I’ve been robbed! Staying calm and what to do when you’re abroad

by Michelle on June 22, 2013 · 15 comments

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There’s nothing worse about being robbed than being robbed abroad. On top of everything else, you have to deal with things like filing a police report in a different language, to cancelling all your credit cards without a working cell phone.

Having never been robbed before, I was a complete mess when my purse was stolen in Barcelona. After I failed to find and chase down the bastard on the street, I went back and asked the cafe employee, who told me to go to the local police station.

1. Go to the police and file for an official police report.

This is something that’s highly important if your passport was stolen, or if your stolen goods are insured and you need to file for an insurance claim.

When my purse was stolen, there was a police station a few minutes away from the cafe, but the cop there said that they were closing and I’d have to go to the other 24 hour police station, that’s about a 15 minute walk away.

So in the pouring rain, I managed to run and find this other police station in record time. Only when I got there, I came face to face with a big sign which stated that they only spoke Spanish and Catalan.

“That can’t be right!” I thought. This police station, was only just off of Las Ramblas, the most touristy street, in the most touristy city in Spain, if not one of the most touristy cities in the world. However, after 10 minutes of miming out that my purse was stolen, I knew it was hopeless. One officer managed to say that in the mornings they have a translator, so I should come back then.

“Payphone…for canceling credit card” one officer offered, pointing to the wall.

2. Cancel all your credit cards.

This only takes minutes and your credit card company can send you a replacement in as little as 2 days. After reporting a stolen card, any improper transactions a thief may have made can also be easily reimbursed. 

Of course, the phone had only one Visa line, and I ended up speaking to some lady with a strong accent for over an hour, who seemed very unsure of herself. “yes I think that’s right” isn’t exactly what you want to hear when you could potentially have all your money stolen. I didn’t have the number for my Visa with me, so I couldn’t even call their direct hotline.

After more than a frustrating hour of talking to the “Visa” lady before the connection failed, a young Scottish guy comes in who also didn’t speak Spanish. And if those cops didn’t understand my English, they sure weren’t going to understand his.

So I went over and helped him mime out that his passport was stolen to the cops….only to have the cops wave their hands around and pull out a huge booklet with all the embassies and their contact info.

“UK embassy,” one said pointing at the telephone number for the Scottish guy, “And you, here is Canadian embassy. Or come back at 9am. We have translator, yes.”

Both feeling lost, the Scottish guy then offered to get a taxi for both of us to his hostel. “I’ll get us some food, and you can use my phone to properly cancel your credit cards!” he said enthusiastically. Perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

But without any id, I decided it was better not to get into a car with a random stranger.

Did I mention that I was staying at Kabul? It was only one of the biggest party hostels in the world, and when I got back to my hostel, the entire ground floor, including the receptionist area, was turned into a giant nightclub. Great.

I managed to push through the crowd, and went to the receptionist and kept asking him if I could use their computer to search for phone numbers and their phone to cancel my credit cards since my purse was stolen, only for him to reply saying that it was for employees only. Then random drunk guys kept asking if I wanted to dance, and in all my frustration, I started crying, which promptly scared off all the guys. Eventually the receptionist felt bad and let me into their office so I could use their phone.

“Only local calls right?”

“Err….of course!” I replied, as I hid the keypad away from him to punch in the North American dialling code.

***

photo cred: sitenet.com

The next day at 9am I arrived at the police station, only to have the cops working there to tell me that they still can’t help me because they don’t have a translator.

Their exact words were: “We had to fire him because of the crisis.”

Then one of them pulls out the big embassy booklet again and points, “Canadian embassy. English there. They help you file report.”

Err….right. Frustrated, but without any other choice, I walked to the Canadian embassy only to be horrified that it was closed for the weekend. At that point I started to panic, since I had to leave Barcelona later that day, and I now I didn’t know if that was even possible anymore. But then I couldn’t possibly stay in Barcelona either, since I didn’t have any money.

