Lifelines for the lost

Move quickly on missing passports, writes Ben Stubbs.

The loss of a passport or credit card on an overseas trip can be a nightmare for travellers. Recovery will be much easier if you always make sure you have photocopies of both items stored separately in your luggage and with someone at home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises travellers in this predicament to find the nearest Australian consulate. From here it is possible to report a missing passport or use the website to find out whether it has been handed in somewhere.

The department reported 34,788 passports lost or missing during the past financial year. This is only a small percentage of the 10 million Australian passports in circulation, and the more information you can provide a consulate, the quicker a new document can be issued.

If immediate travel is required, emergency passports can be issued temporarily, avoiding the application fee and waiting period. Keep in mind that the passport must be sent from the printing houses in Canberra, London or Washington to wherever you need it.

A Sydney traveller, Sally Edsall, was robbed while on holiday in Pisa, Italy. The strap of her bag, which she was wearing across her body for safety, was cut from behind and the bag snatched - all in a matter of seconds.

"I lost absolutely everything - cards, passport, money," Edsall says. "The next few hours were crucial, as I knew I had to report the theft to the police straight away and then get in touch with the Australian consulate in Rome to get an emergency passport. I had taken out Secure Sentinel cover on my Teachers Credit Union Visa debit card and as soon as I contacted them, my card was cancelled. A replacement card was then sent to an address in England, where I was travelling to next."

Guide books suggest using dummy wallets and hiding US currency and traveller's cheques as alternatives to a credit card. In the case of loss or theft of your only card, the department also recommends contacting the nearest Australian embassy to work out a solution.

Commonwealth Bank's executive general manager of retail products, Michael Cant, says the bank's Travel Money Card is a safe alternative. It's an all-purpose card that allows travellers to load up to six currencies at fixed exchange rates for use anywhere that MasterCard is accepted. It can be recharged up to $25,000 using Bpay, telephone or the internet.

"It's highly secure, with funds protected by a PIN and MasterCard's zero liability, which means you won't be liable for an unauthorised transaction," Cant says. "If a card is lost or stolen, call the 24/7 customer-service line and you can continue to safely use your back-up card, issued on purchase.

"If both cards are lost or stolen, an emergency cash advance can be arranged to you anywhere in the world via the MasterCard network."

Another precaution suggested by Cant is a PIN-protected credit card.

All banks advise people to inform their financial institution of travel plans so they can more easily identify unauthorised transactions.

Western Union is another reliable option to receive funds quickly. Money can be sent from home by phone or internet to any of its 345,000 offices in more than 200 countries to ensure travellers can be back on the road quickly.