Read about how fellow travel blogger Jeremy Jones was robbed while traveling and how he was able to recover from the unfortunate situation.
We were told it happens to everyone at some point in time, and our turn to be the victims of a theft happened while in Puno, Peru. Someone finally got the better of us and scored big- the bag that was stolen had our passports, a computer, an SLR, some cash, and some souvenirs that, although valueless to them, were quite precious to us that will take some work to replace.
After finally dealing with all the hurdles of going through a theft, we are now ready to share our story in order to help others who find themselves in a similar situation one day (or, hopefully, to serve as a preventative measure to protect yourself from a theft in the first place).
How It Happened
As we had done over 100 times before on our long-term trip, we found ourselves sitting in a bus station. This one in particular being in Puno, Peru. As with most stations in the region, the onslaught of people asking if we wanted bus tickets was rather annoying and something we had to put up with.
One man in particular asked us if we wanted tickets, walked away, pointed towards a stall, and kept going.
In that moment, our bag disappeared out the side door.
No one in the bus station said anything, even though there were a couple dozen people standing around, and we were absolutely distraught. The tourist police, with their usual lack of willingness to do anything, came up empty with their “search” and even told us to leave Puno and instead file the police report in our destination city of Cusco.
If this happens to you, stop right there. Getting the police report is the most critical part as it is often needed in lieu of your passport to let you travel around, stay in hotels, and even file an insurance claim later on. Never leave without it, and as soon as you get it be sure to take a photo, email a copy to yourself, and hold onto it for dear life.
The hassle of replacing everything begins.
Applying for Emergency Passports Abroad
Although every country is different, most Embassies are well equipped to help stranded travelers get an emergency passport in a relatively quick turnaround time (often 24-48 hours). This means you can sometimes walk into an Embassy in the morning and have a limited validity passport in your hands by that afternoon.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides.
In regards to the emergency passport itself, they typically only have 5 pages and are good for 3-12 months depending on the need. When applying you must know the entry requirements of the countries you are visiting as some require passports to be valid for a minimum of 6-months to enter on, and, in extreme cases, leave on as well. Our “emergency trip” to Ecuador was one of these, so we had to make sure the Embassy gave us a minimum of 8 months to allow us entry. We tried for a year, but 8 months was the best they could do.
Next comes the embassy, and the worst part about going to one can often be just figuring out their operating hours! Like most government offices they typically have odd hours, may only accept walk-ins in brief time-slots throughout the day, and are closed for national and local holidays. The only good news is that if you have an emergency need, like a stolen passport, you often do not need an appointment (which can fill up weeks in advance in major cities) and can show up whenever the office decides to be open.
There are tons of horror stories from travelers who had to wait forever at their Embassy to get an emergency passport issued, but you’ll have the most luck if you make sure you are the first person in line when the Embassy opens for walk-ins (we recommend getting there 20+ minutes before) and have all your forms and photos completed and ready by the time you arrive.
For those from the USA this means having forms DS-11 and DS-64 completed and one to two 2″ x 2″ passport photos. In many cases it is as simple as taking these forms in, showing copies of your old passport and police report, swearing an oath that it is all valid, paying the fee for the new passport, and returning in the afternoon to pick it up.
The downside is simply this – if you are not the first, you’re probably going to be waiting a while as a single emergency passport application can keep one employee busy for over 30 minutes. Throw in a few people applying, and you can see why we recommend being the first in line.
Replacing Immigration Stamps
The next step is to then replace your immigration stamps and, in some countries, the entry card as well. The level of difficulty for this step often depends on the country you’re in, how much they like the country you are from, and if they use a tracking method for entries that was created in the last 25 years.
Unfortunately we can only comment for Peru, but we have heard some pretty rough stories from others who went through this in numerous other countries around the world that are not as friendly.
We thought it would be simple after the ease of getting an emergency passport at the US Embassy the day before. We thought we had everything in order, but the bureaucratic machine took over and we soon found ourselves going back and forth to various different offices to pay fees, get copies of our passports and police report (we highly recommend having these in advance!), and fill out additional documents that we collected along the way and were not available for us to do beforehand.
For most, a new stamp came within 20 minutes of submitting the paperwork; however, Peruvian immigration had no record of us entering the country! After swearing up and down (and swearing in the other sense of the word) that we entered legally, we had to wait for the border employees to answer an informal looking email about our entry records. It took about 3 1/2 hours of us sitting around bored out of our minds until we were finally out the door with no further explanation.
Filing the Insurance Claim
The biggest cliffhanger in the whole process is filing an insurance claim. We lost several thousand dollars worth of electronics and had already paid to replace them. Throw in our passports, taxis to the Embassy and immigration offices, and we were already out over $1,350.
Were we going to get any money back? Well, that was up to our insurance company to decide.
As I mentioned at the start, having the police report is critical here as it is the only official document that outlines what happened. I can only imagine the insurance company laughing in our faces without one, and we are very glad we forced the Peruvian officers to do their jobs.
Although all companies are different, you’ll likely have to provide a copy of your police report, original receipts of all items lost over a certain threshold (ours was $150 on World Nomads), and receipts for the replacement passport and any visas you re-purchase.
If you do not have a good record of these then the hurdles you will go through will be greater, as you will need to find alternative means to prove ownership. Luckily we made all of our purchases on Amazon which has a great online database of receipts you can download to submit. It is also recommended to have images of all your purchases to verify ownership, especially while in use on your trip; however, we were never asked for them since we had our receipts.
When you read the wording of your policy you’ll likely be confused on what you can claim and what you can’t. We put in a request for everything we had, even though a few were questionable by the terms of the policy, and worded everything as clearly as possible. It is better to be denied a specific item than assume you won’t get any money back and skip adding it at all.
In under one month from the time of the theft we had received a direct deposit for almost our entire claim amount, with hardly any questions asked.
We were denied the residual values of our visas and were informed about it via email, but I am not surprised by that as only replacement passports and visas are covered. If we decide to re-purchase any of the lost visas in the near future, though, we can file a new claim to have them covered.
The surprise was that we even got money for our stolen cash and prescription glasses, two items that are clearly listed on the policy as not being covered. But like most contracts, this is where semantics comes into play. Our case was covered because the items were in a bag that was stolen, but those items by themselves may not have been (in the case of say, just losing them haphazardly). Had we questioned the contract and not claimed those items, we would have lost $500 on the spot.
While you can never predict what an insurance company is going to do, if you are thorough, completely honest, and not missing any important information in your submission your chances of having an approved claim with a fast turn-around time will improve significantly.
A Good Defense is the Best Offense
In the end the best way to protect yourself is before a theft occurs in the first place. We can say first hand that the month of dealing with the issues from the theft was one of our worst travel experiences on record and we now have a lasting negative opinion of Peru as a result.
Although this post was written to help those who have already been the victims of theft, if our story can help you be extra cautious and prevent another, we can rest a bit easier knowing our experience wasn’t a total tragedy.
Take good care of your belongings, be extra cautious in public areas, store duplicates of the precious items (like ID copies, photos, and receipts), and never keep too many valuables in one bag. That way if you do end up being the victim of a robbery, the value of your loss will be minimized.
Jeremy writes for the travel blog Living the Dream, a long-term travel planning resource that is designed to help others get out and explore the world for months or years on end. Since founding the site in 2008, Jeremy has visited 62 countries and shares first-hand tips, detailed spending logs, and advice not found anywhere else. His first self-published book, The Long-Term Traveler’s Guide, was released in 2012 in Print, Kindle, Nook, and iPad formats.