Urban legend says that photocopying your passport, as an official government document, is illegal -- yet the government recommends that you make one or more copies of your passport in certain situations. Having a copy of your passport when you travel abroad is helpful if you lose the document and you need to get a new one as soon as possible from the embassy.
Why You Should Photocopy Your Passport
The U.S. Department of State recommends that travelers photocopy the information page of their passports before leaving on international trips. Take the copy of the passport with you, but do not store it in the same location as your passport. If you lose the document or someone steals it, obtaining a replacement will be considerably easier if you have the photocopy to prove your identity.
Keep Passport Photos Handy
In addition to having a copy of your passport handy, the U.S. Department of State recommends that you keep two extra passport photos with the copy of the passport. Having the photos helps you avoid having to have them retaken if you have to apply for a replacement passport.
How to Photocopy Your Passport
When you photocopy the information page of your passport, adjust the photocopier's settings to ensure all the details on the copy are legible. Some copiers' default settings are dark, which would result in the copy's information being difficult to read. An alternative to photocopying your passport is scanning it with a desktop scanner, then printing it. If possible, set the machine to copy or scan in color. If scanning the document, email it to yourself so you have an electronic version handy.
What to Do When Your Passport is Lost or Stolen
Upon realizing you have lost your passport or someone has stolen it while you are outside the U.S., contact the closest American consulate or embassy as soon as possible. Ask to speak to someone in the Consular Section department and explain the situation. You'll be required to prove your identity and will need to fill out a passport application. If you already have extra photos as well as a photocopy of your passport, the process will be much quicker.
Things to Remember
Although it's important to have a photocopy of your passport on you while traveling, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, a photocopy of your passport is not the same as the real thing, even though it can be useful if you lose your passport. That being said, the information on that passport photocopy is very sensitive, so you should guard this just as you would a passport. And, if you're worried about carrying around a physical passport copy, what you could do is save it as a photo attachment to your phone or email, and this way you will always have it available in case of an emergency.