News story

Lost passports abroad cost Brits £5 million a year

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Thousands of British nationals pay for emergency travel documents every month as last-minute passport replacements

Using your passport as a beermat, notebook or putting it in the washing machine are just some of the reasons why British holidaymakers are now spending millions each year on emergency travel documents (ETDs) - issued when passports are lost, stolen or damaged while abroad. *

And the problem is on the rise: ‘avoidable’ cases have increased significantly in 2012 to 2013, with ETDs issued for expired or damaged passports increasing by over 300%.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging people to save themselves the time, hassle and cost of buying ETDs by looking after their passport while on holiday this summer.

Obtaining an ETD can take several days, depending on local circumstances. You may need to obtain a police report, get passport photos, and of course get to and from your nearest British consulate or embassy. You may also have to replace any visas you need for your journey. And it can cost up to £200 to replace your passport. ** These expenses can spiral if you need to rearrange holiday plans, so make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance.

Will Middleton, Consular Director for Southern Europe, said:

Our staff deal with people every day who require ETDs for a range of reasons. Some are victims of crime, but we also hear of passports being damaged carelessly, like becoming damaged after being hidden in the freezer.

These are situations that could have been avoided and end up costing holidaymakers valuable time and money. We strongly advise people to look after their passport, keep it safe and check its validity well in advance of travel. Simple steps such as locking your passport in a safe if you have access to one and carrying a photocopy with you can help prevent problems later on.

Key data

  • around 80 ETDs are issued to British nationals around the world every single day, with 28,783 issued in the past year alone ***

  • avoidable cases have increased significantly in 2012-13 with ETDs issued for expired or damaged passports increasing by over 300%. More than a fifth of all ETDs (6,005) were issued in Spain, one of the most popular holiday destinations for Brits

  • consular staff in the USA also issued a high number of ETDs (3,180) followed by Australia (1,618), which has seen a number of Britons having to buy ETDs as their passport was no longer valid ***

Theft remains an issue in big cities like Barcelona, which issued more ETDs than most countries (1,291) last year, mainly due to people’s bags being stolen, distraction thefts and pickpocketing.

Key tips for keeping your passport safe abroad

  • value your passport and look after it carefully

  • your passport is not always safer on you – lock it in a safe if you have access to one

  • make two photocopies of your passport – leave one with friends or family and take the second with you, or store it online using a secure data storage site

  • where possible, use this photocopy as alternative ID, for example when going out at night

  • make sure your passport is valid

  • for certain countries your passport must be valid for 6 months after the date you travel – check the entry requirements before you go

Digital resources

For a visual representation of the key statistics surrounding ETDs, and lost and stolen passports, the FCO has produced this infographic.

To help more passports survive the summer holiday season, the FCO has released a cartoon animation to highlight some of the reasons why ETDs are issued.

Take care of your passport

FCO consular staff have also produced a video targeted at British music fans to help tackle the problem of Brits losing passports at outdoor music festivals abroad:

Enjoy the music festival

The FCO is encouraging people to sign up to its Facebook and Twitter feeds to ensure they are informed of the latest travel advice: www.facebook.com/fcotravel or twitter.com/fcotravel

Further information

For further information, interviews or case studies please contact the Know Before You Go team on 0207 478 7840 or fcoteam@grayling.com.

What can the FCO do for people who have problems when travelling abroad?

The FCO can: The FCO can’t:
Issue you with an emergency travel document Help you enter a country if you don’t have a valid passport or necessary visas
Give you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors Give you legal advice
Contact friends and family back home for you if necessary Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
Provide information about transferring funds Pay any bills or give you money
Visit you in hospital or if you have been arrested Make travel arrangements for you

Additional notes

  • An Emergency Travel Document (ETD) can be issued abroad if your passport has been lost or stolen or is otherwise unavailable. Unlike your normal passport, which is valid for 10 years, an ETD is valid for a specific journey within a specified time. It can be issued quickly if you need to travel urgently at short notice when you are overseas. More information is available on the FCO’s emergency travel documents page or in our information leaflet

  • The Know Before You Go campaign targets a number of audiences, from gap year students to package holidaymakers; sports fans to older travellers and people visiting friends and family abroad. The campaign works with around 600 travel industry partners to communicate its messages. For more information visit Know Before You Go

*Figure of £5 million calculated by adding the cost of an ETD (£95) with the cost of a passport, based on 54% of passports being purchased for £81.25 via the Check & Send service and the rest purchased for £72.50 and multiplying this by the total number of ETDs issued between April 2012 and March 2013

**This has been calculated by totalling £95.00 for an ETD and £81.25 for a new passport. £81.25 is the price for the Check & Send service which is used by the majority of British nationals. Other methods of purchasing new passports can be cheaper or more expensive than £81.25. More information is available on our passport fees page

***Figures taken from the 2013 British Behaviour Abroad Report, published 18 July 2013