It's day five of your dream holiday abroad. You've already gone on numerous sight-seeing excursions, sampled traditional cuisine, made new friends and uploaded tons of photos to social media. All in all, everything is running smoothly. But, just as you are about to send a "wish-you-were-here" postcard to that special someone at home, your bag gets stolen. Your wallet with the money you need for the postcard is gone, along with your payment cards, driver's license, ID and passport.
If this hasn't happened to you before, you probably know someone who has been a victim of theft or loss while travelling overseas. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence worldwide. In fact, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office reports that 19,169 passports were lost or stolen around the world in 2012.
While these pitfalls are mostly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, losing one's travel documents in a foreign country can still be a stressful experience, especially if you don't have a Travel Insurance policy in place.
Read our expert travel tips on how to deal with emergency situations where you can't access your money, call your friends or even prove your identity in a foreign country.
The perils of losing one's ID and passport in a foreign country
Contributed by the Ashanti Travel Centre
"This scenario has actually happened to a few of our guests that have previously stayed with us. Living in a country such as South Africa, it is not uncommon for people to get robbed of all their possessions. Usually, they have to contact their families in their own countries as well as their Travel Insurance brokers and then would have to wait for quite a period of time before getting paid out.
Money transfers from overseas are also not that easily accessible in this country, so this is not really an option. When such an unfortunate thing happens, there are usually other good Samaritans taking these travellers under their wing that would sponsor them food and any other necessary things; if they have extra to give, that is."
How to protect your essential documents from theft while travelling
Contributed by IGO Travel
"A lot of travellers never think twice about protecting their travel documents before or during a holiday or business trip. However, protecting these documents could be the most important travel decision you will make.
First and foremost, we advise our clients to always ensure they take out Travel Insurance, and to check that whatever policy they take sufficiently covers them for loss or theft of travel documents. Also, important, is to have the insurance policy issued at the time that you pay for your holiday. Should you leave buying Travel Insurance to a few days before you travel…anything can happen between the time you book and pay, to the time of departure. Some holidays are booked six months in advance. This means you are not covered for anything happening to your travel documents before you leave."
Tips IGO Travel recommends:
Wesley Mathew, Head of Digital at SA Visas, offers the following additional safety precautions:
Checking your pockets or bag regularly is a habit you need to get into when abroad. Yes, you’ll look neurotic, but try making a routine of double-checking that your possessions are still in your possession.
Thief-proof your phone
Avoid taking your most prized possession with you, namely, your coveted smartphone. Entry level mobile phones are inexpensive, and provide you with everything you need to stay in touch with your loved ones. If that’s too much to ask, then make sure you’ve synced your phone with a cloud-based backup service, so you don’t have to ask Facebook for lost telephone numbers.
Keep a moon-bag backup
Moon-bags, aka waist packs, have come a long way since the 90s, and they serve as a handy and hidden way to stash emergency travel funds if your primary wallet or purse is lifted without notice.
Friendly is good, overly friendly is sketchy
Be wary of anyone who seems a little too eager to get to know you, we don’t doubt you’re great, but there’s a good chance they might have ulterior motives in mind.
Prepare emergency numbers in advance
Keep hard and digital copies of the emergency service numbers for the countries you’ll be travelling through/to. Apps like TravelSafe Pro can make this especially easy if you’re travelling to multiple destinations.
Steps to take if you lose your ID and passport abroad
Cancel your bank cards and transfer emergency cash
Most major South African banks will have 24 hour hotlines from which you can call to cancel your active cards as well as order a new one (try save paper copies of these numbers in advance). To access emergency cash, find the closest bank, and have them contact your South African bank with a request for emergency funds, alternatively, have a friend, family member or colleague send funds via Western Union financial services.
Report the incident to the nearest police station
The police report will serve three main functions, allowing you to claim Travel Insurance (should you have been prudent enough to take any out), to alert the authorities that your passport has been compromised, preventing its illegal use, and finally, as grounds for a temporary passport application.
Report to your nearest South African embassy and apply for a temporary passport/emergency travel document
You will need to do the following:
Johnny Chen, travel blogger at Johnny Africa, shares his travel experience
"There were times when I was hitch-hiking through Portuguese speaking northern Mozambique and the nearest embassy was in Maputo, over 2000km away where I thought, “what in the world would I do if I lost everything?” End of the day, the best part of traveling is exposing yourself to different cultures and I'd rely on the generosity of others to guide me to where I need to go. Thankfully, some of the nicest people I've ever met in the world resided in that part of Mozambique."
If you end up in a situation with no money, phone, or any form of identification, you should inform your Travel Insurance provider immediately, as most policies have a set timeframe in which you have to report loss and damages while travelling. Remember to also keep the police report, which the insurance company will request as part of the claims procedure.