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Losing a passport and why travel insurance proved useless

This post is all about “what happens when you lose a passport” and my personal experience with ICICI Lombard Travel Insurance.

Yes. I did the “no 1” thing feared by most travellers. It features probably on the top of things NOT to do when on the road.

Lose a passport; your most precious travel document.

So how I lost it is not a very glamourous story. It has no masala or intrigue at all. I won’t get into the details. For the record, somewhere on the streets of Malaga (Spain), while on a sightseeing trip (on a cycle), I am quite sure the passport got lost (case of the open bag, carelessness of not closing it properly).

But more importantly, what happens when you do happen to lose a passport? While it’s not something you hope will ever happen to you, there’s always a possibility. Having gone through this experience, here’s what I did and I hope will help anyone who lands up in this quandary.

My second part details with travel insurance. In my case, I had signed up with ICICI Lombard Travel Insurance and I only read a line which said “upto USD 300” cover in case of passport loss, but as it turns out, there’s a lot that they don’t tell you and (as I realised in hindsight) is “between the lines”. The bottom line is that insurance is virtually useless and I’ll also write about that experience in the 2nd part of this post.

Coming to, the things you need to do when you lose your passport…

1) Keep calm (and drink wine, if you’re in Spain). But if you’re not, just keep calm.

Remember, it’s not worth losing your mind. Everything is replaceable. But one golden rule before you embark on any trip is “photocopy”!
– Passport
– Visa (also make sure all your other visas, which are documentation of your travels are also copied)
– Itinerary, local contacts, invite letter, addresses, phone number, hotel booking. Preferably 2 sets.
– Insurance (though it’s useless for passport loss as I’ll demonstrate)
– A few extra passport photos – this is important. I spent a few hours roaming around the streets of Madrid looking for someone who will print in the required “Indian” passport size.

And mail these documents to yourself. And then assess your situation. Calmly.

2) Find the address of your nearest Indian consulate

A web search revealed that I would need to get to Madrid, which was the closest to where I was located. Remember, that you need to go to a consulate which deals with passport loss so make sure you explain your problem clearly. I booked myself on a bus the same night and left from Malaga to Madrid.

3) Find the address of the nearest consulate of the country which issued your visa

In all probability you might be in the same country. In which case it’s slightly simpler. In my case, it was a bit complicated as my visa was issued out of Switzerland and I had travelled to Spain where I lost my passport. So I couldn’t fly or enter Switzerland either without a visa. I immediately emailed the Swiss embassy in Madrid and was assured that if I could get a “valid travel document” I should then present myself there at the earliest.

However, I had no idea how much time all this would take. Keeping in mind all of this, I had to forgo my flight from Malaga to Zurich, losing nearly € 150 in the process. I decided not to book a fresh ticket till I got my passport and visa in my hand.

4) Make sure you have all your documents, photographs and photocopies before you head to the Indian consulate

This will ensure your paperwork goes through smoothly and you don’t have to run out again for some mundane task like photocopy a document. I had to go to the Madrid consulate in an area called Avenida de Pío XII. I called them and found out the train stop nearest to them. And then I made sure that I had done all the rest of the work beforehand. I went to Principe de Vergara (which I found recommended for passport photos in an online search), and then went hunting for a photo shop. They only open after 10 am. Also, remember that “passport” photos there will not necessarily be the Indian “passport” size photos required so keep the size noted down. Thankfully, I was able to finally locate a place after around 30 minutes of roaming around. From there, I took a metro and then went to the consulate with all the documents. I was required to fill up the passport form with all the details (this is where the photocopies will help). And then by around noon, I was ready to submit everything. The passport fees was € 113.

I was told I could collect it the same day by evening. That was great news since I hadn’t even dreamed that I would get a duplicate passport in a day!

However, I did ask them as to how to go about the visa issue, and what happens if I have problems with it. Unfortunately, not much advise or help was forthcoming on the steps I could take. Also, remember that it also depends on how friendly the relations are between India and the country you’re visiting. I read online about someone having the same issue in France and the embassy playing a more helpful role in even advising the person about the visa. So, I think it all depends where you are.

Well, at least I had a passport.

5) With your fresh passport (and photocopy of it also!) and the rest of your documents, head to the concerned foreign embassy

In my case it was the Swiss embassy. Since I’d already emailed and explained my problem they were very helpful. On day 2, I made my trip to Calle de Núñez de Balboa, the location I found online. Again, it was close to a metro stop. I was asked to fill up a form, submit my documents (fresh passport), invite letter from my Swiss friend (which I’d used to get the Schengen), contact numbers in Switzerland and my return ticket (also from Geneva). I had to deposit € 60 and I was asked to come back by 3 pm the same day to collect the passport with the fresh visa stamped.

All this took me 2 days to complete.

On the 3rd day, I had both a fresh passport and the visa and then booked my return flight out of Spain into Switzerland.

In the meanwhile, I had also spent on accommodation in Madrid, and of course all the miscellaneous costs, including travelling to and fro etc.

I had already spent more than € 300 in total. Not counting my missed flight and my fresh booking. At this stage, I had still some faith in the insurance, thinking it would at least cover some part of my expenses.

Part 2: Why travel insurance proved useless for passport loss; my experience with ICICI Lombard Travel Insurance

Before leaving, I had opted for ICICI Lombard. They were quick, sent me a 4 page policy, which I went through. It had a section on passport loss (which I remembered). I had already emailed them ahead from Europe explaining my situation so I knew what to do on arrival. After I came back, I got in touch with them and this is what happened.

– I emailed around 3-4 times. I got responses by a different person every time. Which meant I had to actually explain and ask everything afresh. Couldn’t I have just been given one person to handle the case? Obviously, this is not how it works.

– I asked if someone could give me a call as I had clarifications. No one bothered. Each response sounded like whoever was responding wasn’t actually “reading” my mail.

– I sent a tweet, they said they would call back. Still no response.

– I then sent another email, asking for someone to call me. Please.

– Around 21 days after my request, I got a call from them. I asked them to escalate as I wasn’t getting anywhere. The emails also kept asking me to send the details within a “deadline”. But they had no deadline on their responses.

– Finally, got an email from customer service (service quality team) asking for scanned documents of everything related to my passport renewal saga (which I presumed included bus tickets, accommodation etc.). I also had to include boarding passes, tickets leaving Switzerland. They also asked for my exit stamp. Which was strange considering that it was obviously on the passport I’d lost! I documented all these expenses that I had made on account of the fresh passport application thinking that at least some of them would be covered.

– I was then asked to courier everything. The scans obviously were not enough.

After all this was done, while I was away travelling, my hubby called with the “good” news. The insurance company had sent me a cheque for a princely sum of Rs 8818.

It didn’t even cover my passport renewal fee, forget any other expenses.

All I got was a cryptic message saying that I had exceeded my limit towards incidentals by 147 USD. And of course, there is absolutely no explanation about what it means in simple English. All I know is that though I spent more than € 300 in the whole process, all that they are covering me for is Rs 8818.

Now, I’m wondering what I should do with the cheque. An idea is to frame it and put it up as a reminder to never lose my passport again. Because whether you have insurance or not, it’s pretty useless as I learnt the hard way.

I am of course going to read the fine print from now on and look at my insurance choice a bit more wisely. One) It made no sense. As a consumer, if I am eligible to a paltry 8k for something that set me back by so much more, I see no sense in it. Or I need to choose better. And two) the dismal customer service. I spent a lot of time and energy going back and forth – something I want to avoid if I ever get insurance again. Though, I have a sinking feeling that all insurance companies will probably have the same policies.

The moral of the story: Don’t lose your passport. Ever!

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