How to Deal with a Stolen Wallet or Passport
It was a warm summer night in Rome. Two middle aged moms and their college daughters crammed into the back of a taxi in Trastevere after a fabulous dinner and wound their way across the Tiber back to the rented apartment near the Coliseum. After a polite fight over who would pick up this cab ride, all four of us tumbled out and let our weary feet carry us up the three long flights of stairs to turn in for the night. But just as we sat down to relax we realized my mom had left her wallet behind in the cab! Although it wasn't technically stolen, it was gone nonetheless and without the cab number or company we could not track it down.
Thankfully this was a relatively minor bump in the road because we were prepared travelers. Other than losing a couple hundred dollars and a nice wallet, everything else was replaceable.
Losing your wallet or bag is scary, frustrating, and also inevitable if you travel enough. Be prepared, have a plan, and try your best not to let it ruin your trip! Here are some things you can do before and during your trip to be a well prepared traveler.
Before Your Trip Begins
Plan Your Money and ID
Get an estimate of how much cash you will need daily and decide how much you are comfortable carrying and where you can get more along the way. In general, I don't like to carry more than $300 so if we know we need more cash than that and won't have access to an ATM we split it among several people in the group and we also make sure its not all in one place.
Split up the cash and cards and put some in your wallet, some in your toiletry bag with an extra credit card which would stay at the hotel, and the rest in your checked luggage. That way if one thing is lost/stolen you don't lose everything. Keep a card in your wallet with no foreign transaction fees for everyday use, and put the one with fees as backup in an alternate stash because if your stuff gets stolen a few fees to stay afloat are a relatively small issue. Money belts are also very helpful.
For ID, never carry your passport unless you need it that day. Keep it locked at the hotel safe, or if you must carry it, secure it in a cross body bag or money belt neither of which you should remove if possible. Use a passport card, or a drivers license as your every day ID, preferably keep one on you and one tucked away with your emergency funds.
Notify Your Bank
Call or register online with your bank when you are traveling abroad. You tell them where you are going and the start and end dates of the trip. They also confirm the best way to contact you for any issues or alerts. This takes about 5 min and offers 2 benefits:
- your card will work when you go to pay for tickets, hotel, or that awesome leather jacket in Florence because they know you are traveling in that region when a foreign transaction crosses the wire so it is less likely to trigger a fraud alert (in reality it usually depends on how much you are spending at said Leather Market, LOL)
- it offers you protection if there are charges at home while you are abroad or charges abroad after you have returned home
They will remind you of the numbers to call if your card is lost/stolen. Write down the toll free international numbers and email them to yourself or save where you can find them if needed (hint: not in your wallet).
Make Digital Copies
Before you leave, either take photos or use a scanner to copy the front AND back of your credit, debit, insurance, and ID cards that you are taking with you on the trip. These will include all the contact information for the agencies and the basic account info you would need. Also make a copy of your passport photo page.
Email it all to yourself and to a parent, spouse, or other trusted friend who is NOT traveling with you so that if there is an emergency you or someone with you can contact them for the information.
Register Your Travel
For your own safety, let your home country state department know where you are going and when. This may help if your belongings are stolen, but in addition it allows your government to know if you are in an area that just experienced a natural disaster or act of terrorism/war or other situation where they need to account for and assist citizens in evacuation. For US citizens, go to the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
If Your Wallet or Passport Is Stolen
For our purposes, the difference between lost and stolen are the same, unless you just misplaced your wallet in your hotel room (in which case don't panic just have your travel mates help you toss pillows around until it turns up). There are a few things you need to take care of immediately, and the rest can wait until the next day to sort out.
Protect Your Money
First concern is to protect your money so pull out the hard copy or access the digital copy of your credit cards (which you of course did before the trip) and immediately call your bank, starting with your checking account and then the credit cards. Let them know what happened and what cards need to be cancelled immediately. Some apps now have a freeze card feature so you can do this yourself very quickly.
Arrange for New Cards to be Delivered Express
Depending on the length of your trip, you can arrange for the bank to send you new cards via overnight express to your local hotel, or if you only have a couple days left have the cards sent to your home so they are waiting when you return.
Report a stolen passport ASAP
Second concern is protecting your ID. If your passport was stolen, notify your local embassy or consulate after taking care of the money calls. This is to protect your identity and so it gets flagged as stolen and cannot be used for foreign travel. It is likely they will need you to appear in person to be able to issue you a new temporary or permanent passport so be prepared to figure out how to get there without money since your wallet was just stolen.
Note - I did not include filing a police report in here because those procedures vary greatly around the world. While certainly recommended, you may decide it is not worth the hassle and anxiety. However, be prepared to file a report especially if your passport was stolen, or you did not notice the theft for a long time and there is a good chance your credit cards were used without your authorization as the embassy or the bank may require a police report.
Obtain New ID to Travel
If your passport is gone, they will explain how to obtain a new one when you report it. If your drivers license is gone, you do not need to report this to the local embassy unless that was your only ID that you had to be able to travel back home.
If you are traveling within your home country, this varies, but I have heard several first hand accounts of people being able to fly domestic in the US by providing a few alternate forms of ID, e.g. lost ID while on business trip but they showed the agents at the counter 2 credit cards and an employee photo ID which all verified their identity and they were able to return home on their scheduled flight.
Be prepared to stay in your current location for a few days until your new cards and ID arrive. This might mean changes to travel plans so just embrace the adventure and don't dwell on "what you are missing" elsewhere. Contact airlines or other transport if needed to alter reservations and make it work once you can continue your trip.
Make a Money Plan for the Next Few Days
Finally, you will need to figure out how to get by until your new cards arrive and you can get more money. Ideally, you have some cash and a different credit card tucked away in another bag, toiletry kit, etc. in which case you are good to go. If not, talk with your travel companions to see if they can float you for a few days. Finally, if those are not options, get in touch with your parent, spouse, or trusted friend back home and arrange a wire transfer to float you. This is best done via phone call since there are so many email scams these days about relatives who need money wired to them.
Remember that this is your situation to resolve and you cannot expect the local police or embassy to drive you anywhere, give you money for the bus/taxi, or provide cash for you. It can be frustrating but if you know that going in you won't be upset at the lack of help.
If Your Travel Companion's Stuff is Stolen
Recognize That They Will Be Upset
Be supportive and help calm them as much as possible. If they are in a panic, help them find their contact phone numbers to call the banks and embassy as much as possible (although they will need to do most of the talking due to account security)
Offer to Float Them Some Money (if you are comfortable with that)
This will relieve one of the biggest burdens about putting a damper on fun plans for the trip. Talk it through and decide on a dollar amount of cash you can give them to carry so they are not tied to you for every little purchase, and work out if you are OK buying big items on your credit card (tickets, hotels, etc.) and having them repay you immediately when they cards arrive or once you return home.
Be Flexible in the Plans
They may need to stay in town for a few days for cards and IDs to arrive so be extra patient and easy going if the itinerary needs to shift. Find something exciting to do where you are that you would have missed. Take an extra day for downtime to clean clothes, sleep in, photo walks, etc. to rest up so you can hit the ground running when you are ready to move on.