Nine tips to protect your passport

Your passport is your key to the world and the most important identity document you own, making that little blue book as important as the keys to your home and car. Here are nine ways you can protect your passport from theft or damage.

Almost 60% of us own a passport and Australians are travelling more than ever. Just over ten million of us headed overseas last financial year.

Overseas travel is an exciting prospect, so it’s understandable we may not want to think about the possible downsides, such as ‘what happens if a lose my passport in a foreign country?’

But few things kill the travel fun quicker than being stuck in a country without your official identity document. Itineraries are effected, extra expenses mount up, identity fraud becomes a worry, and the trip of a lifetime can very quickly turn into a nightmare.

Last year, just under 5000 Australians became separated from their passports overseas. While it’s a hassle to lose your credit card overseas, it can be reissued much faster than a passport, which takes three weeks unless you pay the priority-processing fee.

A recent Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) report says 2,403 Australians had their passports stolen overseas in 2105-16, with passport theft most common in Italy (258), the USA (250) and France (215). Even if you’re not travelling to these countries, you can learn from others’ experiences to ensure you and your passport don’t become separated.  

1. Keep a copy of your passport

Snap and email yourself an image of your passport’s photo and signature page, as well as other ID such as your birth certificate. Take printed copies with you and also leave a copy with a friend or family member.

2. Don’t keep your passport in your backpack or handbag

You’d be well advised to keep your passport on you at all times, although this can leave travellers vulnerable to pickpockets and bag snatchers. Keeping it under your clothing in a water resistant passport pouch will reduce the risk.

It’s not ideal to have your passport in your handbag or backpack while you’re out sightseeing. Bags are easy targets for thieves especially when you’re in holiday mode.

3. Keep it safe in a safe

If you’re staying in a hotel, enquire about a safe either at reception or in your room. If the safe is in your room though, check that it is attached to the wall or floor and not portable.

Never leave your passport laying around your hotel room or unattended in your suitcase.

4. Know your passport rights

You are legally required to produce your passport at airport checkpoints and when crossing borders between countries. In the event you’re asked to show your passport in any other instance – such as by the police – it is often acceptable to use a copy of your passport or provide the passport number and expiration date. If you do hand over your passport to officials, keep it in sight at all times.

5. Report a missing passport immediately

If your passport is stolen (or you lose it), report it straight away at www.passports.gov.au to prevent identity fraud, a crime being committed in your name, or someone travelling illegally on your document. Your passport will be cancelled immediately and you will be able to apply for a replacement.

You can also contact the closest Australian embassy or consulate and they will be able to issue you with an emergency passport. This process is faster, easier and less stressful if you have completed step one.

If the loss or theft of your passport has put you in danger or you have been the victim of a crime or assault, DFAT runs a 24/7 Consular Emergency Centre for Australians and their family and friends. Call +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or 1300 555 135 from within Australia.

Before you leave on your trip, check what your travel insurance covers regarding costs of a lost or stolen passport. You may want to consider increasing your coverage to ensure you’re protected if a lost or stolen passport interrupts your travel plans.

6. Avoid breaking your passport micro chip

While a well-worn, dog-eared passport may invoke fantastic memories of escapades in foreign lands, if you damage the data chip within, your passport may not get you very far. Avoid carrying your passport in your back pocket where you are likely to sit on it. A pocketed passport also increases the chances of it going through a washing machine, which the chip may not survive.

7. Beware of small children and pets

Kids armed with crayons, spilt drinks, and even teething puppies have all been known to cause passport stress and delay much longed for holidays. Stay alert around small creatures, who may see your passport as a new play thing.

8. Keep your passport safe at home

If you have a filing cabinet or safe at home, keep your passport securely away from small hands and furry family members. A locked desk drawer or strongbox in an out of the way place is a good alternative. If you are unlucky enough to have your passport stolen during a burglary, cancel it immediately at the Australian Passport office website or by calling 131 232.

9. Don’t leave your passport check to the last minute

Check your passport is exactly where you think it is at least three to four weeks before you travel. That way, if for any reason it has been misplaced, you have time to sort out a replacement. Do not leave it until the morning your flight departs.

Treating your passport as you would your wallet will help make sure your next holiday will be memorable for all the right reasons.