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What to do if your passport or driver's license never arrives

What to do if your passport or driver's license never arrives
If your passport doesn't arrive, first you panic, then it's time to act. (hundreddays / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I’m not sure which is worse: knowing that you’ve lost your passport or driver’s license or knowing that someone else lost it for you.

I’m voting for the second. In the first case, you know whom to blame, you know most of the story (“I remember I had it out of my wallet when I checked into the hotel….”) and you have some hope of finding it by retracing your steps.

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But finding a passport or driver’s license that is lost somewhere between the originators of the document and your mailbox at your home is its own special kind of hell.

Here’s your anti-Hades guide to resolving a lost-in-transit passport or driver’s license.

Passport

The State Department website gives you the information you need to replace your passport if you can’t find it. (Did you look in the pocket of your carry-on? In your sock drawer?)

But what if it never arrived? This recently happened to a colleague. She and her family, including her school-age daughter, were planning to leave for Europe in six weeks.

Processing times to receive a passport are four to six weeks, State’s website said. To be sure her daughter’s passport arrived in time, she asked (and paid) for expedited service. Expedited service takes two to three weeks, the website said.

Her daughter’s expired passport and birth certificate, submitted as part of the application process, were returned in the second week. (The new passport doesn’t arrive in the same envelope.)

When she hadn’t received the passport by Day 2 of Week 4, she called the National Passport Information Center, (877) 487-2778, and was given a tracking number.

The tracking number indicated the passport had been delivered about three weeks ago.

“That’s when I panicked,” she said. She was told to send an urgent reissue request, and she did. (She also knew that, if time grew tighter, she could request an urgent appointment at the Los Angeles Passport Agency. A recent article by another colleague detailed a good outcome after he forgot to renew his daughter’s passport and realized it was 30 hours before takeoff.

On a hunch, she decided to check with a neighbor, whose address is one digit different from her own. The neighbor thumbed through her mail and voilà! There was the priority mail envelope with the document. Breathing again, she was able to cancel the urgent request.

I knew her trip had a happy ending, but my palms get sweaty over stuff like this so I asked the State Department what to do if the passport is lost in space. Here’s what I was told:

Step 1: Call the National Passport Information Center: (877) 487-2778 or (888) 874-7793 (TDD/TTY). For West Coasters, the hours are 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays; closed Sundays and holidays.

Step 2: Get the tracking number from the information center and ask for instructions on what to do in case of nonreceipt, not loss. Ask for the address of where you sent your original request. Ask for the date the document was issued. The reasons for this will become apparent.

Step 3: You’ll probably be told to complete form DS-86. It must be sent to the same place you sent your original application.

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Step 4: Go to the post office and get that form in the mail as quickly as possible.

The good news is that you don’t need proof that you didn’t receive your passport, because how do you prove a negative? You do need to do this within 90 days of the issuance of the original document.

The other bit of good news is that if the documentation you used also wasn’t returned (again, the 90-day rule applies), you will be reimbursed for the cost of replacing those documents (save your receipts); credit monitoring also will be included.

You will not be reimbursed for the wear and tear on your psyche.

Now, about that shiny new Real ID driver’s license….

Real ID

A reader reported that he applied for the license April 24. It never arrived.

Real ID, you will recall, is the federally compliant license that will allow you to board a domestic flight starting in October 2020. If your license is not compliant, you’ll have to use some other form of identification to get on a plane. (Here is a list of what can be used.)

Note that Real ID is good only for domestic travel; you will still need a passport for international travel.

California began issuing compliant licenses and identification cards this year. By the end of June, 796,000 had been issued since Jan. 22, the day Real ID applications were first accepted. By contrast, 3.2 million noncompliant licenses and ID cards were issued in that same period.

Why the discrepancy? People don’t understand the requirements, the Department of Motor Vehicles said in an email to me. I’m sure that’s part of it. The other part of it? You must go to the DMV to apply.

Our reader did that. According to the DMV, he will have to do so again.

Here are the steps to get a replacement license:

Step 1: Make an appointment if you can. You can do so through its online appointment center.

Step 2: Show up at the appointed time and apply for a “no-fee” replacement.

Step 3: Present a California residency document such as a mortgage statement, a tax return (federal or state) or a host of other documents.

If your address has changed and that’s why you didn’t get your license, you’ll need to fill out a DMV14 form, which is a change of address.

Real ID licenses take four to six weeks.

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Yes, it’s a slog; anything involving such agencies usually is. But the payoff is that once you have that passport, you’re free to go almost anywhere in the world. And the driver’s license? It will get you into federal facilities and military bases, and, beginning in October 2020, onto a domestic flight without need for more identification. You can sit back and relax now. The hard part is done.

Have a travel dilemma or question? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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