I thought I'd experienced all the bad omens while traveling. From running out of money in Marmaris to getting sick in Vientiane during my Indochina trip, I really thought I'd had enough until on my last trip to Serbia when I had to face yet another lousy luck on my travel: getting pickpocketed abroad.
Since the Balkan trip is on the top of my bucket list, I really thought that the trip to Serbia would be the pinnacle of the year because of how fun it was, turned out I got another lesson to learn when I got my wallet stolen. When I realized that I had lost my wallet after getting off the bus in Belgrade, I nailed to be calm.
If anything, those who found out that I got pickpocketed in Serbia thought that I could manage to be cool-headed despite the situation that really got on my nerves.
So in this post, I'm going to share what I've done after getting pickpocketed abroad and how I controlled the damage after I lost my wallet. Since I've kinda learned some things the hard way after experiencing pickpocketing in Europe, I will also share some tips to avoid getting robbed while traveling overseas.
What did I do to keep my cool after getting my wallet stolen abroad during my travel? Here we go!
5 Things to Do When You Get Pickpocketed Abroad
I realized that I lost my wallet when I stopped at the Moj Kiosk near my apartment to buy a bottle of water, only to realize that I didn't have it with me inside my bag. At the time, I knew there were only two possibilities, either I got it stolen, or it got buried among my groceries inside the shopping bag since it happened on my way back from Lidl after I went for grocery.
So then I apologized to the lady at Moj Kiosk, and headed back to my apartment to double-check everything. It was only then that I was convinced that my wallet got stolen.
I was kinda shocked at first, but I'm glad that I think I did the right thing to survive after the event. Here are some things that I did when I got pickpocketed abroad!
1. Contact your bank to block all your cards.
Depending on what's lost, but since I lost my wallet with all my debit cards and two credit cards there, the first thing I did when I realized that they were gone was to contact my bank. Thankfully, I still have my phone with me, so I could easily block all my cards through my mobile banking apps.
To be fair, at first I didn't think I had a big problem when I got pickpocketed since I still had my apartment deposit for when I'm back to Turkey, and I also had 50 euro in cash in my storage box along with two other credit cards.
However, the limit of my backup credit cards combined was barely $200, and I couldn't even withdraw cash of more than $50. Even worse, when I tried to withdraw cash, for some reason, it got declined too so the first thing I had in mind was to find an alternative so I could withdraw cash somehow in case I ran out of cash.
2. Go to the nearest police station.
After Lidl, I took bus number 29 to return to my apartment in Vracar. The bus was full, so I could only think of the possibility of getting pickpocketed in such crowded public transportation. When I could confirm that I lost my wallet, I decided to ring my landlord who lived next door to inform her and asked her to accompany me to the nearest police station.
I did this even before I called my insurance, because I also lost my Indonesian ID card inside my wallet, so I thought it would be wise to make a police report about it in case I would need one to replace my ID card once I'm back to Indonesia.
On the day when I lost my wallet, we went to the police station in Vracar to make a report at around 3 PM, but they said it was closed already and I had to come back the next day. So we did the next day, my landlord accompanied me and helped me translate all the necessary details to make the police report.
The police who made my report only needed my passport to verify my document, but the process of making a police report could take a while. I went to the police station at 8 AM, and I think it was only finished by 10 AM. I didn't queue or anything since I was probably the first and possibly the only person who made a report that day.
3. Check with your insurance and prepare all the necessary documents if you can claim it.
After getting my police report, I emailed my insurance to confirm if I was eligible for coverage since the loss of personal belongings should be on the list of my insurance policy.
I bought my annual travel insurance at AXA Mandiri for IDR 1,621,675 (around $108.65 USD). While it is annual travel insurance, the insurance is only valid for a total of 90-day traveling. It was a perfect choice for me since I traveled around Turkey and Serbia for 3 months, and the price was quite affordable compared to the other options.
As it turned out, I could claim it and I got it covered for IDR 3,900,000 (around $260 USD), which was the maximum coverage for the loss of personal belongings. Compared to MSIG travel insurance that I got a chance to claim when I got ill in Laos, AXA Mandiri has the advantage of an easy claim.
