When travelling, how many times do you anxiously check that your passport is still safely zipped inside the secret compartment of your hand luggage? Or give a reassuring tap of the pocket to confirm it is sitting snugly where it was five minutes ago, when you last checked?

The passport will be in and out of its safe place on various occasions during your journey: at the security check, at the currency exchange kiosk, and at the boarding gate. You’ll flourish it cheerfully at the immigration officer on arrival at your destination airport and produce it again, perhaps, when collecting your hire car, or checking into your accommodation. Just on the outward journey, there are multiple opportunities for a passport to slip unnoticed out of a pocket or a bag, and unfortunately, for UK citizens, who do not have a national identity card, no passport means no international travel!

Once nicely chilled, and in full holiday mode, you are understandably going to take your eye off the ball. After all, that’s what a holiday is all about, surely? Kicking back, and leaving the stresses and strains of life’s daily grind behind. If it’s me, I really do not want to think about much more than pool or beach, book or air-pods, iced-coffee or beer!

It is likely that, at one time or another, deeply relaxed, many of us have experienced that heart-stopping moment when you can’t lay your hands on your passport. It is not where you thought it was, and you know you had it earlier. Most of the time, the passport is discovered quickly enough, but what if, after searching high and low, your passport is nowhere to be found? Or, as has genuinely happened to some people we have assisted at the Consulate, their passport was chewed to pieces by their dog or vigorously scrubbed in the washing machine.

So, what happens now?

Actually, let’s wind the clock back, because there are some things you can do before travelling that can help reduce the chances of losing your passport if it remains in your room safe. You can get an officially certified passport copy via the UK Post Office documentation service for £12.75. The police will recognise this, but have the discretion to ask you to produce the actual passport, and may accompany you to your accommodation for that. For convenience, keep a photo of your passport data page on your phone or carry a photocopy. However, if your passport is lost, stolen or damaged while abroad, a photocopy, a digital image, a UK driving licence or a local police report are not acceptable for travel. Your airline will refuse to carry you.

In this scenario, you need to apply for an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) at https://www.gov.uk/travel-urgently-from-abroad-without-uk-passport

It’s all done online, including the payment (£100) and uploading a photo from your phone or other device. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has dedicated teams based in the Embassies in Madrid, Singapore and Mexico City, and our colleagues there do an amazing job in processing worldwide applications around the clock. In 2022, they handled almost 40,000 applications. In the last 12 months, no fewer than 600 of them made in Portugal.

Your ETD will normally be available within 48 hours. Where there is a local British Consulate, our staff will print the ETD for handover to you. If you happen to be in a remote area, or a place where there is no local Embassy or Consulate, such as Madeira or the Azores, the ETD will arrive by courier, which will take several days more. An expected delivery date will be advised to you when the application process is being completed.

Here to help

The team at the British Consulates in Lisbon and Portimão are available to assist you with other difficulties you may face, and the FCDO in London has a 24-hour support team. However, this is also about having your own crisis management plan, so we have a few more tips to share.

You may be unfortunate enough to lose not only your passport, but your purse or wallet, your money, your credit cards and your phone too. You may have to change your flight, or you might miss it altogether if the passport loss is only discovered as you are leaving for the airport.

Before travelling abroad, think about keeping important information on paper, like the phone numbers of close friends and family, your travel insurer, and your bank or credit card contacts. Email them to yourself too. It can be a challenge, but try to keep some cash separately as a “just in case” fund and avoid exhausting your credit card limit. It is also reassuring to get agreement in advance from a close friend or relative to be contacted by the Consulate to pay for your emergency travel document, accommodation and a flight if the worst really does come to the worst. Your passport is valuable. Keep it safe!

Consular assistance is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on (+351) 282 490 750 or

(+351) 21 392 4000 or (+44) 207 008 5000.


Following a 33 year in the travel business first in London, then in frontline destination services based in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, Vice Consul Clive Jewell joined the British Embassy’s consular team in Portimão in 2010. Clive will be sharing insights into their work supporting British people living or on holiday in Portugal and Cape Verde, who need consular assistance, as well as some helpful tips to prevent that happening to you.    

Image by Dave Sheldrake

Clive Jewell