Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Tourist's Nightmare (Losing Your Passport)

I am determined to turn my misfortune into a lesson, not just for me but for all the travellers out there. I consider myself quite "well-travelled" and have somehow mastered the art of it but during this last trip of mine, my worst nightmare (ok, it can be worse) happened... I lost my passport. This is just my 2nd post in this blog as I never get to write about my travels for one reason or another, or just plain laziness but this time, I promised myself I would because I want to get this information out to whoever may need it (I hope no one ever does).

I lost my passport on July 19, 2012 in Prague, in the beautiful country of the Czech Republic. I can only guess how and when it was stolen as it all happened within an hour from the last time I saw it. I can only speculate that it was stolen while I was waiting with our group at the lobby of our hotel to check out as it was the last day of the tour and we were all heading to the airport. I just realized it was gone when I was about to check in for my flight to Greece, for a week-long stay in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. Of course, I never made it to Greece. Anyway, moving on with the important part of this blog.

What to do when you lose your passport... in Europe (but it should be pretty much the same anywhere).

1. Backtrack - check where you've been... The hotel, car/bus/taxi (if possible), mall, airport, whatever.

2. Find the Philippine Embassy and hope to God there's one in the country you're in. Call them and they will tell you what to do. If there's none, just Google the nearest one and call them.

If you feel that there's no chance to get it back, it's time to go to the local police and get a Police report. For me, the Czech Police office was inside the airport. At this point, when someone returns your passport to the Police, they will automatically cancel your visa and they should forward it to your embassy.

3. Go to your embassy. A travel document and an Affidavit of Loss will be issued and attached to the Police Report. This Travel Document allows a one way, direct travel to the Philippines. In short, your trip is over, book a flight and go home. You cannot exit the country you're in and enter another EU airport because you don't have a visa anymore. I had to pay about 450Kc in their local currency or about 18euros I think.

In my case, my flight home is from Rome but if I take the available flight from Prague to Rome, I would have to wait 20hours INSIDE the airport since I can't go out. This was not an option for me as I was an emotional wreck. So, I bought a new ticket (Prague to Manila)that costs almost as much as my roundtrip tickets (my original tickets are non reroutable).

4. Check in at a hotel with wifi. Chances are, you won't be able to figure this out in one day. You will need the wifi to book or rebook your flight, contact your family, or just google about what happened (like I did) trying to make sense of things.

5. Accept it and try your hardest to enjoy the additional days you have in that country. The Czechs drink the most beer in the world so it was but natural that they had a large selection and quite a good one. So, that's what we did for the next 5 days while waiting for our flight home. Once we have booked our flights home, things got better... The comfort of knowing that you will be able to go home eases your stress somehow.

It's been a week and I'm back in Manila but I still get nightmares about it. But I just tell myself that it could have been worse. I'm still lucky I had a friend with me who stayed and made decisions for me when I couldn't, and I will be aternally grateful for that. It's time to get a new passport then get a new US visa (which I just renewed last March!). I hope they give me a new one.

To get a new passport if you lost it (regardless how and where you lost it):

1. Go to the DFA Aseana with your Affidavit of Loss and Police Report. No need for an appointment. Just tell the guard you lost your passport and they will tell you where to go. There's a 15 day clearing (to check that no one's using the one you lost) before you can apply for a new one, they will tell you when to come back. You will have to pay 350 Pesos if it was still valid.

2. When you go back, bring requirements for new passport. Check the website, no need to make an appointment. For more info, call 737-1000.

I have yet to report my US visa which I should do asap.

That's it I think. Needless to say that this was a very humbling experience and life-changing too. We have met very kind people during this ordeal and I will forever be grateful to them. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it but more importantly, I am thankful that we are safe and home now.