Travel survival guide - what to do if you’re robbed while abroad
It’s a sad fact that not all countries are as safe as home. There may come a time when – by force or by theft – you find your all your cash and cards have been taken.
In general, there are some basic preventive measures you can take to counter or handle such events.
Register your trip
For one, always register your trip with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), so that they can assist you in the event of an emergency. Your friends and family will also be duly notified of the situation too.
Always note the number of the Singapore embassy in the country where you’re going. And you shouldn’t store this number on your phone as it might be taken during a robbery. Instead, jot it down on a piece of note and keep it with your low-worth items. You could leave it in your shoe but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Have a comprehensive travel insurance
Needless to say, having a comprehensive travel insurance can come in handy. Be very particular about the policy’s coverage scope, which should include claims for lost belongings such as your bags, passport and other valuable documents.
If you end up in a struggle, medical assistance is also important, so it’s important to compare and choose the correct travel insurance that covers overseas medical expenses and follow-up treatments back home
The bare essentials
As a rule of thumb, do not carry items worth more than the maximum coverage.
- Overseas medical expenses: up to $500,000
- Lost belongings: up to $500 per item, maximum of $3,500
- Personal accident payment: up to $125,000
For example, the American Express Essential policy covers lost items for up to $3,500, at a maximum of $500 per item ($1,000 for laptops). If this is your policy, you should avoid carrying more than $3,500 worth of items on the trip.
It is also advisable to cap your credit ceiling, such as by lowering it to $1,500 instead of four times your monthly income. You should also try to reduce the number of cards you bring to just two, preferably from the same bank. This will minimise the extent of the damage, if the robber takes your cards and uses them.
What if you got robbed?
Despite all the preventive measures you took, there’s no telling what could happen. If you do get robbed, don’t panic. Follow these steps to stay safe till you get home and ensure you can make a travel insurance claim.
If you don’t have your mobile phone, contact the police first
If you are robbed, chances are high that you will not have your phone or cash. You may also be far from your lodgings. Your priority should be to find a local authority. The easiest way is to have a passer-by call the police for you. If you’re injured, have them call an ambulance as well.
Obtain a hard and soft copy of the police report
Always request for a police report – it’s THE crucial document that will ensure your insurance claim is processed successfully.
In some countries, the police are reluctant to make a report; this is especially true if you don’t agree to come back and stand witness once the perpetrator has been caught. Rounding up the robber just becomes a waste of their time, if the police can’t prosecute. If the police seem uncooperative, do request help from the embassy.
Tip: the police report may not be in English, so be sure that a translator goes over it with you.
Obtain a medical report (if needed)
If you got into a scuffle with the robber (and you really shouldn’t), make sure your medical documentation is in order. Call your insurer and find out what documents are needed from the hospital. If in doubt, take a photo of the documents, and show it to your travel insurer and make sure they acknowledge what they need.
Suspend your credit and debit cards
The next call should be to your bank. Have your bank immediately suspend all credit and debit cards. Note that this is quicker to do if your cards all come from the same bank (which is why we suggest only bringing two cards from the same bank – otherwise you’ll need to call each of them separately).
Note that you are liable for any charges on the card if you make a late report of its loss. As to what a “late report” constitutes, this is defined by the issuing bank.
Tip: ask for any transaction information. If the bank can confirm that your cards were used, ask for the transaction history. An amateur crook might buy something from a local merchant, with a recognisable store name and. Send this information to the police and they might nab the robber.
Contact the Singapore embassy
Inform the Singapore embassy that you’ve been robbed, and request for any help. You may, for example, require a replacement passport if yours was taken.
If the police are not reliable, or will not give you a police report, you can request a letter from the embassy instead – some insurers may accept this, in lieu of a police report.
Inform your insurer and family
Call home and let everyone know what’s going on. Be sure to let friends and family know if your smartphone or laptop was stolen; some criminals may use your contact list to reach out and scam money from them.
With the police report ready, do a follow-up with your insurer and make sure you have everything they requested for to process your claim.
If you do realise there’s a crucial element missing in your report, act on it immediately and contact either the police for a more detailed report or ensure you have the evidence to back your claims.
Tip: make the calls from the hotel reception, as the staff will be sympathetic to your plight and let you call at no charge. This is because you might be engaged in conversations with either the police, bank, embassy or insurer that could stretch for hours. A long overseas call could cost you hundreds of dollars, and the last thing you want to deal with is a huge phone bill.
Have money remitted to you
If the robbery leaves you without cash, you will need to get some remitted to you (especially if you decide to continue with the trip). A reliable way to do this is to use a service such as Western Union – you can have someone at home remit the money to you, and then pay them back later.
Alternatively, check if your friends and family back home have associates where you are. For example, if your sibling works for a big company and has colleagues currently in the same city as you, they may be able to lend you some cash.
Decide if you should go home or continue your trip
For many travellers, the instinct is to immediately buy a ticket and fly home. But don’t be in a rush, and think it over.
You’ve already taken leave to go abroad, and you’ve already paid for (probably) non-refundable round-trip tickets. If you can get money remitted to you, and you’re not injured, why let an isolated incident destroy your trip?
Give yourself a few hours to breathe and calm down. It might not be a bad idea to stay on, and make the best of the situation.
Tip: if you decide to stay on in the country, buy a cheap prepaid phone. This is to ensure you’re in touch, in case the police, insurer, embassy, etc. need to talk to you.