Unlike MSIG travel insurance, which required me to send the hard copy of all the necessary documents, AXA travel insurance could proceed with the claim digitally by email. I got the reimbursement transferred to my bank account approximately a week after completing all the requirements to claim my case. For this, I would definitely recommend AXA Mandiri for travel insurance, especially for fellow Indonesian citizens!
4. Connect with travelers and expats to gain insights for plan B through relevant Facebook groups.
For any incident during your travel, a plan B will be expected no matter what. Lucky for me, at least I “only” lost my wallet, cards, and a bus ticket to Novi Sad. I didn't have to deal with losing my passport or phone in this case, which was somewhat a relief now that I think about it?
My only concern was to find another alternative to withdraw cash as I only had 50 euro in cash, while I wouldn't get my deposit back until I check out of my apartment by the end of my stay in Serbia. The good thing is that I had no problem accessing my mobile banking through my phone.
I still had two credit cards with me on my backup wallet back home, but the limit wasn't too much and I couldn't even use one of the cards in Serbia for some reason. So I connected with some travelers and expats through a few Facebook groups like Expats in Belgrade and Expats in Serbia to see if anyone could give me suggestions on what to do to withdraw cash.
Joining this relevant groups on Facebook to connect with people is something that I would recommend whenever you travel to a new destination. It's a good community, and some of them also provide some great resources, from short-term rents to legal assistance.
Most of them recommend other ways of payment like GooglePay or ApplePay, only for me to realize none of them are available in my country home, which is Indonesia. Some also recommended using Western Union as many people there convinced me that the process should be fast and easy. I tell you what, this was when I realized that not everyone has the same access to all traveling platforms in the world.
At the time, Western Union sounds like the easiest and fastest way to withdraw cash abroad. Not until I realized that the process wouldn't be as easy as people described it in the FB group's suggestions. First of all, most people who recommended Western Union because it was fast and easy come from a first-world country and I realized that it wasn't the case for me.
Yes, I could definitely send money via Western Union, but the online feature to send money through Western Union is not available in Indonesia. The only way to do so is by having someone back home who can send the money from the nearest Western Union agent. I decided to inform my siblings about the fact that I got pickpocketed, because I knew if I told my parents about this, they would be unnecessarily worried about me.
So I transferred IDR 1,000,000 (around $67 USD) to his bank account first so he could send it from a Western Union agent nearby. Yes, I have to admit that it was pretty fast. At the time, I was eligible to withdraw cash for another 50 euro. However, there was also an additional fee that my brother had to pay IDR 125,000 (around $8 USD) to send the money via Western Union.
Nonetheless, it was a good experience for me to learn that Western Union has its own pros and cons to consider if you want to use it for international payment. I don't find Western Union a sustainable option to withdraw cash overseas due to the practicality and high transaction fee.
Lucky for me, I got a suggestion from a fellow Indonesian digital nomad who told me that I could request a Wise card and get it sent to a friend's address in Europe or the UK if I could ask a friend there to ship the card for me in Serbia. I've been using Wise for years, but Wise card feature isn't available in Indonesia, so I asked my English friend Jay to see if I could use his address for this.
I've been using Wise ever since it was called Transferwise, so it was totally a better option for me. Not to mention that my friend Jay didn't mind helping me to receive the card and ship it to my address later.
The process didn't take long, I remember I requested a Wise card on the 29th via their website and paid £5 for it, and Jay received it at his home address on the 31st, although unfortunately, it just happened at the same time he got positive for Covid-19. With all the quarantine and everything, he couldn't ship it until when I was back in Turkey so I had to think of another alternative to withdraw cash in that case.
That's when I decided to find a bank that allows foreigners to open a bank account without a residence permit. I got the information about this through FB groups, but the response varies, and when I checked each bank, it seems like each branch had different policies, which made it even harder for me to find a solution. Not to mention that it happened during the holidays so I had to deal with closing banks and offices to wait.