As I paced around the Embassy in the rain trying to think of a solution, I suddenly remembered last night at the first police station I went to. The cop there who told me they were closing spoke pretty good English. If he’s still there, he could help me! Luckily, that police station was only minutes away from the Embassy.

Fearing the worst and knowing that if they couldn’t help me, I was definitely, majorly, undeniably screwed, I ran to their counter and blurted out my entire misadventure through gasping breaths. They looked at me for a few seconds without saying anything….

All the while I’m thinking “oh god they can’t speak english and have no idea what i’m saying i’m going to be stuck in barcelona forever and have to resort to selling squeaky toys on las ramblas or —“

“Yes, of course we will try to help you! Everything will be ok!”

“– become a stripper or — wait did they say what I thought they said?!?!?!” 

Then as one cop started to help me fill out a form, another one called the 24-hour Canadian Embassy hotline in Ottawa for me.

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photo cred: www.mccullagh.org

You need to report any federal issued documents (such as a passport!) so that they can immediately cancel your stolen one. If the thief specifically stole your passport, this will protect you against identity thief. 

Since airlines will not let you fly without a passport (police reports in this situation are not accepted), the Embassy can issue you a temporary passport.

One of the first things they lady at the Embassy mentioned was that every year, Barcelona is always the number one city with the most Canadian passport thefts – crazy!

She tells me that without a passport, I’m unable to fly out, so I’d have to wait until Monday until the Embassy opens so they can make me a temporary one.

Which luckily, I told her that I wasn’t flying out. I had actually taken a bus to Barcelona from Germany because I thought it would be something more scenic, fun and different. Since the Embassy lady wasn’t exactly sure of the rules regarding taking a bus within two EU countries, she told me I had two options:

1. I can play it safe, and stay in Barcelona until Monday for the Embassy to open and issue me a temporary passport, and then buy a new flight back to Germany.

or

2. Risk it and get on the bus, and hope I get lucky.

She also suggested that if I’m without money I could

4. Have family or friends transfer you money through Western Union. 

You don’t need any id to do so, and you’ll get your transfer within a few hours. 

The funny thing was that at Kabul (and they’re the only hostel I’ve ever been to that does this!), they don’t have a kitchen, and instead offer a free breakfast, lunch AND dinner at the hostel. And so I had my food problems solved for the day.

At the police station, I noticed that everyone around me came in to report something missing! After a bit of waiting, one of the cops (a very attractive one I might add!)) came to get me, and helped me create a police report.

“Everything will be ok with this police report! You’ll have no problems getting back to Germany!” he said with a grin in his cute Spanish accent, and then gave me a high five as I left the room.

If the cop said everything would be ok, I decided to risk it, and after a quick stop at the Apple Store across the street to reprint my boarding pass, I decided to take the bus home to Germany after all.

Of course the whole time, I kept looking out the window to see if I was in France yet – on the way here, I remembered border police getting on the bus at the French border and detaining a few people who never got to return to the bus.

I really hoped I wasn’t going to find out exactly where they went.

photo cred: telegraph.co.uk

photo cred: telegraph.co.uk

Surely, the bus approached the French border and stopped.

“Passports!” shouted the bus driver as French security police got on the bus.

I gulped as I pulled out my police report (which was all written in Catalan by the way), and even the lady next to me looked worried that I didn’t have a passport.

“Umm, the cop told me everything will be fine with this police report!” I said to her reassuringly while doubting myself.

The border police was now talking to the man in front of me, and asking him to leave the bus. A few seconds later he was in front of me.

“Passport?”

I showed him the police report, and blurted out this long speech about how my purse was stolen in Barcelona, but I have a residence permit in Germany and was living and working there. When I finally finished, he looked at me with a blank face, and asked in a heavily thick French accent, “Are you a student?”

Thinking quick, I felt like the correct answer would be to say yes. It wasn’t really stretching the truth either, since I did have a student card noted in the police report as missing, so I replied, “yes.”

