I Forgot My US Passport – But I Still Got Through US Immigration

Approaching Chicago

We just returned from a great empty nester trip to Liverpool (and other places) in the UK. I’ll have a full trip report broken down into several parts posted soon, but I wanted to share one interesting anecdote from the trip.

We flew to Houston last week on Delta so that we could pick up the Singapore Airlines A350 flight from Houston to Manchester (the closest major international airport to Liverpool). I had booked two award seats in business class and even snagged the coveted bulkhead seats for extra comfort and space.

We had to exit out of the terminal and go to the Singapore Airlines check-in desk so they could check our passports for the trip to the UK. I handed the two US passports over to the rep and her response was “you gave me two female passports.” I looked at them and I realized that I had accidentally picked up my daughter’s passport instead of mine when I grabbed them the day before we left.

I had also brought along my UK passport out of habit as I bring it when I go to the UK. I also brought our covid vaccine certificates just in case even though they are not required for UK entry or US return (for US citizens). The rep allowed me to check in with my UK passport and issued our boarding passes.

We headed to the United Polaris Lounge and considered our options. I found that DHL had two day delivery to the UK so I planned on having my mother-in-law ship my passport the following morning to our hotel in Liverpool for Saturday delivery.

Just in case that did not work, I also applied for an ESTA, a visa for entering the US on my UK passport. I was surprised that it was approved within minutes, even though I listed my US citizenship and US passport number on the application (you should never lie or withhold info from US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on any form.)

Then we debated about whether to go ahead and go or to cancel the trip. In the end, we had the possibility of the passport arriving in the UK in time for our Monday return trip or the fallback of the ESTA and re-entering the US on my UK passport. We decided to go and see what would happen. Worst case, if the passport arrived late and I was not able to board the flight home, we could extend the trip and wait for it to arrive in the UK.

As it turned out, despite the passport arriving early Saturday morning to the DHL distribution center in Liverpool, they were closed due to the Easter weekend and did not deliver the package to my hotel. I was left with the other option of trying to enter the US on my UK passport with the ESTA visa.

We had a great time in Liverpool and yesterday morning we headed to Manchester airport. We checked in with Lufthansa and the rep checking us in was surprised that I was approved for the ESTA, but gave us boarding passes and we were on our way. We routed through Munich, where our documents were checked again (including my covid vaccination certificate) prior to boarding our flight to Chicago. Everything looked good and we headed to the USA.

In Chicago, my wife went through Global Entry with her US passport and I went to a separate special line for ESTA holders, which was thankfully much shorter than the regular immigration line. The CBP officer asked me why I was using my UK passport (he could see I was a US passport holder) and I explained the story. He was nice about it and said I would be able to enter the country, but there was one more quick step I had to go through. Another agent led a group of us to a door marked “employees only” and we sat in a room with about 25-30 other people. I started to get a bit concerned as by this time, our flight to Atlanta leaving in about an hour. Thankfully, I was only sitting there for about 10 minutes before the same officer returned with my passport and said I was good to go. I have no idea what they did or what check they were running and didn’t hang around to ask.

So, can you get into the US if you forget your passport? Apparently, yes. But, the only reason this worked for me was because I had another valid passport with me and knew that I needed an ESTA to enter the US with that passport. I don’t recommend this approach. Just remember your passport when you travel!

If you enjoyed this post (or have questions), let me know in the comments or send me an email at emptynestermiles@gmail.com. If you are thinking about opening a new credit card, please use one of my links.

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