually quite frustrating, especially when you’re stressed and panicking.
You can’t just rush to the US embassy and get an emergency passport, which I hope to do the day before my friend’s wedding. First, you must make an appointment.
According to the U.S. embassy website, emergency passports can only be applied for at least five business days before the “emergency overseas travel date.” Since it was Thursday and my flight was Sunday, I knew I was eligible.
Then I had to fill out an online application which required my basic information as well as the date, time, destination and flight number of my trip to Spain.
I sent my application by 10am that Thursday, but the site wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“Once we receive this information, we will provide further advice, but please note that this may take several days as we review other U.S. citizens with the same urgent travel request,” it read.
I frantically called the embassy’s number, but everyone I spoke to said I was unlikely to get an appointment before the weekend. A woman told me that “a fair number of Americans” lost their passports the night before.
With the U.S. embassy in London closed on Saturday and Sunday, my trip to Spain seemed increasingly unlikely. So I hopped on the train to the Cotswolds, where my friend’s wedding was taking place, and tried to forget about it. It was out of my grasp until I got an appointment.
But four hours after submitting the application, I received a new email from the US Embassy: I made an appointment at 9am the next morning
I did everything I could to expedite my emergency passport appointment
I need to take the 6am train to London for my embassy appointment and then have to catch the 12:50pm train back to the Cotswolds for my friend’s 3pm wedding – a tough one Task.
I don’t know how long it usually takes to get a new passport, but I know I don’t have time to waste. So I printed and filled out the required documents listed on the US Embassy website, which included:
- U.S. Department of State Application for U.S. Passport
- A permanent statement that my passport is lost or stolen
I also need a passport photo. While the US embassy in London has photo booths, the website says “we cannot guarantee that these photo booths will function properly,” which doesn’t sound optimistic. But thanks to the kind people at Cotswold Pharmacy in Northleach, I was able to print out my form and take a photo.
I also printed out a copy of my birth certificate and stolen passport, and brought a copy of the police report I filed for the stolen backpack.
My US embassy date was long but fairly seamless
After taking the train, changing the subway twice, and walking a short distance, I finally arrived at the US Embassy in London. The modern design of the building reminds me of Ripples, or those little glasses that bartenders use to measure cocktails.
I arrived 20 minutes early for my 9am appointment and was allowed in right away. I then checked in at the front desk and was assigned a number – my identity for the rest of the day.
I took the elevator to the top floor, designated for US citizens, and found a seat. Spacious, clean, bright, with a small cafe next to the lift selling coffee, tea, chips and pastries. When I arrived, the floor was still empty, and it was easy to hear snippets of stories of people trading their own lost and stolen passports. Others frantically tried to rebook flights they couldn’t get on. As the days passed, the room was so full that there were almost no chairs to sit on.
About 40 minutes after I checked in, my number was called to the window. I turned in my documents and was then asked to show my US driver’s license. Since I still had my driver’s license on hand, the lady said I didn’t need to show a birth certificate (this is still listed as a requirement for US passport applications, so I’ll bring it just in case).
Then I was told my number would be called to pay the $135 application fee. I am very happy! This is moving so fast, how long does it really take to pay? Hmm, definitely took longer than I expected.
After about 40 minutes, I heard my number and rushed over to give my credit card to the clerk. My eyes are on the clock – this will be close.
20 minutes after payment, my number was called again, this time to my room instead of the window. A woman with an American accent asked me to briefly swear that I would be honest in my application. Then she stamped something and said my passport was printing.
“Do you know how long it will take?” I asked.
“Everyone always asks me this question, and I always tell them the same thing,” she replied. “I have no idea.”
Forty minutes later, I finally got my new emergency passport. I was told it would be valid for next year and was given a form explaining how to renew in the US. It was just after 12:10 noon, and the whole process, excluding the travel time, took nearly three and a half hours.
After a frantic sprint through multiple subway stations, I caught the 12:50pm train and saw my beautiful friend Sophie get married. Two days later, I had zero problems on my flight to Spain.
Overall, I’m very surprised by the efficiency of the embassy – I’m shocked you can get an urgent appointment and a new passport within 24 hours. I also know that I was very lucky – as lucky as you are in this situation – to have lost my passport in a major European city with a US embassy nearby, and a way to pay for a new one on the spot.
This is a summer of crazy travel give everyone. If you’re in a bad situation and need some advice, or calm down a bit, I hope this helps you — even just a little bit.