“Ahh good. Everything’s good then. Merci, enjoy your day,” and then he was gone.

I let out a big sigh of relief, and that’s the story of how I survived that adventure.

After I got back to Germany, one of my friends I met in Barcelona told me that he also had his wallet stolen the same night I had my purse stolen. He tried to get money from Western Union, but had no luck because they were closed on the weekends. So had I not taken the risk to take the bus back to Germany, I would really be stranded in Barcelona without any id or money.

So the moral of this story is, I guess, to always take risks! Life will always work out better when you do!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Agness June 24, 2013 at 6:10 am

Sh*t happens even when you travel. We never got robbed, but we also had a very unpleasant situation in China. I was working with another guy in one of public high schools in Hunan Province. One day he saw my credit cards and wrote down all the details. A few days after he tried to purchase a flight back home using my cards!! I agree with blocking your cards asap right after you notice they are gone.

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Michelle Michelle June 26, 2013 at 3:36 am

Wow, that’s crazy! What a bastard! And he works at a high school!? Luckily you noticed it and everything turned out alright for you!!

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bevchen June 24, 2013 at 6:43 am

What an awful experience… poor you!! I had my purse stolen in Paris, but my boyfriend speaks French so he was able to do the whole police bit for me. And luckily my passport was NOT stolen, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get a new bank card once I got back to Germany.

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Michelle Michelle June 26, 2013 at 3:32 am

Yea it’s great having a boyfriend who’s able to speak a language for you 😛 After coming back to Germany, my bf had to help me call in to different places to get replacement cards. I was able to get a replacement German bank card easily though! And I didn’t even have any id, haha.

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bevchen June 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

Ooh, that’s lucky! I had to physically go to Sparkasse and show them my passport!

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Michelle Michelle July 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Crazy!! I had to physically go into Sparkasse too, but they just asked for my name and didnt ask for any ID, although I came prepared with my old bank statements and that police report haha. Was this at a bigger city? Maybe in the smaller cities they’re less strict about ID!

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TammyOnTheMove June 24, 2013 at 7:54 am

This is my worst nightmare! I haven’t been robbed, but our bank card recently got swallowed by an ATM and we weren’t able to retrieve it again. I then noticed that our other card was about to expire too, so we were without any access to cash. Pretty scary thought. We now have an emergency credit card, which we store somewhere completely separate.

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Michelle Michelle June 26, 2013 at 3:30 am

Smart to always have an emergency credit card! Sometimes I get a bit worried when I have to use a really ancient looking ATM….I always wonder if my card will come out in one piece, haha.

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Yann June 25, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Wow! Kind of amazing that you made it across two borders without any ID!

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Michelle Michelle June 26, 2013 at 3:28 am

Yea I still can’t quite believe it 😀

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Suzanne Southall July 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Wow, I think I read the whole post without breathing. I’m so glad it worked out for you in the end! It is a very scary situation – I’ve sadly been there too 🙁

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Michelle Michelle July 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Awww…also in Barcelona?! All my friends that I’ve told the story too all seem to be able to relate with either a story of their own or of one of their friends in Barcelona! it’s crazy!!!

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Suzanne Southall July 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm

It was actually in Oslo. I always thought I was super careful with my stuff, but I got pickpocketed while stepping on a bus as some guys in front slowed down to block my path and the thief reached into my bag from behind 🙁

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Michelle Michelle July 11, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Wow Oslo?! That seems unexpected! I’ve never heard of people getting pickpocketed in Norway before! I guess it shows that we can never really let our guard down while travelling. 🙁 I like having a small cross-body purse and have the pouch in front of me….I’ve never had an incident when I wore it like that! But I think the next time I’m in Spain, I’ll get a fanny pack, as ridiculous as that looks 😀

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Ivan Oakthorn August 28, 2013 at 1:59 am

Great post. I’ve referenced in my post on self defense tips for women (if someone is in a bad situation, they should throw their wallet or purse and run the other way – then read your blog post). Thanks!

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