Indian Passport Lost / Stolen in San Francisco, California, USA

This article recounts my experience of having Indian passports stolen in San Francisco on a tourist trip and my hope is to give you useful information to get your new passports done quickly if you find yourself in a similar situation. My experience specifically relates to San Francisco CA, but I would imagine the process to be similar in any other State. This info was relevant as of October 2019, so I can’t be sure about any process changes that happened since.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in a bad situation mentally. If you do everything correctly and quickly, you can get a new passport in 1 business day (assuming you start very early in the day and have all your docs prepared the previous night).

My parents came out to the West Coast from India for a tourist trip. I flew over from NYC to show them around. They were due to fly out of San Francisco on Oct 5, 2019 to get back to Mumbai. On our way to the airport, we stopped for breakfast at a nice diner where our rental car was broken into and 3 bags stolen. This was in broad daylight in the parking lot of an upscale Four Seasons with a security guard present. Needless to say, this was an excruciatingly testing experience, not to mention very expensive as well. This happened on a Saturday morning, but we had new passports by the following Monday 5pm.

Step 1. I say this with kindness and compassion: You need to calm down. You need to resign yourself to the fact that this is going to cost you at least $300 to several thousands of dollars and a lot of running around. You are going to have to revise your schedule for the next few days. After the initial shock, anger and rage has passed, you have a choice to continue ranting and raving and directing your anger at the world and be useless, or to swing into action and be a source of calmness and actually resolve things. The results will be the same either way (you ARE going to get a new passport), but it’s up to you to use this as a character-building exercise and conduct yourself with dignity in the face of hardship. Shit happens. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Set an example for your future self and your traveling companions on how to act under distress. Let’s get started.

Some of the initial steps can be done in any order. If you have people who can help you, then divide and conquer. Here’s the outline and my suggested sequence, and details will follow:

· File a police report.

· Take care of your immediate hotel needs, car rental, flight rebookings, etc. (if applicable), because this is going to take a day or two or more.

· Gather copies of your Indian documents like lost passport, Aadhar card, PAN card, US visa page etc.

· Print out partial set of docs (list below).

· Get two 2inch X 2inch photographs from Walgreens/CVS/etc.

· Get cash from an ATM for money order. This is approx. $300 per applicant.

· If you’re just visiting San Francisco, make a real/fake hotel booking for local address proof (details below).

· Visit the Indian consulate to get Tatkaal approval.

· Visit the Cox and Kings passport service center (no appointment needed for Tatkaal). Consult about website bug, fill out an online application form, get a money order from 7-Eleven, print out remaining docs, submit all paperwork.

· Visit the Indian consulate again, get them to print your new passport.

Here’s an optimistic timeline, which happened to be my case:

Prep Day: Police report, gather most docs, hotels flights etc. Get photos done, print out whatever you can, get cash.

Action Day: 9AM — 11AM, get Tatkaal approval from the Indian Consulate. 11AM — 2PM, get all paperwork done at Cox and Kings. Afternoon, chill. 4:15PM — 5PM, visit the Indian Consulate again to collect new passport.

Police Report

If your passport was merely lost and not stolen, I don’t quite know if this is applicable to you. When you get to the Indian consulate (details below), they’ll probably get you to fill out some sort of affidavit in that case (I think). If your passport was damaged, you obviously don’t need a police report.

However, if your passport was stolen, you do need to file a police report. In my case, a police patrol car happened to pass by the parking lot where the theft happened and I just flagged them down. If you don’t see any police around, you’ll need to go to the nearest police station. Someone told me they were made to wait several hours at the police station before an officer was available to talk to them, so I think I got really lucky. Remember to give the officer a comprehensive list of everything you lost (mention the passport!) as this may come useful if you intend to file an insurance claim with your credit card later. The officer will get lots of details from you and give you a Case Number. This is extremely important. You need this. It may look like a small business card on which there’s an official logo of the Police Department, the police officer’s name and Case Number. Don’t leave without this. The actual police report can be obtained in a few weeks (you don’t need that for your new passport process). It took me several emails and phone calls to receive the final police report by email after 6 weeks, but like I said, this is not needed immediately. If you’re not planning on filing any insurance claim anywhere, you don’t need to bother collecting the final police report.

Hotels, Car Rentals, Flight etc.