Because of this, I spent more time in Belgrade (and Novi Sad) looking for banks that allow me to open a bank account without a residence permit in Serbia. Even if it's the same bank, sometimes different branch has a different policy when it comes to this. Although to be fair, it seems that most banks in Novi Sad city center allow foreigners to open a bank account without a residence permit.
Anyway, if you happened to get through the same thing as getting pickpocketed in Serbia and you're looking for an alternative bank to open an account without a residence permit there, the easiest bank to get one is Raiffeisen Bank.
In Belgrade, at least two Raiffeisen Bank branches make it possible for you to open a bank account without a residence permit. One was the branch at Galerija, and the other was the branch where I opened my bank account, the Raiffeisen Bank in Vracar.
5. Collect the necessary documents to open a bank account.
Since opening a bank account in Serbia seems to be my last option to ensure that I will have something that enables me to withdraw cash for the rest of my trip, I spent a few days collecting information about the requirement to open a bank account there without a residence permit.
I decided to open a bank account at Raiffeisen Bank because the requirement was quite easy. They only needed my passport and beli karton (Serbian word for “white card”, which refers to the reference letter from the police department to confirm your stay in Serbia).
Ideally, when you land in Serbia and stay in your accommodation, your accommodation should register you as a tourist, and you can get a copy of your white card there. I was actually the first tenant of my landlord in Serbia and they weren't sure how they could register my data to get a white card so I decided to get one when I traveled to Novi Sad.
In Novi Sad, I stayed at Apartmani Amaro, and the first thing I asked when I checked in to the accommodation was to see if they could provide me with a white card. At first, the receptionist wasn't sure what they needed to be done, but she ensured me that they'd figure it out. It took only an hour for one of the staff to knock on my room door and hand me the card then.
Beli karton or the white card is a piece of paper containing information about you, the accommodation where you stay, and how long you'll be in Serbia. It will give you some sense of security to be registered legally in case anything happens to you. And on top of that, you can open a bank account with it!
Your accommodation or landlord can register your information online through e-Turista, and the printout should be eligible for you to get around Serbia.
One of the banks in Novi Sad (I'm looking at you, Halkbank!) told me to report to the nearest police office and get it stamped first to be eligible to open a bank account, so I went there only for the police officer to tell me that it should be enough because it was an online registration, and it was technically already stamped digitally. When I came back to the bank, they said they couldn't proceed with opening a bank account for me because they only allow Serbian and Turkish citizens for this. What a waste of time. 😐
Anyway, that is also the reason why I decided to choose to open a bank account at Raiffeisen Bank. Their customer service seems to be more accommodating than the other banks that I visited. And the process of opening a bank account in Serbia without a residence permit there was quite straightforward.
I remember I went to the branch in Vracar on Monday after their Christmas holiday, and I came with only my passport and white card, and they helped me with the process. From signing some necessary documents to signing me up to connect with their mobile app.
Before agreeing to open a bank account with Raiffeisen, the staff informed me that I had an option to open an account for both Serbian dinar (RSD) and Euro, or just Serbian dinar. For Serbian dinar, their administrative fee will be 250 dinar (around $2 USD) per month, and for both currencies they will charge a monthly fee of 650 dinar (around $5.5 USD). Compared to the average fee in most Indonesian banks, I gotta say it was very high, but then I had no choice so I agreed with that.
I opened the bank account on Monday, and on Friday I got the cards for each currency. I've now got DinaCard for my Serbian dinar account and a visa debit card for Euro.
5 Ways to Prevent You From Getting Pickpocketed Abroad
It's one thing to know what to do when you get pickpocketed abroad, but it will be easier for everyone if you know what to do to prevent it from happening to you. So, here are some things that I've learned from what happened to me in Serbia so you can apply them next time you travel!
1. Do not carry your original passport with you.
Still having my passport saved me a lot of headaches when I got pickpocketed abroad, because I couldn't imagine what could have happened if I lost it too. And this is the easiest way to prevent losing your passport when you travel overseas: never carry the original passport with you!
This is what I've done whenever I travel since I started my job as a flight attendant. I know some people would suggest you to always carry your passport with you, but I don't. Instead, I usually make a few copies of my passport before I travel so I can at least carry a copy in my wallet when I stroll around the city overseas.
