Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question because laws on identification vary from country to country.
The best advice I can give is that you thoroughly research the destination in guidebooks, on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and on travel forums to find out about any passport-specific regulations before you go.
Many countries require travellers as well as citizens to carry photo identification on them at all times. It must at least be a national identity card, such as a Singapore IC. A driver's licence will not suffice.
Some countries, such as Thailand, Italy, Spain and Japan, do specify that travellers should carry their passports at all times, but interpretations of this law vary.
In Italy, Spain and Thailand, a photocopy of your passport information page will usually be sufficient in the rare event that you are stopped by a policeman or immigration officer. If the authorities have additional questions, they will generally escort you back to your hotel to see your passport in person.
In Japan, the government advises travellers to carry their passports with them for inspection by an authorised officer because a foreigner's passport will describe the limits of his or her activities in Japan. Travellers are told to keep a photocopy of their passport in their hotel in case the original gets stolen or lost.
In China, you will need your passport if you are purchasing or picking up a train ticket at a train station. In South Africa, you will need your passport to change money.
In most countries, you will need your passport if you are buying a SIM card. Unless you are travelling within the Schengen Area of Europe, it is essential to have your passport on hand if you are crossing a national border.
Unless a country's rules specify otherwise, I carry my passport with me only on days when it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, I leave my passport in the hotel safe or locked in my suitcase, and carry a physical photocopy or a picture of my passport information page in my phone instead. In countries which require a visa, it is a good idea to photocopy or take a picture of the visa, and carry it with you as well.
On days when you need to carry your passport with you, keep it close to your body, tucked away in the inside pocket of your jacket, in a body pouch or deep inside a crossbody bag, far away from the nimble fingers of pickpockets.
If your passport is stolen, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) says Singapore citizens should make a report to the local police immediately. Then proceed to or contact the nearest Singapore mission to apply for a Document of Identity so that you can return to Singapore, as it is not advisable to continue your travels without a passport. You need to take along the police report, a passport photo and verification of your citizenship (such as an IC, marriage licence or birth certificate).
The mission will verify your identity and furnish you with a temporary ID, which will cost about $15 and take two days or longer, depending on where the mission is located and how long it takes to verify your identity.
Upon returning to Singapore, go to the ICA Building to apply for a replacement passport. It will cost $80 to renew, plus a $50 penalty to replace a lost or damaged Singapore passport for the first time. The penalty is $100 for subsequent replacements.
It is a hassle, to say the least.
At the end of the day, whether or not you carry your passport with you while touring is up to you, and very much dependent on your destination and your itinerary.
Unless a country specifies otherwise, it is better to be safe than sorry, and to carry a copy of your passport rather than the real thing.
ASK US A QUESTION
Send an e-mail to askST@sph.com.sg
This article has been edited for greater clarity.