This may or may not be applicable to you. My parents’ flight was on the same day as the theft occurred, so we had to reschedule everything — get new hotels, get a new car rental, new flights etc. Don’t waste a lot of time looking for the best deals. Just get it over with. But whatever you do, keep in mind that you may get partly reimbursed by your credit card via Trip Interruption insurance, so put some thought into which credit cards you use for all this. I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card which was used for the original and revised tickets and they would have reimbursed via their insurance policy for the unexpected hotels, car rental and flights, but the problem was that I wasn’t travelling with my parents that day. The card owner has to travel and the original and revised tickets (including tickets for travel companions) must be purchased using that card, if any claims are to be filed.

Deciding on when to reschedule your flight (if applicable) can be confusing. I needed 1 day to gather everything in order and 1 business day to apply for and receive the new passports. I’m not saying that you should therefore reschedule your flight for after 2 days. I’m simply relaying my own experience with regards to timeline. Your mileage may vary.

Gather Preliminary Documents

Get your friends/family in India to send you scanned copies (or good pictures) by email of your lost passport, US visa page, Aadhar card and PAN card. If you didn’t already have a copy of the first and last page of your lost passport, I’m sure the Consulate will have some way out for you, but this changes the timeline and may add extra steps that I’m unaware of. In my case, my very efficient brother back in India had copies of everything sent in an hour.

You don’t need to notarize any documents either in India or in the US. Self-attest all docs.

Here’s some documents you could print out before you start, and some you’ll need to print out later:

For Indian Consulate:

· Lost passport copy, first and last page (ask the Consulate for help if you didn’t make copies beforehand).

· US Visa from lost passport (ask the Consulate if you don’t have this). F1/H1B etc if applicable.

· Original flight tickets.

· New flight tickets (if applicable).

· I-94 (details below).

· Letter to consulate for Tatkaal processing (sample below).

· Aadhar card

· PAN card

· Police report Case Number

For Cox and Kings passport service center:

· Lost passport copy, first and last page (ask the Consulate for help if you didn’t make copies beforehand).

· US Visa from lost passport (ask the Consulate if you don’t have this). F1/H1B etc if applicable.

· Original flight tickets.

· New flight tickets (if applicable).

· I-94 (details below).

· Aadhar card

· PAN card

· Police report Case Number

· Hotel booking confirmation in San Francisco (they need proof of address in San Francisco, more details below). If you stay in SF on a non-tourist visa, then they’ll probably need some kind of address proof.

· Tatkaal approval email from the Consulate.

· Print Later: Passport application form and other forms in Cox and Kings checklist (explained below).

Visit the Indian Consulate to Get Approval for Tatkaal Processing

The Consulate is located at 540 Arguello. Monday to Friday. https://www.cgisf.gov.in/. Don’t expect to find much info on their website. I think they stop seeing visitors quite early (maybe noon?).

Note that you are not eligible for an Emergency Certificate in this situation. I wasted a huge amount of time researching this, but a stolen passport doesn’t cut it.

You need to decide depending on your situation whether you need a Tatkaal passport (1 day, $300-ish) or a regular passport (several days, $170-ish). I’m unsure how many days it takes for a regular passport (the website says 4 weeks). I chose Tatkaal because my parents had to fly back asap.

As soon as things settled down a bit after the theft, I called the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. This being a Saturday, there was no response at the emergency number so I left a voice message explaining my situation calmly. I received a call back in 30 mins. The officer was patient and respectful, but assessed my situation as not constituting an emergency for a Saturday. As sad as it sounds, the reality in San Francisco is that crime runs rampant and such thefts are a common daily issue for the Indian Consulate, so they don’t consider this an emergency. I was told to visit the Consulate Monday morning. It was frustrating that he wouldn’t give me a timeline on when I could expect to receive new passports (which cost me a couple of thousand dollars extra in extended hotels and flights). I guess I understand. They have to be indifferent to your suffering and not answer questions like that without seeing the paperwork.

The Consulate will do a few things. If you don’t have copies of your lost passport, they’ll probably try to retrieve it for you, I hope. You’ll need this because the official application form asks for a lot of details from your lost passport. Next, they’ll grant you approval for a Tatkaal application. They do not handle any paperwork for the actual passport application (you’ll need to go to Cox and Kings service center, see below). And they do the actual printout of the new passport once Cox and Kings completes your processing.

