Written and Edited by: Marrista K. Stubbs
Hi everyone! Last October/November (2019) Commenna and I took a trip to Osaka, Japan for my birthday. On our return trip home we had a layover in China. This is the story of how a 20-hour layover turned into a week in China. I want to share my experience and hope this will help you if you ever lose your passport abroad. Share any questions, comments, or additional tips down in the comments section. Safe travels!
“I don’t have my passport.” A sentence I never thought I would say. I franticly searched my pockets just in case I hadn’t felt it, but with a heavy heart, I accepted that I had lost it. Don’t carry your passport in your pocket. Obvious, I know, but I was nervous about being stopped by the police. So, I didn’t put it in my backpack. I asked Commenna to wait by a shop as I turned to retrace our steps down a dark alley in Xiamen.
Stay calm. I can’t tell you how awful it feels to lose your passport, but I had to stay calm and positive. It was already past midnight and I was tired after our late flight from Osaka. We were on a 20-hour layover heading back to L.A. Commenna and I had decided to walk to a hotel not far from the airport. We’d come with two other friends and, as I made a wrong turn in my search, I’d wished that we’d taken a taxi with them instead. I searched every corner of the streets with my cellphone’s flashlight, but my passport was nowhere on the dark path. “Did someone pick it up already?” I wondered as I made my way back to Commenna.
I let her know that I couldn’t find it and we kept walking to the hotel. When we got inside the man at the desk only said one word. Passport. My stomach dropped as I reached into my backpack. I still had my MMC from my cruise ship days, so we both took that out instead. I gave a sigh of relief as he accepted the ID and wrote the room number down with the key. I was happy to be off the street but still worried about if I would get home the next day. Stay in the free hotel. If you’ve got a less than 24-hour layover at Xiamen airport, then there is a hotel you can stay at for free. Just talk to the customer service or information desks. It’s no five-star resort, but it’s better than sleeping in the airport.
Make sure you have a way to call home! The next morning I called my parents to let them know the situation. Getting a SIM card or portable Wi-Fi will allow you to make calls overseas and be sure you have a way to communicate for emergencies like this. After checking the streets again, I checked out of the hotel and began the hot walk back to the airport. All I could think of was what would happen if I missed my flight. Check the airport lost and found. There’s always a chance someone turned it in.
I wasn’t so lucky and I ended up having to file a police report at the airport. At this point, Commenna had to get on our flight home and I was on my own. After filing my report I was instructed to go to the immigration office to receive papers giving me the OK to travel in the country sans passport. Everyone at the airport was very kind and wrote instructions for the taxi drivers since I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone. It’s smart to have a portable translator. Buying a translator that works without Wi-Fi would have been a great help during this time. If something like that is out of your budget, even downloading Google translate to your phone would be a big help.
30 minutes and 40RMB after being ushered into a taxi; I arrived at the immigration office. Like any government office building, I took a number and waited while filling out my forms. After explaining my situation to the immigration agent she took my paperwork and told me I would have to come back tomorrow at 3 p.m. to speak with someone and fill out another set of papers. What I was hoping would be a quick fix was turning into an unplanned trip to China. I was nervous to make my way to the hotel again by myself, so I headed back to the airport and stayed there until I had to head back to immigration. Carry a little cash. While a lot of restaurants and shops take cards, cash is better for hotels, taxi rides, and government buildings. Sometimes drivers would try to charge me more than the displayed price on the meter or they couldn’t take a card.
I made good use of my time at the airport and searched for what my next steps to get home would be. Call the consulate, no matter what time it is. Finding the nearest consulate and letting them know your situation is imperative. The US consulate has a late night number you can call. The agent sent a report to be reviewed in the morning and gave me contact information so I could reach out for myself. Getting home was a lot easier and I had support for my entire stay in China. On this phone call, I also learned that the consulate was in Guangzhou, a 7-hour train ride from Xiamen. That was the first time I cried.
The next day I made my way to immigration again to get my final travel papers. Carry multiple forms of ID. From your passport number to your state/driver’s ID and social security card, it’s important to always have an ID on you. Take pictures as well so that if you lose them you still know your information. After receiving my clearance to travel, it was time to figure out how I was getting to Guangzhou. Luckily, two women from the consulate had gotten back to me and began giving me directions and instructions on how to catch the trains. They were even able to find a place for me to sleep and stayed in contact after the consulate closed to make sure I got there!
The next day I woke up excited. It was Friday and I was excited to go home before they closed for the weekend. Or so I thought. Make sure you have an emergency fund. This is a great life tip in general, but an emergency fund will help to cover all these unexpected costs. All the taxis, hotel stays, and food took a toll on my wallet. Add that on to the fact that you have to pay for your travel papers, exit visa, replacement passport, and plane ticket home…you could be in real trouble if you’re not prepared.
I found my way to the consulate and finally got to meet Carrie and Vaness, the women who’d been helping me through this trouble. They were very kind and patient and the best example of who you want on your side. They helped me with the temporary passport process that I thought would be the final step on my way home but hit me with some bad news. I had to visit the immigration office in Guangzhou now to actually get my exit visa. Not only that but since it was Friday and they closed for the weekend, I might have to spend the next 3 to 7 days waiting for the paperwork to go through. I rushed to immigration and made it in before they closed, but not fast enough. I was told that it would be pushed through, but I would have to wait out the weekend to get it on Monday.
Cue breakdown number 2. The next 2 days were spent in my hotel room trying not to be negative, seeking support from family, and finding something that fit my vegan diet. Download apps for dietary restrictions. An app called Happy Cow was my best friend while I was in Asia. This app specifically gives a list of completely vegan/vegetarian or veg-friendly stores and restaurants in the area. Happy Cow, of course, isn’t the only app out there. Be sure to do your research so that you’re not stuck eating French fries all day or surviving off of water and meditation while you’re stuck overseas.
When it was finally time to pick up my exit visa before heading to the airport on Monday, I found out that I couldn’t pay for it with cash. Get WeChat to pay for services. Unless you have a Chinese bank account, your ONLY option to pay for your exit visa is with WeChat. This is a popular app in Asia, but I didn’t have it. When this happens they tell you to ask around until someone will agree to pay for you and you give them cash in exchange. I have social anxiety and this was an extremely difficult task. It was made even harder because no one wanted to help or they couldn’t understand me. Finally, though, I was able to convince a Chinese woman waiting there to help me out.
I was finally in the last taxi I would need to take and on my way to the airport. However, being in the home stretch doesn’t mean you should relax too much. Temporary visas don’t look exactly the same as a traditional visa. This means that, just like me, you may be held at one of the checkpoints in the airport while they verify your visa. Just be patient and you’ll be through and on the way to the gate in no time.
Please friends, if you ever find yourself without a passport I hope you can learn from my experience. Don’t panic, be prepared, and everything will be alright. Stay tuned for more quality travel content and stay safe out there, Squares.