What to do if you get robbed abroad – Forbes Advisor
Editorial Note: We earn a commission on partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.
I’ll never forget it: I was sitting in a café near the Old Port in Marseille, my shoulders blushing in the July afternoon sun. A man came up behind me, put his arm around me and forcibly tried to kiss me.
I was so taken aback by his toothless, disgusting smile that I didn’t notice him passing my iPhone right in front of me on the table.
It took me less than three minutes after chasing the man for me to realize what had happened, but the moment I turned to see where he was going he was long swept away by a sea of people .
As a solo traveler, I have always been cautious when traveling. But the one time I let my guard down – I was chatting to a French family sitting across from me and not paying attention to where my phone was – my nightmarish situation started to unfold.
The thief didn’t just take my phone. He also took with me the credit and debit card I had on the trip which was in my phone case which doubled as a wallet. I was alone, with seven euros in my pocket, and a lot of panic.
Steps to take after being robbed abroad
I live in France, so the good news is that I was only two hours by train from home. But that also meant that it was going to take me weeks to replace everything (everything takes twice as long in France).
I was also so stunned that it was hard for me to come up with a solid plan of what to do right after realizing I was being robbed. Here’s what I learned along the way and what you should do if you ever find yourself in the same (unfortunate) situation.
1. Immediately cancel all bank and credit cards
After being robbed, time is really running out.
You will need to contact your bank and credit card issuers immediately to cancel your cards and prevent the thief from making unauthorized charges to your account. You’d be surprised how quickly they move; within minutes of canceling my credit card, it was declined for a 40€ purchase at the train station (I could see the notification in my email when I got back to my Airbnb).
Fortunately, the family I was chatting with moments before I was robbed helped me. They helped me find the phone numbers for my financial institutions (dad had his laptop with him) and then let me use their phone to contact them. If that family hadn’t been there, I would have run home to use my Skype on my laptop to call.
If you don’t have immediate access to a phone, try going to a nearby hotel and explaining what happened and that you need to make an emergency call. If you don’t have access to a computer to look up your bank’s phone numbers, try contacting the US embassy in the country you’re in and ask them for the numbers (I know, for example, the U.S. Embassy in France lists bank and credit card phone numbers here – it’s always worth asking for help).
2. Suspend your cell phone service
If your phone has been stolen, suspending your cellular service is just as important as canceling your credit and debit cards.
I managed to get my service deactivated by my US phone company, but the thieves removed my French SIM card from my phone and racked up €200 in phone calls to North Africa before I decided to to cancel. Looking back, I wish I had moved to cancel it sooner!
If you don’t cancel your phone in time and thieves end up making unauthorized calls from your account, you can probably dispute it with your service provider. T-Mobile, for example, says customers can dispute unauthorized charges on their account, but will require documentation proving that the use occurred after your phone was stolen. That’s why filing a detailed police report will help you (see below)!
3. File a police report
Contrary to what you’ve been told, the police probably won’t work with you to track down the thief and get your phone back. Instead, you’ll want to go to the police station to file an official report stating what happened and what items were stolen.
Note that you will likely need a police report to replace items or file insurance claims. Travel insurance services, for example, will likely ask for the police report when filing a claim. I also needed the report to get my school ID replaced for free.
I will note that the Marseille police advised me not to fill out a report because my telephone was not insured. I ended up filing the report in Paris after realizing that I would need the report to dispute unauthorized charges on my French SIM card. Even if the police tell you that you don’t need to press charges, do so anyway. You better have an official report than not.
4. Contact your insurance
You may think this section only applies to you if you have travel insurance. But the truth is that few travel insurance policies cover theft – insurance policies that only cover trip interruptions don’t cover theft either.
Instead, it’s your home or tenant’s insurance that will come in handy after you’ve been robbed abroad. Most insurance plans provide worldwide coverage for personal property up to 10% or more of your personal property limit. This means that if you have a limit of $100,000, you will have $10,000 covered worldwide.
Read more: What type of coverage does home insurance offer travelers?
It is important to note that certain types of goods, such as jewelry and fine watches, often have low coverage limits. So I hope your Rolex wasn’t stolen. It is always recommended to speak with your insurance agent beforehand to find out exactly what is covered and how much you will be reimbursed.
You don’t have a tenant or home insurance? Some credit cards offer cellular insurance. To be covered, you will need to pay your phone bill each month with the credit card. Specific terms vary by credit card, but some policies reimburse up to $800 per claim and $1,600 per year, after any deductible.
If you’re like me and don’t have renter’s insurance or cellphone insurance through a credit card, you may have to pay for the replacement costs yourself. For me, this was a difficult lesson to learn; but now I am better prepared, should I ever be robbed again in the future.
5. Replace your passport
The Department of State has detailed instructions on how to replace a stolen passport. In short, you should expect to go to the nearest US embassy or consulate to apply for an emergency passport which will be sufficient to bring you back to the United States. You can have the emergency passport replaced by mail once you get home.
Getting robbed is an experience no one wants or deserves. But if you act quickly and cancel your credit and bank cards, as well as your cell phone if applicable, you can minimize the financial damage and put an unsavory incident behind you.