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Loss, theft and police in Vietnam

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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