Unless you do something that will require you to meet an authority official like police or immigration, always refrain yourself from carrying your original passport. I know there's a chance that you will get some document inspection if you travel intercity with a bus in Turkiye, so of course, you have to carry your original passport in that case.
But once you get to your hotel and you're ready for an adventure in the new city, leave your passport somewhere safe in your accommodation. Trust me, it will save you time and stress if you get robbed overseas.
I mean, sure I lost my Indonesian ID card when I got pickpocketed abroad, but at least I didn't get stressed from losing a necessary travel document like passport, so I didn't have to worry about contacting the embassy or adjusting my travel plan to wait and renew my passport!
2. Split your cash and cards into two different places.
This is another thing that saved me from the worst situation possible when I got pickpocketed overseas. I still had some cash and cards with me even when I lost most of my belongings in the stolen wallet.
Whenever I travel, I usually have two wallets with me. These two wallets are pretty much on the list of my essential things to pack wherever I travel! One is the one I always carry everywhere with me, and the other is the wallet that I keep with all foreign currencies (also my own “travel souvenirs” since I always keep the money left from all the countries that I traveled), the “backup” cash and cards.
By doing so, at least it gives me a couple of days to survive and think about the possible plan B that I could do to prevent worse from becoming the worst.
3. Carry your phone in your hand.
I don't care how many people told you to put your phone away somewhere safe when you're on public transportation, carrying it in your hand is most likely safer than putting it somewhere you think is safer inside your bag. You know how vital mobile phones are these days.
Losing my wallet was probably easier than losing my phone, and I know this because when I was in Serbia, it's just that I happened to meet another fellow Indonesian traveler who also got pickpocketed, but he lost his phone instead. He had it worse because he lost access to all his accommodation bookings and mobile banking!
Well, I know… I think one of the reasons why I got pickpocketed in the first place was also because I focused too much on my phone when I was on the bus. But hey, it was still better than losing access to my finance when I was on a long trip overseas!
4. Use an anti-theft bag for your travel.
When I got pickpocketed, I had my favorite backpack with me. But I have to admit that after I lost my wallet, I tend to use my anti-theft sling bag from Gema Gita Rajut more often, which I also brought with me on my trip to Serbia and Turkey. It wouldn't guarantee anti-pickpocketing, but I have to admit that even as the owner of the bag, at first I didn't know how to open the bag and had to text the shop owner to find out. LOL.
If you don't have an anti-theft bag, the best thing you could do to minimize the chance of you getting pickpocketed is by having your bag in front of you to keep it safe. I definitely learned the hard way when it comes to this, so maybe it's better to keep an eye on your bag that way.
5. Get travel insurance that covers the loss of personal belongings.
Having legit travel insurance that offers coverage for losing personal belongings may not prevent you from getting pickpocketed, but shit happens all the time. Sometimes it happens when it's least expected. So having some kind of protection could help you maintain your peace of mind, even when things go south during your travel.
I know I wouldn't have my wallet back, but at least I got it covered and half of the money I lost when I got pickpocketed was reimbursed to my account after my travel insurance approved my claim.
Seriously though, some people thought it was great that I could keep calm when I got pickpocketed abroad when I traveled solo overseas. But the thing is that this wouldn't be this smooth if only I didn't have a good support system when shit happened.
I had my travel insurance, and I also got my friend Dora that could help me out with cash during our road trip around Serbia. My landlord and the accommodation that I booked helped me complete the documents needed to open a bank account as a plan B after getting pickpocketed.
Have you been through the same thing as you got pickpocketed or robbed when you traveled abroad? Any additional tips that you can share with the readers that happened to visit this blog post? Share it in the comment below, and cheerio! 🙂
Marya The BeauTraveler
I am the founder and main editor at The BeauTraveler. I spent 4 years working in the aviation industry but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, I started working remotely in 2017, and while I stay at home most of the time, I also regularly spend 2-3 months living a semi-digital nomad life elsewhere every year.
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