For the first time ever in my life I had something bad happen while I was travelling. I was robbed of my passport, phone, and all my money (including bank/credit cards) and all identification documents whilst here in Amsterdam. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt in any way, but it had meant the last few days of my trip were very frantic, as even I didn’t realise how hard it would be to survive without a passport in particular. Not being able to prove your identity when you need money is especially hard, because even if you loose all your money and belongings, if you have photographic ID you can go to a Western Union or a bank, and they can arrange money to be sent from back home. My particular predicament was that I had to pay for an emergency passport from the British Consulate, costing around 127 Euros, however as all my money/bank cards etc were taken, I could not pay for it. However, without ID I could not pick up the money or even go home! Silly things like when I found free internet and computers at Amsterdam Library to contact home, and I needed the toilet, I didn’t even have the 20cents to pay to use the facilities! You know you’re in a bit of predicament when you can’t even afford to go for a poo! Thankfully, everything turned out ok in the end, but if you are ever in a similar position where all your major possessions & documents have been lost or stolen abroad, there here’s what you need to do.
1. Get a police statement
The first thing that I did, and that everyone should do if they are ever in a similar position, is to go to the police station (or your hostel/hotel who can call the police). By sheer luck my hostel was 2 minutes walk away from a city centre police station in Amsterdam. From there they were able to give me a police statement. With no identification in a foreign country you need a police statement. It is pretty much your lifeline should you need anything you can’t get without identification or money. Even then, things may still be complicated, but having a police statement can really help.
For instance, as I mentioned previously, without ID you are unable to go to a bank or a Western Union and get money, as you are supposed to have ID so they can prove they are giving the money to you and not someone else. My problem was that without ID I could get no money, and without money I could not get the ID… Without money I also could not eat, and I literally spent 2 days with nothing to eat as the hostel I was at didn’t even do free breakfast, nor did they have a kitchen (we’ll go into that later…) Also, more importantly, without a passport or some sort of ID I could not travel home, and at the end of the day this is the most important aspect, because in the worst case scenario you at least want to be able to travel home. In many circumstances where I didn’t even have a bite to eat, or could not access internet, I would show people my police report and out the goodness of the hearts they would help me out in whichever way they could.
You also need the police statement for your travel insurance or you will not be able to claim anything, and you’ll need it to gain an emergency passport at the embassy or consulate when you eventually get there, provided you have the money to pay for it. As it happend, I actually travelled home with just a police report, and details written down of my passport which had been stolen stamped on a piece of paper by the consulate, as they would not give me the emergency passport without payment. Fortunately, customs let me through without to much questioning or hassle. However, as I have found out recently since returning home to get a replacement passport, this is highly unsual. Usually they never let anyone through without some sort of photographic ID, however as I was returning to my home country, had an official police report, and was travelling from one EU country to another as an EU resident (I’m assuming) this made things a lot easier as they just let me through. The ironic thing was that there was people with actual passports/visa’s who where getting strongly questioned right next to me in the queue at the channel tunnel, where as all I had to do was fill in a lost/stolen passport form that the consulate should have sent off for me.
2. Go to your embassy or consulate
The second step you should take after a police statement is to get to your nearest embassy or consulate. As I said, I had no money to pay for an emergency passport at the consulate, but they were able to bring up my passport details on their computer, confirm who I was, and give me a stamped piece of paper with all the passport details which will help if you are trying to get through customs later. Also, they can give you advice on how to get home, where you can seek legal representation, where you should go to get money, or local orgainisations/charities who may be able to help you etc. You can of course also purchase an emergency passport should you have the money available, or should your country of citizenship not charge for such a proceedure (personally, I don’t think this service should be charged for as they only time you would need it is in an emergency when you may not have the money, but the UK governement clearly don’t think so…) Again, however, if you have any documentation from the consulate or embassey it will help your claim for travel insurance when you get home immersuarably.
3. Go to a bank or western union
As I mentioned above, you can have money transferred from home which you can pick up from any Western Union. In my case the Western Union was Travelex. If you have a global bank like HSBC, or your bank has an affiliate bank in the country you are in, then you can also go into one of those branches, and provided you have money in your account you can arrange for some to be sent to you to pick up from the branch. Particularly if you are travelling solo, this is particularly important because you don’t have someone else you can just borrow money from. If you are travelling as group then this may not be as bad as you can always borrow money off your friends until you can arrange something else. My experience in Amsterdam made me realise particularly just how much we need money to survive. It also made me realise the generosity of other people, and the amazing organisations like ATAS (Amsterdam Tourist Assistance Service), which help you out with things like accommodation, transport, food, or whatever other neccessities you need when you are completely stranded without money to pay for even the most basic of things.
4. Find free internet
If you have internet then you can Skype home or email somebody to let them know what’s happened or help you arrange things like money, phone, etc. In Amsterdam, I was able to go to the Amsterdam Public Library. Here they offer free internet. You can use their computers, or if you register with them and have your own laptop/net book you can use the wifi. If you are ever in Amsterdam and want free internet without having to buy anything e.g. coffee, drink, etc, then come here! Alternatively, if you are elsewhere in the world, find a McDonalds as they have free wifi in most of their outlets, and they usually don’t notice if you just come in and use it without buying anything… If you need to go somewhere where you have to pay for wifi, and you had all your money taken like me, then show your police report. You can’t guarantee it, but just about everywhere I went, if I explained what happened and showed the report they were all willing to help you out. I was particularly fortunate that my laptop was not stolen, which made things a hell of a lot easier, but if yours was, or you don’t travel with a computer, then at worst case scenario go back to police station and ask to call home or ask them where you can find free internet.
5. Back everything up!
One thing that particularly frustrated me about loosing my passport is that usually, I back everything up before I travel. I always keep spare cash somewhere else outwith my person, have copies of everything to my email, and a spare bank card somewhere too. On this occasion however, for whatever reason, I had a) not kept spare ID or a copy of my ID somewhere in case of emergencies, and b) Not kept spare cash/bank card outwith my person. The one time I had not been prepared was the one time I got robbed! Fortunately, I did keep copies of my boarding passes to my email, and also had bought an open return deliberately incase I was delayed for any reason. I had also bought travel insurnace (thankfully), but that wasn’t really any good to me whilst away. The most important thing to do to prevent as much hassle as possible in the event of a lost passport is to have 2 forms of photographic ID (passport/driving liscence), and also have hard copies stored elsewhere in your lugguage, and a scanned copy of your passport saved to you email. This would have majorly saved me some time, and much stress while in Amsterdam, and as Holland is an EU country I could have actually travelled home that day with just the copy of my passport. Instead however I spent an extra 3.5 days having to find accommodation, buy food, and just generally worrying about how I was going to get home.
Before you go away anywhere back up all your documents to your email, and take at least 2 forms of ID. I was lucky. Holland was a very developed country with proceedures set up in place to help tourists in trouble. They also speak particularly good English which helped a lot, and are very close distnace/on good terms with my home country, so this made getting home so much easier. You may not be so lucky though, and even with all the good fortune of where this event happend to me, it was still very very stressful. I can only imagaine what someone would do somewhere else in the world where things might not be so easy as it was with me, and I’m glad this did happen to me, because it give me the kick up the bum I needed to go prepared next time. In the event of something like this happening again, I will at least know I have done everything I could to prevent it, and make things easier in whatever events follow…