I have hardly told anyone that I have been to Seattle; as I hate to think about my passport loss experience. Seven years have passed, and I finally feel the need to document what really happened.
At that time, I was on a student visa in the USA, and I was in the process of finishing my degree program in Hawaii.
After I lost my passport, many people suggested that carry the most important valuables with me instead of putting them away at my accommodations. I am not comfortable carrying my passport when I walk around cities, but I can tell you that losing my passport abroad is the most troubling and annoying thing that ever happened to me. It is really an extremely difficult situation to deal with when it strikes you.
I am not the only person to have been in this situation. Before this incident happened, a friend who was traveling around Europe and lost her passport in Greece. Another Chinese friend of mine studying in the USA went on a road trip to Montreal and lost his passport too. He managed to legally re-enter the USA. In any case, you should always keep a copy of your passport with you and put it in a separate place. If you forget to backup your travel documents, at least memorize the number of your passport. In an extreme case, if you must go through an international border without your passport, remembering your passport number will save you lots of trouble.
So how did I lose my passport?
It was a normal travel day. I arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport at around 9a.m from Hawaii, on a 5-hour red-eye flight. I think that during my first solo travel, someone decided that I needed to learn how to protect my valuables the hard way. I arrived at the hotel at around 10am and was told that the check in time was five hours later. I followed the advice given at the front desk and left my backpack with my passport, debit card, and laptop in the storage room. I remember being a bit suspicious when I entered the storage room. There was little light in the room. There was old furniture, wires, abandoned clothes, and papers on the floor. The receptionist told me that that was where guests stored their luggage. I assumed that was a common practice in the hotel, so I was not very worried. That was my first morning in Seattle and I could not wait to head out and explore. I left my backpack in the storage room and headed out to the West Lake.
After a long day’s walk around the city center, I returned to my hotel around 8p.m. I checked in at the front desk and asked to retrieve my backpack. I was led to the storage room only to find that my backpack was not there anymore. The receptionist informed me that after I left that morning, one of their drivers went to the storage room to work on something. It was possible that my backpack had been moved to another location. I was asked to wait till the next morning when he returned to work so I could ask him.
At that time, I did not know that I would never find my backpack. I went to my room and put my head down on the soft pillow.
The next morning I went to the front desk and met the driver. He seemed to have no idea of what I was talking about. He took me to the storage room to check again. We spent the morning searching for my backpack everywhere at the hotel to see if it had been. Unfortunately, there was no trace of my belongings.
In all the confusion, an employee told me that there was another guest who had gone into the storage room and picked up his belonging on the same day. It was possible that he took my backpack intentionally, as the receptionist described him a bit “fishy”. I remember there was indeed a man sitting on the couch when I first walked into the hotel, but I had not paid any attention to him. I was very naive for not having been aware of my surroundings.
When we finally knew there was no way that my bag could have been at the hotel, I was asked to file two reports: an incident report at the hotel and a police report at the police station. Luckily, I had a backup credit card, my driver’s license and some spare change with me. The hotel manager contacted the insurance company and scheduled an appointment with us to discuss the reimbursement. The receptionist offered to upgrade my room for free. I refused, as all I cared about was finding my passport and the rest of the things in my bag. Once the reports were done, I rode the subway to the West Lake Station and walked around the waterfront for hours. I’ve read that if you look at the ocean for 20-minutes it can transform any mood into peacefulness. However, by the end of the day, I still felt annoyed and had no idea what I was going to do next.
The most frustrating part is that I was on a student visa and needed to apply for a work permit in the summer to get full-time employment after graduation. There was a certain time period within which I needed to submit the copy of the passport documents (forgot if the original documents are required), as part of my application. Considering the length of time it would take to reapply for everything, there was no window of opportunity left for me to apply for a work permit.
The process of dealing with my lost passport and the backpack
The first thing I did was to postpone my return trip to Hawaii. My original plan was to have stayed in Seattle for four days. I went to the airport and rescheduled my flight for a week later. The next day I got my police report.
Immediately afterward, I called the Bank of Hawaii to block my lost debit card. That was the next hurdle. After a few questions, the staff told me that they could not freeze my debit card. As my card had been had stolen, they were not able to verify if I was the card holder or not. They needed me to report to the bank in person. I burst into a tirade and started to speak in high volume. It seems that sometimes displaying a little temper does help. In less than a minute, my card got canceled.
I then called the Chinese Embassy in L.A. and was told that, in order to get a replaced passport, I needed to hand in the application in person. There was no way to talk my way out of this one. As you may know, from Hawaii to L.A is another five-hour one-way flight.
The next day, I met with the insurance company. By using some weird mathematical calculation and accounting formula, I was told that I would not receive any reimbursement. Here I was, all alone in Seattle, battling with emotions and ugly bureaucracy.
At that time, I was still at school and in the middle of the semester. I had vision of not finishing school assignments and the internship became the least of my worries.
The first thing I did when I returned to Hawaii was to report to the international student office and see if there was a way to get my work permit without enough documents. The international student office director advises me to apply for the work permit and the rest of the documents together. I was told to submit the copy of my police report, passport, I-94 application confirmation, the student visa, and the police report to Immigration USA for my work permit application. I also wrote a letter of explanation to the immigration office explaining the reasons why I have missing documents and I-94. Thankfully, it worked. After two month few months, I received my new I-94 form and the work permit.
I was relieved to hear that I could still stay in the USA. Although my passport and the entry documents were lost, they had not jeopardized my student visa status. The immigration office was able to track my records on their computer system so I no longer worried that much.
The reimbursement process was the most time-consuming and frustration process. The insurance company insisted on not paying me anything; I called them twice a day for two months and, in every phone conversation, I stood my ground. In the end, they gave in and decided to pay me $826.00 as final settlement.
In July, I flew to L.A and got my passport issue sorted out. I was taking classes that summer, but I decided to spare a few days to explore the city. I am glad that I met so many kind people in L.A and we watched a soccer game, explored Universal Studio and went to Santa Monica beach together. I also met several old friends.
I also have become quite well-known within the international student community, as I kept showing up at the international student office for my passport issues. I remember walking on campus one afternoon while another international student passed by. He looked at me and turned back as if he knew me, “Hey, are you the one who lost your passport? I saw you at the international student office”, he said.
Well, all this happened in the summer of 2009. I lost my passport, and my student visa and I-94 along with it. I lost my bank card. I lost my favorite laptop. Seven years later, I sat in my Toronto home to type up this story. I have a passport that has been used for seven years, a laptop, and bank card. I did learn that losing your passport is not the end of the world. You just have to deal with it, learn your lesson, and come out stronger than ever. Regardless, I hope that none of you will ever experience that terrifying situation.
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