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What to do if your documents are stolen abroad

It doesn’t, but if it does, it’s better to have a plan B and clear ideas of how to react.


We are all careful and scrupulous travelers and no attacker would ever be able to steal our documents, money and wallet. Some really think so, others forget to remember how many pitfalls there are out there. And so it happens, it can happen, that a trip is put into crisis - if not really ruined - by a banal theft. A skillful pickpocketing, certainly not an armed robbery, for which there are many other indications to follow. 

Let’s see what we need to do after, but also before, that someone wants to put their hands in our pockets and lighten our jacket or bag by the weight of cash, driver’s license, ID card, health card and many other pieces of our daily life. An unpleasant event that happened to, say, my cousin comes to our aid. That while he was quietly eating a sandwich in a shopping mall of a large European capital he was unwillingly relieved of what he kept in his pocket

As soon as the misdeed is discovered, one is stunned for a moment, in the temporary limbo that separates the surprise from the anger and then risks to ferry directly to despair. Without dwelling too much on philosophical reflections, let’s come to the point: what to do after theft with dexterity? Meanwhile, hoping that even the phone is not part of the loot, immediately access home banking to block or even just suspend credit cards and ATM. In this way the pickpocket will find himself with unusable pieces of plastic and maybe throw them in a basket not too far from the place of the crime. Maybe they will be found. But let’s not get too excited about this. 

After the card freeze, and some colorful expression that is better not to raise too loud, it’s time to react to the nefarious event. Meanwhile, as happened to my cousin, you will find that probably the "security" of the mall is completely useless: they can not look at the surveillance camera footage to understand if and where the wallet was thrown, they can not call the police (woe!) and they can only tell you to go to the information point to fill out a form, as if you want to subscribe to any loyalty card.

You will also be told that the police do not intervene, let alone if a phone call comes in a language other than that of the country where you are, for example Spain. We will then have to find out where the nearest police station is and find a way to get there to make an hour in a row, at best, describe what happened to the military on duty using the Google translator and sign a complaint in a language unknown to you hoping that it is not the confession of a cruel crime of which they could not find the responsible. 

Perfect. Now you have in your hands an incomprehensible sheet and always empty pockets. Assuming and not granted that you have travel companions and that you can continue the holiday thanks to their support, economic and moral, you must still get emergency documents, in order to move and even take back the plane, the ship, train or horse-drawn carriage you have booked to get home. 

It is called the Provisional Travel Document (or E.T.D. - Emergency Travel Documeny) and it is precisely a statement of identity that replaces the card stolen until you return to the municipality of residence. To get the Etd you must go to the Consulate. Attention, not the Embassy, where a voice from the other end of the intercom will sufficiently explain that this is a diplomatic headquarters, not a support office for "runaways". Then they will tell you where the Consulate is and also the opening hours. According to my cousin’s experience, check addresses and times if you don’t want to miss another half-day of office and building trips. Ah, an important as not positive detail. Consulates are not found in every city. Eh, no. For example, in Spain, there are consulates in Madrid and Barcelona. This means that if you are robbed in Santiago de Compostela where to go in person to Madrid to have the ETD: about 600 kilometers southeast (or you rely on the good heart of an honorary vice consul, booking an appointment first by email...).

If, as happened to my cousin, you arrive at the Consulate and find it closed, a sort of usher will give you all the indications in a mixed language between Spanish and Sorrento, explaining you before you have to go to Barcelona, then that there is no hurry to make the provisional document, finally, after your understandable insistence, to return the next day with the report of the theft and, very important, two photo cards. Now, since you’re not exactly in your neighborhood and your clarity is shaking, probably finding a place to take pictures won’t be the easiest thing in the world. 

Don’t worry. Because what the zealous consular officer forgot to tell you is that, just behind the Consulate gate, there’s a photo-card machine. A detail that you will appreciate only the following day, when, moreover, discover how much Italy there is in the Italian Consulate

Vague indications, self-managed files, doors to approach independently if you do not want to wait hours. In the end, however, if you have a copy of the complaint, the two photos above and maybe even a photocopy of the stolen document, you will get the Etd: beautiful, colorful and never seen before. It will be the care of the consular staff to explain to you several times, even while you fill in the necessary forms, that with the provisional document you can only leave the country and return home, no deviation is allowed. If you were planning to enter a neighbouring European state, France or Portugal, say, that is not possible. 

Of course, as my cousin, you will be very surprised, especially if those countries were an integral part of your trip and you have already booked some hotels there. However, you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the ETD is not in any way prohibited from entering other states, also because its heading is European Union, thus implying that it is a Community document, not Italian or Spanish.

Another surprise will be the license: if you ask the Consulate how to do them explain kindly that it is a document issued by another ministry, not by the Foreign Ministry but by the Transport Ministry and that therefore they can not do anything. None of it, as if you were the first people in Republican history to be robbed and still have to drive a car. They’ll suggest you go to the police, ask them. 

And nothing will be worth your exceptions on the fact that it would be practically to constitute itself, seen the linguistic misunderstandings and the absence of any consular assistance. The Italian Consulate has never had to face such a situation. At the Consulate, finally, no one will ask you if you are in a position to support yourself, to put gasoline, to eat or if you have a place to sleep. They don’t care or it’s not their responsibility, but they’re not gonna take care of it. 

As you exit the gate of the consular garden you will have a moment of good humor thinking about how much Italy is inside that semi-diplomatic representation. And how great it would be if, in a fantasy world, the Consulate could access your fingerprints, which you donated when you made your passport and ID, to make sure without any doubt of your identity and release all the necessary documents, as they appear from the archives of our public administration... Yeah, that’s a funny thought. 

Magari attiverete pure una prepagata, da tenere in un luogo “sicuro” – ammesso che esista – e da utilizzare in caso di emergenza dopo aver sospeso o bloccato le carte rubate. Magari.

Be that as it may, you now have your provisional document, the theft report for any eventuality and are ready to start the journey again. Paying much more attention to where you put your jacket, bag, backpack and everything else. And maybe, before leaving for the next "Zingarata", you will upload to the Cloud the photo of your ID card, driver’s license, health card and everything relevant that you normally carry with you. 

Maybe you will also activate a prepaid, to be kept in a "safe" place - if it exists - and to be used in an emergency after suspending or blocking the stolen cards. Maybe.


Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios

Photos by Marco Squadroni