Let me paint the picture - we had just landed in to Chicago after an early flight from Paris with our 4 kids. Jet lagged and tired from the trip, we cleared customs at Chicago O'Hare and got on the Blue Line toward downtown. Our plan was to get to our hotel, check in, freshen up and go get some Chicago deep dish pizza at our favorite place - Peaquod's Pizza. Although tired, we were excited for an evening of fun and kicking off our trip. We were going to be in the US for 2 weeks for a wedding and the holidays.
As we neared our stop (Clark and Lake), we gathered our things (lots of luggage, backpacks, etc) to make sure we can make a smooth exit off the train. Our youngest daughter was crying and it was a little chaotic as you can imagine. Once the train pulled into the 'Clark and Lake' stop, these 2 men pulled the emergency door release to create a distraction. They acted as if the door was having issues opening and they were helping. All eyes were on this door opening and closing and simultaneously one of the men unzipped my wife's backpack and took out our passport wallet. We unknowingly left the train and realized it as the train pulled out.
Here is what was in the passport wallet:
- 6 US passports
- 6 BRP Cards (sort of like a Green Card for the UK - very important!)
Here's where it gets interesting....
We luckily did NOT have any cash or credit cards in the passport wallet. We spoke with a police officer who was at the station and let us know that this particular train station, the Chicago Blue Line 'Clark and Lake' stop is the MOST frequently pick-pocked station in the city. He said most likely, if there are no credit cards or cash, the men would just throw it out in the trash or leave it on the train and advised to go to the police precinct and file a report.
We checked into our hotel and my night was just beginning. I walked 1.2 miles from our hotel (Marriott near Hubbard and Dearborn) to the nearest police precinct. In typical Chicago fashion, there was little urgency to open this police report, but finally the police officer filed the paperwork and provided a receipt.
I called the US State Department to ask about the process (see below for a summary of what to do immediately). There is a form to fill out called a Form DS-64 which will designate your passport as lost or stolen and immediately de-activate it. When I was on the phone, they asked if they'd like me to proceed with this via the phone. I told the lady to give it 12 hours just in case we had a miracle and someone would turn it in. This turned out to be a critical decision for us.
After that phone call, I started to get anxious about all of the money I'd have to pay to expedite 6 passports as well as the UK BRP cards. There was no pizza and fun for that evening - I was tallying up all the costs and places we'd have to go in the morning: passport agency for our new applications (which would cost a fortune) and the British Consulate for our UK immigration cards (BRP cards). This was going to be expensive and a major pain to do with 4 jet lagged kids and would take a long time. I went to bed and literally dreamt of all of this.
We woke around 3:30 am (which was 9:30 am UK time) and I checked my phone for a miracle...and saw this email!
I was never so excited to get an email! We didn't celebrate yet, who knows if everything was in there. I quickly put on my coat and walked down State Street to the location in the email and sure enough....everything was in there! I couldn't believe it. It truly as a Christmas miracle!
When I got back to the hotel, we all did a little dance in the hotel room and decided we were going to 'pay it forward' and help someone in need. We ended up doing this that evening and enjoyed a great day in Chicago.
What did we learn from all of this?
- Do NOT let your guard down when you are travelling - even if jet lagged, the kids are crying, etc.
- Do NOT keep your passport wallet in a backpack! Put it somewhere away from easy access
- Be vigilant - keep your eye on your surroundings
- Get travel insurance! Believe it or not, we never do this. Going forward, we'll be doing this to cover costs if this ever happens again.
Here's a summary of what to do if you lose a US Passport:
- File a police report - get the report which contains a number needed when you go to the consulate, passport agency, or embassy
- Call the US State Department at +1-877-487-2778 immediately. The website is here
- If you know that there is zero chance of getting your passport back in the next 24 hours, you need to fill out Form DS-64 which can be found online here and they can submit the form for you via phone at the number above
- Start your applications for your new passports - this will all be discussed as part of the process once you complete the DS-64 form and report as stolen