If possible, try to get to the Consulate 30 mins before it opens, because that’s when people start queuing up. There may be parking lots nearby, but I managed to find street parking quite easily early morning. You’ll be here for an hour or so (if you have the docs mentioned below), so be careful about parking tickets. If you come in the afternoon, they may look closed, but they do respond to the doorbell. I found some Consulate staff to be curt and others quite courteous and helpful. You’ll be guided on which window to approach. Calmly explain your situation, don’t be dramatic, don’t misdirect your anger, and remember they’re human and want to help people in need, like anybody else. You’ll be asked to provide (1) an application letter for a new Tatkaal passport explaining what happened in brief (just write 4–5 sentences, there’s no standard format), (2) a copy of your lost passport, (3) your most recent I-94 (entry record into the US https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/), (4) copy of the police report Case Number (not the report itself, which you won’t receive for several weeks), and (5) copy of original and new flight tickets if applicable. Do this separately for each person in your group.

I suspect that if they don’t think your case warrants a Tatkaal approval, they may ask that you apply under Regular processing. This may be the case if your departure flight is well into the future. I showed them my new flight tickets which were for 2 days later, and they didn’t seem to make any fuss about issuing a Tatkaal approval.

There’s a computer and printer there to use free of cost. You’ll probably get shouted at if you hog this. Preferably, you should have printed out everything beforehand to avoid losing your spot in the queue.

Sample application letter:

[Date]

[Your name and address]

CONSULATE GENERAL OF INDIA

540 ARGUELLO, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94118

USA

RE: Request to issue new passport under Tatkaal due to lost passport

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a citizen of India, currently in the USA on a tourist visa with my spouse. On October 5, 2019, we were victims of a robbery in which our bags were stolen from us. My passport was in the bag and as a result, it was lost as well.

The robbery happened in Emeryville, CA, at around 9:15AM. A police case # XXXX-XXXX has been registered with the Emeryville CA police station. At this time, however, we have been informed that a formal report can only be available after about October 21, 2019.

My lost passport details are:

Passport #: XXXXXX

From 31/05/2013 to 30/05/2023

File No: XXXX

Issued in: XXXX

We are stranded here in the USA and unable to return to India. I have an urgent need to resume my professional practice in India. I have several professional engagements scheduled after my immediate arrival in India that will result in severe business loss if I am unable to meet them. Our unexpected stay here is also causing us financial hardship.

I would like to request you to please issue a Tatkaal passport.

Regards,

[Your signature and name]

At this point, the Consulate officer will send an email to the Cox and Kings processing center, relaying that Tatkaal approval has been granted for this case. The officer will give you a printout of this sent email. You’ll need this. If they don’t give you this, at least get them to tell you who they sent it to and the timestamp. Tell them you’ll be getting all the paperwork done the same day at Cox and Kings and request them to process your passport asap. The actual printing of the new passport happens at the Consulate, so you’ll need to come back here again around 4:15pm. This can be confusing. Under normal circumstances, the passport is then sent back to Cox and Kings for you to pickup, but this adds 1–2 extra days, so make sure there’s no confusion on their part that they need to withhold the passport and that you’ll collect it from them directly. Politely get some sort of commitment from them that they’ll do it asap. I found them quite relaxed, unflustered and helpful. Be nice.

Cox and Kings Passport Processing Center

This is at 225 Bush Street, San Francisco. Their application process is not difficult to follow:

https://passport.in.ckgs.us/howtoapply

You do not need to make an appointment if applying under Tatkaal. If you’re driving, do yourself a favor and find a parking lot — don’t park on the streets, you don’t want a ticket on top of all this.

Be prepared to make a few trips in and out of this place. You’ll receive a new token number everytime. You need a separate token number for every applicant. There are 3–4 computers for public use for free and printouts are $1 per page. It may make sense to use their computer for your application, and then put everything on a pendrive and take it across the street to UPS for cheaper printing.

There’s a bug on their website. Do this the night before, so you’ll know what to ask. Start an application on their website. You’ll notice that for “Type of Application” there’s Normal and Tatkal. If you choose Tatkal, then for the next question of “Choose Your Passport Service” you’ll notice that the “New Passport In Lieu of Lost” is not available to choose. This is a bug. This option is available if you choose Normal, but that doesn’t apply to you if indeed you are applying under Tatkal. You can’t select a wrong choice simply to proceed, because they’re very strict about this. So point this out to them and see what they have to say. In my case, I proceeded to fill out the form choosing Tatkal and then choosing “None of the Above” for service. Later, the woman then had to change my application in the system after the fact, which she didn’t like at all. Trust me, you’ll save a lot of return trips if you get this sorted out first before you begin your application.

