Passport safety when traveling: never hand over your passport!
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In preparation for our round the world trip next year I’ve been scouring the internet for the best stories, tips and tricks. As a future globetrotter, I love to read about different itineraries, cultures, foods and activities around the world. In my search for all this information I found there’s hardly anybody on the internet that seems to mention a topic I believe is very important; protecting your passport, and the data that’s on it, at all times while travelling! Many travelers don’t seem to realize the risks of improper passport safety while on the road. As a former compliance professional for a bank this surprises me a lot.
I read about travelers handing over their passports to hotel employees or tour operators for their entire stay or tour! Why?
Apparently because employees tell them they’re obliged by their (local) government or they’re just holding on to it as some kind of deposit to make sure travelers pay for everything at the end of their stay.
Well, I am here to tell you why you should never leave your passport at the desk of a hotel (or in the care of a tour operator) and what you can do to improve your passport safety when traveling.
These are my five reasons why I believe passport safety when traveling is very important:
1. Your passport is government owned
Many people don’t know this but your passport isn’t actually yours, it’s owned by your government. This means you are only allowed to hand it over to officials and institutions that are authorized to handle your passport. A hotel or tour operator definitely doesn’t fall into this category! Your passport contains a lot of sensitive information that could be misused when it falls into the wrong hands. Which brings me to my second point.
2. Greater risk of identity theft
The general rule is: the more personal information criminals have on you, the easier it is for them to “copy” your identity. And guess what? There’s loads of information on your passport. Therefore, if criminals get a hold of your passport it makes it a lot easier for them to commit identity fraud.
So, although the receptionist at your hotel might seem like the nicest person in the world, you don’t know his or her true intentions (or the intentions of the other employees who will also have access to your passport if you hand it over). The hotel employees might even have the best intentions, but if there’s a break-in at your hotel and criminals steal your passport you have a big problem all the same. This brings me to my next issue.
3. Weak security at hotels
Security at hotels is usually not that good (especially at the cheaper places). I’ve read about hotels keeping passports (or copies of passports) in unlocked drawers behind the check-in desk, easily accessible by others. Incorrect storage of your sensitive data can put you at great risk.
4. Authorities may ask for your passport when you’re traveling abroad
You need your passport so that you can identify yourself while travelling. For example, when you’re involved in an accident or get pulled over by the police for speeding, you need to be able to identify yourself. Usually, as a foreigner, showing your drivers’ license isn’t going to cut it. They also need to see your passport as it’s your official document for identification. So if you don’t have it on you anything can happen; from letting you off the hook to taking you to the police station. You don’t want the last one!
When we were in Cuba I once missed a stop sign at a railroad crossing. Suddenly a policeman on a motorcycle came out of nowhere and pulled me over. He started shouting at me in Spanish that I missed the stop sign and demanded to see my papers. It was quite intimidating and my heart was hammering in my chest. I showed him the papers of the rental car, my drivers’ license and my passport. He looked at everything while still shouting at me and then handed the papers back to me. Without saying another word, he got on his bike and drove off.
Phew!! I don’t like to think what would have happened if I had left my passport at the hostel!
5. Hotels don’t need your passport
Hotels in many countries are obliged to keep a register of the guests that are staying with them. Fair enough, right? The thing is that they only need some of the information that is on your passport, such as name, date of birth and nationality (depending on the specific rules in the country). Hotel employees sometimes believe it to be more convenient for you, as a guest, to just take a copy of your passport and process the information later. That way you don’t have to wait at the check-in desk for them to finish the process. Downside to them copying your passport is that they have more information than they actually need. And like I already said; the more personal information someone has of you, the easier it is to commit identity fraud.
Passport safety guidelines: What to do when you’re asked to hand over your passport?
I can hear you thinking: “OK, you kind of spooked me! What can I do about it?” Well, there are some steps you can take to prevent hotel employees or tour guides from getting more personal information than they actually need.
1. Ask them what they need
Just ask the employee what information they need to register and write it down for them. Let them verify the information by comparing it to your passport.
2. Provide your own copy of your passport
I always take some copies of my passport with me when travelling. I block out the most sensitive information like my citizen service number (Dutch equivalent of the social security number). This way I control the amount of information they receive. Tip: ask them to make a copy of your copy, so that you can save your copy for your next stay in a different hotel (or else you’ll be running out of copies real fast!).
3. Propose a different deposit
Some hotels (especially in Asia) ask to hold on to your passport during your stay. According to them, this is to make sure that you don’t leave before paying. If this is the case, just propose to pay your entire stay in advance or leave a cash deposit at the desk.
4. Tell them you’ll look for another hotel
If you’ve tried all of the above and they still insist they need your passport, politely tell them that you don’t agree with their terms and conditions and that you’ll find another hotel. In my experience, they’ll usually cave and register the necessary information on your terms (or take a different deposit). If not, then actually do find another hotel.
I can imagine that for some travelers it might feel a bit scary to stand firm, especially when there’s a long line of other travelers behind you waiting to check in. But remember that passport safety is very important!
Here’s some final advice to make the process as smooth as possible:
- When you book in advance, ask the hotel about their terms and conditions concerning handling your passport.
- Always be nice and patient with hotel employees. Remember they’re just doing their jobs as instructed. Carefully explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing usually accomplishes a lot more than getting angry.
I hope I didn’t scare you with this post. The goal was to make you aware of passport safety and the risks you take when handing over your passport. I hope it helped!
How do you handle your passport when travelling? Please share your experiences and opinions in the comments below.
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Hi, my name is Geert and I’m traveling the world together with my wife Sandra. I like photography, cooking and eating good food, and exploring the outdoors.