- My passport was stolen during a recent trip to London.
- I had a flight to catch days later and thought I’d be stuck.
- But I made an urgent appointment the next day and received a new passport in less than 24 hours.
During a recent trip to London, I experienced every traveler’s worst nightmare when my backpack was stolen.
I was sitting on my friend’s bed and freaked out about my lost laptop. Then I remembered what I had left in the front pocket—something much more important.
My US passport was gone.
It was just after midnight on a Thursday. My friend’s wedding in a small English country — an hour and a half from London — was the next day, and my flight to Spain was two days after that. Crazy thoughts started running through my head. I was sure I was going to miss my flight, the wedding, or both.
Somehow, though, it all worked out. Here’s how I got an emergency passport as quickly as possible.
My first step was to contact the US Embassy in London
It sounds simple, but this step was actually quite frustrating, especially when you’re feeling anxious and panicky.
You can’t just rush straight to the US Embassy and get an emergency passport, which I was hoping to do the day before my friend’s wedding. First, you need to make an appointment.
According to the US Embassy’s website, you can only request an emergency passport if it is at least five business days before an “emergency foreign travel date.” Since it was Thursday and my flight was Sunday, I knew I qualified.
I then had to fill out an online application, which required my basic information along with the date, time, destination and flight number for my trip to Spain.
I submitted my application by 10am that Thursday, but the website wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“Once we receive this information, we will advise you further, but please be aware that this may take several days as we consider other US citizens with equally urgent travel requests,” it said.
I frantically called the number listed for the embassy, but everyone I spoke to said I was unlikely to get an appointment before the weekend. One woman told me that “several Americans” had lost their passports the night before.
Since the US Embassy in London is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, my trip to Spain looked increasingly unlikely. So I boarded a train to the Cotswolds, where my friend’s wedding was taking place, and tried to forget it. It was out of my hands until I made an appointment.
But four hours after submitting my application, I received a new email from the US Embassy: I had an appointment the very next day at 9am.
I prepared as much as I could to rush my emergency passport appointment
I needed to catch a 6am train to London for my appointment at the embassy and then I had to catch the 12.50pm train back to the Cotswolds to do my friend’s wedding ceremony at 3pm — a daunting task.
I had no idea how long it usually takes to get a new passport, but I knew I had no time to waste. So, I printed and filled out the required documents listed on the US Embassy website, which included:
- US State Department Application for a US Passport
- A statement definitively declaring my passport has been lost or stolen
I also needed a passport photo. While there is a photo booth at the US Embassy in London, the website says “we can’t guarantee they will work”, which didn’t sound promising. But I managed to get my forms printed and my photo taken thanks to the very kind people at Cotswold Pharmacy in Northleach.
I also printed copies of my birth certificate and stolen passport and brought a copy of the police report I filed about my stolen backpack.
My appointment at the US embassy was long but fairly uneventful
After a train ride, two subway changes, and a short walk, I finally arrived at the US Embassy in London. The modern design of the building reminded me of rippling waves or those little cups bartenders use to measure cocktail shots.
I arrived 20 minutes early for my 9am appointment and was allowed to walk in right away. I then checked in at reception and was given a number – my ID for the rest of the day.
I took an elevator to the top floor, reserved specifically for US citizens, and found a seat. The place was large, clean and bright, with a small cafe next to the lift selling coffee, tea, crisps and pastries. The floor was still pretty empty when I arrived and it was easy to hear snippets of people sharing their own stories of lost and stolen passports. Others were frantically trying to reschedule flights they could no longer board. As the day wore on, the room filled up so much that there were few chairs left to sit on.
About 40 minutes after checking in, my number was called at a window. I handed over my documents and was then asked to show my US driver’s license. Since I still had my license, the woman said I didn’t need to show my birth certificate (this is still listed as a requirement for a US passport application, so I would bring it just in case).
I was then told my number would be called to pay the $135 application fee. I was excited! This was going so fast, how long could it really take to pay for something? Well, definitely more than I expected.
About 40 minutes later, I heard my number and ran to give the clerk my credit card. My eyes were on the clock — this would be close.
My number was called again 20 minutes after I paid and this time I was called to a room instead of a window. A woman with an American accent asked me to take a short oath, swearing that I was truthful in my application. Then he stamped a few things and said my passport was being printed.
“Do you know how long it will take?” I asked.
“Everyone always asks me that and I always tell them the same thing,” she replied. “I have no idea.”
Forty minutes later, I finally had my new emergency passport. I was told it would be valid for the next year and they gave me forms explaining how to renew it back in the US. It was just after 12:10 p.m. The whole process, not including travel time, had taken nearly three and a half hours.
After a mad dash through several subway stations, I arrived on time for my train at 12:50pm. and saw my beautiful friend Sophie tie the knot. Two days later, I was on my flight to Spain with zero problems.
Overall, I was really surprised by how efficient the embassy was — I was shocked that you could get an emergency appointment and a new passport within 24 hours. I also knew that I was extremely lucky—as lucky as you can be in such a situation—to have lost my passport in a major European city with a nearby US embassy and the means to pay for a new one on the spot.
It was a crazy travel summer for all. If you’re stuck in a terrible situation and need some advice or some peace of mind, I hope this helps — even just a little.