Also, at this point, ask her what the exact fee for Tatkaal is. There’s a few 7-Elevens in the neighborhood where you can buy a Money Order for $4 or so for cash only (ATM also available for a fee). They’ll need to know the exact amount, and they’ll give you a blank Money Order for that amount where you can yourself write-in the payee info (found on the Cox and King checklist when you start your online application). At this point, if you haven’t made out your photos yet, there’s a Walgreens nearby. You may choose to combine your 7-Eleven, Walgreens and UPS print outs all in one trip to save time.

Once this initial confusion is sorted out, the form itself it easy to fill out. Make sure you enter everything EXACTLY as it appears on the copy of the lost passport. If you need to change your address or anything else at this point, you’re out of luck. If your Aadhar card address doesn’t match your passport address, this may be a problem and they may ask you to provide some more proof of your Indian address. It’s possible this may delay your application by several hours, in which case you’ll need an extra day or two. At one point in the application, you’ll be asked for the Money Order number, which you may not have at that point. Just enter 999999 or something like that. They said it’s ok. Another thing, the application will ask for your local San Francisco address. If you don’t live here, you’ll need to provide your hotel address. If you don’t have a hotel (maybe staying with relatives), then do this the night before. Create a hotel reservation on booking.com, get the confirmation PDF and then cancel it for free. Use this address, and you’ll also need to provide a copy of the reservation. There’s a question about how long you’ve been staying at your local address — just put 1 week or whatever. You get the idea — this stuff is strictly procedural and they don’t care, so just breeze through it.

If your photo looks somewhat different from the one on your lost passport, they’ll ask you to fill out a Change in Appearance form. If your signature looks even slightly different, they’ll ask you to fill out a Change in Signature form. I would suggest you choose Yes for both these forms on your application itself — don’t wait to be sent back, save yourself a trip. On your online application, you’ll be given a checklist of things to print out. This includes a couple of Appendix forms as well. You may need to fill these out by hand later.

At this point, you’re ready to head out for printouts from UPS, get photos from Walgreens, and get a Money Order from 7-Eleven.

You do NOT need to notarize anything, despite the fact that the checklist tells you to. On one of the forms, they’ll ask you to write something like “I, the undersigned, am unable to notarize this document copy because the original document is unavailable.”

Be prepared for a lot of back and forth. The problem is, you need a new token each time to talk to them, so there’s a lot of waiting around. All applicants must be present in person.

If they accept your application by 2pm, you’re in luck. Your chances of getting a new passport that same day are very high. Make sure you tell them you’ll be collecting the passport from the Consulate and not from them.

Back to the Consulate

Be back at the Consulate at 4:15pm. They’ll look closed, but they do answer the bell. They’ll let you in at some point around 4:30pm. In my case, they noted that I was there but totally forgot about printing our passports, so I had to remind them around 4:45pm. I guess if I hadn’t they would have probably said sorry, it’s too late today. But my stars were all aligned that day, so I managed to get new passports for my parents at 5pm!!

Make sure everything looks ok. Your new passport will be valid for 2 years only. It will have details about the prior lost passport, so you won’t have any issues at all leaving the US / entering India. As for your US visa and any other valid visas on your lost passport, tough luck. You’ll need to spend a lot of money and reapply in India.

A Note on Trip Interruption Insurance

As I mentioned earlier, if you booked your trip using a credit card with superb benefits, you could file a claim. In my case, if I had been flying with my parents, then I could have been reimbursed for all additional expenses upto $10,000 under the Trip Interruption policy. They would have paid for the extra hotels, extra car rental and flight rescheduling, and maybe even meals too! But I had merely bought tickets for them using the card and wasn’t a traveler myself, so I got diddly squat.

My parents had a medical insurance policy from India from Bajaj Allianz for this trip which had a benefit relating to trip interruption. We applied for this using the final police report and a copy of the passport application form that showed the fee. My parents were reimbursed $200 which was the maximum amount permissible.

My rental car was damaged as well, which came out to $229 for window breakage. This was fully covered by my credit card under Auto Collision Waiver. If any of this applies to you, you’ll need the final police report for all this.

In the end, I think I spent about $3,500 extra because some criminal thought it would be ok to simply steal from a stranger. But, the Universe settles all accounts.

Final Note

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! These things happen in life. It’s never about what happens to you or what doesn’t happen to you in life. It’s always about how you conduct yourself. See all difficult circumstances as an opportunity to learn new life skills, and the Universe will keep throwing wonderful lessons your way. I wish you the best. Only YOU can pull yourself out of your predicament.