Barring the drama of a Liam Neeson or Jason Statham travel thriller, getting robbed abroad is the worst nightmare for most of us when we leave familiar shores. With some prudent planning and awareness, we can increase the chances that it always remains just that—a nightmare. With that in mind, we’ve come up with a list of must-dos for safe travel.
But we all know that even the best-laid plans are sometimes overthrown. So, in the event that you do face a robbery abroad, follow this guide to make the recovery of both your personal well-being and belongings as simple and painless as possible.
Before you go:
Enroll in STEP, if you haven’t already.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, run by the U.S. Department of State, will keep you updated of any dangerous conditions that could affect your travel plans, and help both The U.S Embassy and any loved ones get in touch with you in the event of an emergency.
Do your research.
Learn about areas in and around your travel destination that might be dangerous (any travel book or website should have this information). It’s also wise to brush up on any unfamiliar laws or customs in the country you’re visiting, so you don’t accidentally get caught in a sticky situation. Try to learn enough of the native language (assuming you don’t already know it) to communicate with police and/or medical professionals.
Go the extra mile.
You might think it’s ridiculous to make two copies of all your travel documents (visas, IDs, passports, and even transport and lodging reservations) until you lose the original. Copy the front and back of any credit or debit cards, and the emergency number, to facilitate the replacement process. Give one copy of every item to an emergency contact before you leave, keep one copy with yourself (as opposed to carrying the originals), and keep the originals somewhere safe, like in a hotel safety deposit box.
Play it safe.
Even if you have health insurance, your coverage outside the country may leave you exposed to the potential to incur a lot of debt. Ideally, before you go, check with your insurance provider about travel coverage, and buy a supplemental plan that best suits your needs. The U.S. Department of State has information to help you find medical care abroad and answer these questions.
Tips for the trip:
Look casual, be alert.
Try not to look lost, even if you are. Don’t wear your prized possessions (yes, your fancy sat-nav watch and even your wedding ring included) in an unfamiliar place where you aren’t at ease. Both could help an opportunistic criminal spot an easy target. Don’t drink too much, always travel in groups, and be wary of any one who approaches YOU asking for money or directions.
In addition to your original travel documents, keep any valuables in a hotel safe or check them at the desk of your hostel. Try to get a room on a floor other than the ground level, and far from the stairs or elevator. (The more difficult you are to find, the better.)
Make your money smart money.
Keep some money with your goods in a safe deposit box or other safe place. Carry money in multiple places, and maybe even consider carrying a fake wallet with a few small bills and an expired credit card so, in case you are robbed, you might be able to distract the thieves with it instead of handing over the real thing. If you’ve made copies of all your major documents, dealing with the fall-out of a robbery will be much more simple. But even if you haven’t, we’ve got the ways to cope and hopefully get out unscathed.
If it happens:
Call for backup if you can.
If you’re traveling with a tour group, inform the tour guide/organization rep, who can help you deal with the police, embassy, and arrange for appropriate medical care, if necessary.
Get it on record.
If you’re mugged or attacked, immediately report it to the police. Whatever money, possessions or passports have been stolen, you’ll likely need a copy of the police report to get replacements or make an insurance claim. If, for whatever reason, you can’t immediately get to the police, or you need to find a translator, write down all the details you can remember about the event as soon as possible. It may be difficult to recount what happened, but it’s incredibly important to make as accurate a report as soon possible. Doing this quickly is the best assurance possible.
Passport stolen? Hit up the embassy.
If you don’t already know the location of your embassy, visit this site for the relevant contact information. Make sure to check the hours of operation first. If they’re closed, don’t panic. Move on to the next step, with a plan to head back to the embassy as soon as it opens. (And remember to bring your police report and a copy of your passport, if you have it.) When you get to the embassy, make sure to mention that you’re a U.S. citizen who has had their passport stolen. It may greatly shorten your wait time.
If you have a copy of your passport, you should be able to get a replacement within a few days. Even if you don’t, as long as you can prove your identity and U.S. citizenship and you have a police report, they should be able to issue you an emergency passport within a few hours.
Play your cards right.
Contact the issuers of any stolen cards and/or traveler’s checks at the first opportunity. (Preferably as soon as you’ve filed a police report and gone to your embassy, if need be.) If you’ve lost your phone, look for an Internet cafe. If you have copies of your cards and the emergency number for your banking and credit institutions handy, this will be much easier. But with Internet cafés, which many foreign countries have in abundance, you should be able to handle these issues without too much difficulty.
Make an insurance claim.
If you don’t know, check with your travel insurance provider to find out if they cover treatment for any physical harm caused by mugging. If so, it will probably not be for a great amount, but it’s a start. If anyone sustained serious injuries, normal medical coverage should kick in. Contact the insurance provider of the injured party to make sure the best care is provided (and not paid for out of pocket later).
Bonus Tip: The embassy is your home base.
If you have any problems with the police, medical providers, or anything else, your embassy is home base. Remember not to panic. Just stay calm and follow the list, one step at a time.