I had a nightmare last week. My purse was lost. I couldn’t find it anywhere, and it contained my wallet with my passport and all my ID cards. I was thankful to wake up and put my hands on my passport. Without that, you can’t leave the country, and I don’t know what happens in the country if you need to produce ID and you have none.
It was only a bad dream for me, but it was a reality for a friend. He (Panamanian) and his wife and two young kids (USA citizens) were traveling from their home in California to visit family here in Chiriqui. Somewhere between Panama City and David, his fanny pack containing some cash and all the passports was lost, probably while getting off the bus with all the kids and luggage.
What followed was a series of text messages between us. His wife tried unsuccessfully to contact the US embassy by phone and email, and they were unable to find an embassy warden in this area. She didn’t want to go to Panama City because there is a checkpoint in Guabala, and she was now without her passport/ID. When she finally was able to talk with someone, she was told she was here illegally without a passport. “So, deport us!”
He, being Panamanian, figured it was less risky for him to go to the embassy in Panama City. There were no appointments available in the upcoming days so he just showed up, telling them it was an emergency.
The next message said he got to the embassy, paid, and they would have emergency passports when he showed up with the family in a week. He said it’s highly recommended to have social security numbers of the children when traveling. It was not said, but implied to him that they would have some sort of emergency permission for the children to travel even without their social security numbers.
The next message was a few days later. He had passports in hand good for a year, but children’s passports were only good for a few days, just until a day after their flight back to the USA.
The last message was “back home”, and they had all made it safe and sound. Whew!
What a stressful hassle!! I’m sure you can all imagine. The US embassy in Panama City is here to help US citizens with anything they need, but outside of Panama City it isn’t always easy to get things done with them. I’ve never tried the emergency number but I know regular calls are only answered during certain limited hours on certain days.
So, I would say, have copies of all your IDs and documents somewhere, preferably on line where you can get to them from anywhere, just in case everything you carry is gone. This includes credit cards and phone numbers for banks, and phone numbers for emergency contact people. In this day of smart phones, how many of us can remember anyone’s phone number?! And, don’t have all your cash in one place or rely on only one credit card.
And, GUARD YOUR PASSPORT with your life!! I’ll be happy to listen to anyone else’s story about a lost passport, but even happier to know this hasn’t happened to anyone else.