Damaged Passport, Send Back or Keep?

Damaged passport, send back or keep?
Photo by Tony Webster

You took a spill into a river while hiking in the mountains along the Colombian coast. Aside from a little knee scrape and recurring jokes from your travel buddies, you’re all good. However, when you slipped, your backpack came with you and in your backpack was your passport. The water damaged the “book cover” and even got to your personal information page. However, almost everything is still easily legible. Now what? Damaged passport, send back or keep?

Unfortunately, you’re in a bad spot. Damage to the book cover or to the personal information page are automatic qualifiers for a new passport. The State Department has fairly strict rules when it comes to this and significant damage will likely lead to delays at border crossings.

Water damage, significant tears, unofficial markings on the personal information page, missing pages and hole punches are mentioned on the State Department’s page as “significant damage”.

So what do you do if your passport is damaged? You have to submit the following in person at a passport agency:

  • The damaged passport
  • A signed statement describing the state of the passport.
  • A DS-11 form
  • All forms required by the DS-11, including proof of citizenship

If you’re stuck in a foreign country with a seriously damaged passport, you will have to make a trip to the U.S. embassy or consulate and apply for a new passport.

So be careful with your passport! Maybe keep it in a watertight bag next time, because this is one travel disaster in which the rules rarely bend.

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