Africa, Travel Stories

What to do if you’re pick pocketed

Last weekend, I was pick pocketed. In an instant I lost all of my credit cards, passport, and family mementos. It’s been a hectic week trying to deal with replacing everything I lost, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to share what to do if you’re pick pocketed.

TheBarefootBeatPlaces like this are prime targets for pick pockets!
Syntagma Square, Athens Greece 2011

 1) Don’t panic. 

Being robbed or pick pocketed is never a pleasant experience. Especially if you’re traveling in a foreign country. Take a deep breath and know everything will be okay.

2) Figure out a way to get home.

Whether you’re staying at hostel, with a couch surfer, or at a hotel, you’ll need a way to get home. If walking isn’t an option, you’ll have to ask someone for money for a taxi or public transportation. As I was looking for my lost wallet on the tro-tro, several people offered to help or to give me the money I needed to make it back home safely. People are gracious and understanding. Explain what happened and they’ll be glad to help you out.

3) Find a phone and immediately cancel your credit cards.

My credit card and bank both had emergency numbers I could call to report my stolen cards. I borrowed a phone from a friend to make the international calls and in a few minutes my cards were put on hold.

4) Call someone from home who can wire you money

Wherever you are, there are probably money transfer facilities. Western Union and MoneyGram are probably the most reliable. Unfortunately, they take a 10% cut from the money being transferred, so try to get by on as little as possible until you can get your replacement cards.

5) File a police report

Within 24 hours, you should go to the local station and report what happened. Most insurance companies (I use Allianz) require a copy of the police report before they will reimburse you for anything that was stolen. In Ghana, there’s a “report fee” that I had to pay before I could file the report. This cost about $25. I’m not sure if other police departments also require this “fee” (it’s really a bribe), but be prepared and bring some cash with you.

7) Call your bank and have them mail you replacement credit/debit cards

If you’re traveling internationally, the easiest thing to do is to have the replacement cards mailed to a friend or family member back home, who can then forward you the cards once you have an address where you’ll be for awhile. Most companies will not ship the cards internationally, and if they do, they require the address to be a physical address, not a P.O. box. 

Ask for a tracking number so you know when they’ve been shipped and when they should arrive. I’ve had couch surfers offer to let me use their address, or you can call a company like Mailbox Etc. to see if they’ll allow you to have the cards shipped there for pick-up at a later date.

6) Go to the local embassy and apply for a new passport.

If you have immediate travel plans, the U.S. embassy can issue a new passport within 24 hours. This is only valid for three months, after which you’ll need to apply for another 10 year passport. If you can wait, it takes about three weeks to process a non-emergency passport. You can find all of the documents you’ll need to apply for a U.S. passport here.

It’s not necessary to make an appointment if you’ve lost your passport, but you should arrive at the embassy early in the morning between 8am-11am. You’ll also need a 200X200 passport photo. The cost for a new passport is around $130.

TheBarefootBeatUnfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve lost my passport while traveling.

8) Prevent it from happening again

After traveling for 10 months, I had gotten lazy and careless with my things. Instead of separating out my cards and leaving my passport and at least one form of identity with my backpack, I had begun keeping it all in one place for convenience. Thankfully, I had made copies of all of my important documents, including my birth certificate, my old passport, and my travel insurance information.

     It’s always a good idea to keep your valuables in separate places, if possible. That way if you do get robbed, you won’t lose everything in one fell swoop. Always, always be cautious and aware of your surroundings, something I had taken for granted! I was pick-pocketed in a safe area, but it happened at night in a crowded place when I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve learned my lesson and I hope you won’t have to learn the hard way too!

9) Keep trusting people

I think when something shitty like this happens, it’s easy to grow resentful and mistrusting of everyone around you. Realize that there are more good people out there than bad, and that this is just part of life. It can happen anywhere. Stay positive, stay safe, and shake it off!
Remembering all of the kindnesses and hospitality I’ve received on this journey can turn any bad moment into a smile.
Mexico City, Mexico 2013

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