Most of us will, at some point in our lives, be victims of petty theft. While the situation is annoying, at home, we have all of the tools at our disposal to take care of ourselves and our property. When we are faced with a robbery overseas, it might not seem as easy to know what to do. Most importantly, stay calm and stay safe. Here are our tips on what to do if you’ve been robbed abroad – and how to try to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Know before you go
Simply doing a bit of research before you go can save you from getting into trouble abroad. Learn about potential trouble zones so that you can avoid them, as well as local laws and customs to keep from causing problems. Learn enough of the local language to ask for help and be able to talk to the police.
Make two copies of all your important documents, including passports, travel reservations, visas and IDs. Keep one copy with you in a safe place, away from the originals, and the other with a trusted contact back home. To expedite replacing a stolen credit or debit card, make a copy of the front and back of the card and emergency number. Be sure to keep this information secure.
Don’t look like a tourist
Look like a local and not a target. Avoid flashing lots of cash, expensive jewelry or electronics, and don’t walk around with your passport hanging out of your back pocket. Not only does this make your passport easy to steal, it also marks you as an easy target.
Always be aware of your surroundings, particularly on public transportation and in crowded areas. Stay in public, well-lit places and walk with confidence, as if you’re completely sure of where you are and where you’re going. Be careful with alcohol – don’t drink so much that you make poor decisions, and never accept a drink from a stranger that you haven’t watched being poured. Also, be cautious if someone approaches you on the street asking for money or directions – thieves often work in groups and will send one person to distract you while two others hone in on your goods.
Safety in your hotel
If you have a choice, don’t stay on the ground floor and choose a room away from the elevator or stairs. Keep your valuables hidden or store them in a locker or safe. If you’re staying in a hostel without a locker, check your passport and valuables at the front desk.
Carry money in two different places on your person, so that even if your wallet is stolen, you still have some reserve of funds. Some people even carry a dummy wallet with a few bills and expired credit cards to distract thieves.
Don’t be a hero
If you are being mugged, and especially if your muggers have weapons, just give them what they want. Your life is more important than your money.
If it happens…
File a police report
After a robbery, contact the local police to file a report, which you’ll need in case your goods are found, in order to get replacements or to make an insurance claim. For this reason, it’s important to write down all the details of the crime right after it occurs, including where you were, what time it happened and what was taken.
Contact the consulate or embassy in case of a lost passport
As long as you’ve reported the theft to the police and can answer questions about how it was stolen, the consulate or embassy can issue you a new passport.
Contact card issuers
Immediately cancel your credit and debit cards and order new ones. Replacing a lost card can take a while, from 24 hours to ten days, depending on the country and issuer. This means you might need to have alternative access to money until your new card arrives. Having a friend from home wire you money is always an option – you can find Western Union locations all around the world. However, this can be an expensive option. The way a wire transfer works is that your contact provides a credit or debit number, then the money is withdrawn from this account and sent to a bank or shop in your location. You can typically collect this money within two hours.
It shouldn’t be a problem to replace stolen traveller’s checks as long as you still have the receipt. Most issuers can send you a replacement within 24 hours. If you also lost the receipt, you can only get a refund if the original purchase can be traced. However, this might have to wait until you get home.
If you’re really out of options, the consulate can sometimes provide an emergency loan to help you leave the country.
Making an insurance claim
The hardest part of making your claim is proving how much cash was stolen. Policies typically have a limit on how much you can claim, and if you claim more than around $200, you will probably need to provide proof of a cashpoint or foreign currency exchange receipts. Keep in mind that most travel insurance policies are subject to an excess (typically $75), that will be deducted from your claims.
Keep copies of all medical bills, if applicable, and any police reports. Also be sure to keep receipts from any items you replace, including your passport.