Mar 24 2012

Loss, theft and police in Vietnam

Published by at 9:07 pm under Health & safety


I’ve been through the theft part twice while travelling. I had cash stolen out of my bag in China — they sliced it open while it was by my feet on a bus — and a camera and iPod stolen from my baggage on a flight (yes, I know I shouldn’t have packed valuables in my checked-in luggage). If this happens to you in Vietnam, what should you do?

Keep your hand on your dong in the night market

Keep your hand on your dong in the night market.

First, a commonsense piece of advice from Nalini Sadai, British Consular Regional Operations Manager, whom I interviewed recently: “Prevention is the way to go: don’t wear flash jewellery, only take out what money you need, et cetera. People forget that when they’re in a foreign country, the simple rules they apply back home still apply.” Yes, you’ve heard it all before, but it’s easy to forget.

If something does go wrong, remember that processes are probably different than in your home country: language could be a barrier and the way crime is reported might be different to what you are used to. For example, in Vietnam, if you have something valuable stolen, like an iPhone, and you report it to the police, they have to investigate. But if there aren’t any witnesses to the crime and they can’t get any evidence, then they may not provide a report and you may not be able to claim it on your insurance.

Given this, I asked Nalini if it was worth going to the police. “Yes, definitely. It’s best to take someone with you who can translate, maybe someone from your hotel. If it isn’t straightforward then you can contact your consulate, who will do what they can to help. Also, if you do go to the police, make sure you are respectful and polite, this will help the process go more smoothly for you.”

A number of police stations are located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter — check with your hotel which police station you should report a crime to.

Lost or stolen passports can be a real headache, and Nalini stresses the importance of taking extra care of your passport when travelling. “Replacement British passports aren’t issued in Vietnam now, so they can take up to six weeks, via Hong Kong, and if you’re travelling for a while you might not have any fixed address where it can be sent back to. We can issue an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) which allows you to travel to up to five countries in one direction, but if you need more than that you’ll have to find somewhere you can stay long enough, with a safe address, to get a new passport issued.”

Don't leave them on display

Don't leave them on display.

I asked Nalini about a common point raised on the Travelfish.org forum: leaving passports at your hotel reception. She confirmed that the hotel only needs to record the details from your passport in order to register you with the police, so you should be able to wait there while they do that and then take your passport back.

She urges caution about leaving your passport with the hotel as a guarantee of payment. “It’s been a problem in HCMC recently,” she says. “We’ve had people coming to us who have run up a bill they can’t pay and the hotel won’t give them their passport back.”

UPDATE: Just to clarity the last point made, as I realise it’s not completely clear. It is understandable that hotels may wish to keep hold of your passport as a guarantee of payment. If you do not want them to do that then consider paying cash up-front or leaving a credit card (for larger hotels).

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Loss, theft and police in Vietnam”

  1. Llamaon 24 Mar 2012 at 10:07 pm

    But if you run up a bill & can’t afforded to pay, you obviously do not deserve your passport back.

  2. Sarahon 25 Mar 2012 at 1:10 am

    No argument from me – or the consular – there. Maybe the point’s not well enough made, but it’s there to remind people that not having the money to pay a bill could become an even bigger problem if they have your passport as a guarantee.

  3. BusyLizzyon 25 Mar 2012 at 10:17 am

    Before I leave home, I always make a laminated photocopy of my passport (just the picture page). Everywhere I travel, it’s this copy that I carry around and hand over to hotels, etc when requested, thereby keeping my actual passport in it’s safe place. This reduce the risk of me losing it, leaving it behind, or having some problem getting it back from the hotel the next day. In Vietnam, I believe they also needed the visa number, so I just wrote it on a post-it that I stuck to the laminated copy. Only one hotel during my month in Vietnam refused to take the copy (unjustifiably, I’d say).

  4. owee58on 13 Jul 2013 at 12:11 am

    As the owner of a former hotel and now guest house I will clarify one point.
    ” I asked Nalini about a common point raised on the Travelfish.org forum: leaving passports at your hotel reception. She confirmed that the hotel only needs to record the details from your passport in order to register you with the police, so you should be able to wait there while they do that and then take your passport back.”

    This advice is mistaken and can lead to some confrontations at the reception desk. In tourist areas passports can be returned as the police cannot deal with the high transient population but in many cities and towns throughout Vietnam are required by local law to have visitors passports and id available for inspection.

    Owee58

  5. Johnon 25 Aug 2013 at 5:33 am

    Corruption will slow down only when there is accountability. Accountability will only happen when Viets stop “saving face”(the direct result if living in fear). Of course, as in any society, it’s easy to figure out that corruption usually starts at the very top of the food chain and trickles down. You and I could easily justify our greed when high officials are doing the same. Everyone else is doing it, so why not me? So, with that in mind, I’ll be pushing my way to the front of the line the next time I’m in the Co-op Mart. Perhaps if I can’t get my way, I’ll instead break a key off in someone’s motorbike ignition, like that fucking scum cop on the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Ton Duc Thang did last night. The same three cops there have been bribing people for months and actually took my buddy’s motorbike key and drove off while he stood there all night with no way to get home because he had no money, although he didn’t violate any traffic laws. Wake up Vietnam, your time is coming……

  6. marcon 03 Sep 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I had my bag sliced, the bag fell on the floor then the guys turned around and shouted for the bag.

    I reported the incident to the police which took 5 hours, but got no crime number, he also said promise me to not tell uk police (for some reason)

    the problem is i lost my camera, sports clothes, mp3, laptop and cash. i DONT EVER EXPECT TO BE REUNITED WITH MY STUFF BUT NEED to file an insurance claim but the viet police don’t seem to helpful.

    I go home in a week, what should I do? I’ve never claimed off insurance before.

  7. Sarah Turneron 03 Sep 2013 at 12:46 pm

    If you got no joy from the police you should contact your Consulate. You will need a crime report to claim on insurance.

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