There aren‘t too many travel destinations that don‘t carry the risk of some sort of petty crime. Let‘s face it—where there are tourists, there are criminals.
If you plan to spend time in any touristy area—or anywhere there are crowds of people—it’s always necessary to use extra precautions beyond what you’d take at home, and generally be on your toes.
Protecting yourself can be as simple as using a money belt or passport holder to carry your valuables, and keeping it well concealed under your clothing. Some people even suggest using a “throw-away“ wallet as a decoy—so if you are robbed, the thief only gets away with a small amount of money.
Recently, we’ve also covered why it’s important to take extra care when using ATM‘s—and not just at night. Sure, would-be thieves often wait in the shadows. But, a growing method of money stealing allows them to remain completely invisible long after your card info is revealed. You can read more about ATM skimming here: Tourist Scam Alert: ATM Skimming In Mexico.
That being said, most traveling tips deal with prevention—not what steps to take if your stuff really does get stolen while you’re overseas. After all, those situations are bad enough at home where we at least have all of the tools at our disposal to take care of ourselves and our property.
While (fingers crossed!) it’s unlikely, here’s what you need to know should something awful actually happen while you’re traveling:
1. Don’t Panic
Being a robbery victim can be a traumatizing experience, but it’s important to collect yourself quickly and stay as calm as possible.
If you find yourself facing a mugging, don’t ever try to fight back. Give up your belongings and do what you can to keep yourself safe. No iPhone, camera, or amount of cash is worth putting your life in danger.
Once you’re physically safe or, If you were victimized by a pickpocket, realize your belongings are missing, take a deep breath then begin writing down an inventory of what’s missing.
2. Cancel Your Credit Cards ASAP
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can easily be forgotten in the heat of the moment. It won’t take long for thieves to begin making purchases with your cards, so head back to your accommodations—unless you're carrying your handy list of credit card phone numbers and they didn't also steal your phone—and immediately contact your bank and credit card companies.
If your laptop or smartphone was stolen, change the passwords to your most commonly used websites—especially sites where you conduct online banking or make frequent purchases.
3. File a Police Report
The odds of getting your stolen stuff back is pretty slim. Plus, some local police can exhibit a lack of caring that makes you want to turn around and drown your sorrows in something other than paperwork.
Unfortunately, you need to go through the process of filing a police report for a few reasons: it's helpful when requesting a new passport and/or filing a claim for travel insurance, and having an official police report will help corroborate your story should someone try to use your passport illegally.
4. Now You Can Go To Your Consulate
If your passport was stolen or if the crime left you plumb out of cash with no other way to contact your loved ones, it’s time for a trip to your county’s consulate.
Citizens of the United States, Australia, and England can find emergency help 24 hours a day, seven days a week from each of their respective consulates. Just note that while there are officers on duty in case of emergency, most consulates are closed and can’t issue replacement passports on weekends or holidays.
What services are available are uniform, as well: Agents can assist you in replacing a passport, contacting family, working with the local police, getting medical help, finding an attorney, or addressing any other needs that arise as a result of the crime you experienced.
What they cannot do is investigate your crime, serve as translators, or pay any fees, including bail. They also cannot provide legal advice or take possession of lost or stolen goods.
- U.S. Citizens can find more information about what services are available, find the nearest U.S. consulate by viewing individual Country Specific Information pages, or contact them for assistance from overseas by calling (202) 501-4444.
- British Citizens can find more information about what services are available or cancel a lost or stolen passport.
- Canadian Citizens can find more information about what services are available or find the nearest Canadian consulate by viewing individual Country Specific Information pages.
5. Get Cash Quickly
If you are desperate for money in the short term and can get in contact with a friend or family member, the easiest way of doing so is through Western Union. The process is fairly simple, and funds can be made available almost immediately—though sometimes there is a hold up to 24 hours.
However, using Western Union requires a form of ID, which is why it’s important to stop by your consulate for a new passport if the crime left you without any form of identification.
Replacing stolen traveler's check cards should be straightforward, as long as you still have the receipt listing the emergency number. If so, most issuers can provide replacements within 24 hours.
If the receipt was stolen as well, you might be able to still get a refund if the original purchase can be traced. However, this might take weeks and require you to head home before it can be sorted out. To avoid the headache, be sure to keep your purchasing information in a safe place, away from the traveler’s check cards. After all, you went through the trouble of getting them for just this reason!
6. Make an Insurance Report
You have travel insurance, right? If not, find one that best fits your travel itinerary by reading “Choosing Travel Insurance That Keeps You Covered.”
Let your provider know about the robbery right away and provide whatever information they request, such as a list of items that were taken and a copy of the police report. Getting reimbursement could take a while, but at least you can take some comfort in the knowledge that you’ll eventually be able to replace those lost valuables.
Just know that 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 receipt.
Prevention Refresher: Steps To Protect Yourself
Even if you think your possessions aren’t worth stealing, don’t appear flashy enough to get attention, or you’re just zen enough not to be bothered should they wind up gone, being the victim of a crime can often leave you feeling like you’re missing more than the objects that were taken.
Additionally, as nice and helpful as consulate staff can be, no one wants to spend their vacation hours sitting in a government office.
To lessen your chances of having to cope with a crime, or, at least make the aftermath easier, here’s what to do:
- 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. If you can, learn enough of the local language to ask for help and be able to talk to the police.
- Make copies. Make two copies of all your important documents, including passports, travel reservations, visas, and IDs—make sure your passport copies are in color and have extra passport-size photos handy, too. Keep one copy of all items 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 and 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, but it also marks you as an easy target.
- Know who you’re going to call. Phones are worth a pretty penny these days and often one of the items stolen. Make sure you have a list of emergency contact phone numbers, since nobody even remembers their parents' number anymore and you don’t want to wind up frantically waiting for friends or family to check their Facebook messages.
- Keep master lists. If you make a master list of all your valuable belongings before you leave, it’s way easier to remember what went missing when talking with the police.
Bottom Line: No Matter How Unlikely, It Might Happen To You
In my many years of traveling abroad, I have had my butt handed to me dozens and dozens of times, but have thankfully escaped unscathed. Rather than incite me to be more cautious, these close calls fed into my growing travel-ego that made me believe that I was a smidge more enlightened, more careful, or, at least, harder to mark than other travelers.
But as my confidence grew, I succumbed to travel sloppiness and more risky behavior, thus elevating my chances of falling into trouble.
One night shortly after arriving in Bali, Indonesia, my boyfriend and I grabbed a few beers to watch the sunset at the beach. Sitting and chatting well after it got dark took its toll on our beverage supply, so I sat happily, 40 feet from another group, while he went to a nearby store.
I wasn’t alone for two minutes when the slightest tickle made me look into my lap, where there appeared to be a man’s disembodied hand.
The hand, which turned out to be attached to someone, grabbed my purse right out of my lap. The person ran past two groups and several guards standing at the opening of the beach, only to hop on a moto and ride away.
While it wasn’t a ton of cash that was lost, that incident finally made me realize that no amount of travel smarts means that you’re immune to risk—and that losing money is by no means the scariest thing that can happen.
So, bottom line? Whether you’re well-traveled or not, accept the fact that traveling can be dangerous and evolve to become a knowledgeable traveler—not by taking those risks for granted, but by preparing yourself before your trip and taking precautions overseas so that you can recognize red flags along the way.
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