While violent crime is much lower in Asia than in many Western countries, petty theft can be an annoying problem in tourist areas. Thefts in Asia are rarely violent affairs or ‘muggings.’ Instead, thefts are usually crimes of opportunity that could have possibly been avoided with a little diligence.
Secure Your Guesthouse
Immediately after checking in and dropping your bags in your new room, take a quick moment to check out the security situation.
Room break-ins most often happen via an unlocked window, balcony door, or window with a broken lock. If you can’t properly lock all the doors and windows to your room, ask to be moved immediately.
Avoid leaving valuables out in the open, even in your own hotel room. Put away jewelery and money, rather than leaving it on the nightstand. Thieves rarely have the luxury of time to search for belongings, particularly in a busy hotel or guesthouse. Instead, they nervously opt to grab whatever is in plain sight before fleeing.
Follow these steps to minimize your risk:
- Check for damaged or broken window latches that may indicate they were pried open in the past.
- See how easy it would be for someone to climb onto your balcony.
- Always keep the windows and balcony door locked when not inside of the room.
- Lock your room door even when stepping out for just a quick moment.
- If one is provided, use the hotel safe or lockbox for your extra money, passport, and electronics. Carry and use your own padlock if possible.
Don’t Be an Easy Target
Asia is notoriously crowded; you’re most at risk for being pickpocketed while in busy areas such as on public transportation or when squeezing through a cramped marketplace. Bags with outer zippers should be secured or kept in sight; you may not feel a deft hand sneaking inside while you are wearing it on your back.
- Phones, cameras, and wallets can be snatched from tables by runners. Keep valuables on you whenever possible.
- Don’t put valuables (e.g., your mobile phone) in the outer pockets of your day bag.
- Secure zippers with small clips.
- Keep your wallet in a front pocket and avoid keeping money in fanny packs or other tourist packs that are just too obvious.
Bus and Train Theft
The most petty thefts occur in Thailand on night buses. Staff on the bus go through luggage that is stored in the hold beneath. Passengers don’t usually realize that small items are missing until long after the bus is gone. Protect yourself by keeping anything valuable with you at your seat -- this includes small items such as pocketknives and phone chargers. Always bring your belongings along when stopping for toilet breaks along the way.
On trains, avoid leaving items on your seat, especially when going to the toilet or moving around the train.
Other Examples of Problematic Theft
Motorbike theft is a problem in Vietnam and some parts of Southeast Asia. A fast-moving thief on a motorbike grabs the strap of a purse or backpack then speeds away in traffic. When taking tuk-tuks, rickshaws, or other open-air transport, keep bags in your lap or secured out of view.
Falling asleep on a night bus or train with an MP3 player or phone in your hand is a bad idea. Many travelers have unpleasantly awoke in the morning to find that they only have a pair of headphones left.
While muggings are rare, some travelers opt to keep money in two different places. A few even carry a fake wallet loaded with small bills or perhaps even a canceled credit card to make it appear more legitimate. The theory is that the fake extra wallet can be thrown to the mugger, who then hopefully runs away with only a little cash.
Bag slashings were once a problem in some areas. A thief with a razor blade cuts into your backpack or suitcase then reaches a hand inside. Pack mindfully, ideally padding outer parts of your bag with laundry or useless items.
Preparing for the Worst
A little diligence before traveling can make a big difference if you are actually robbed while abroad.
- Hide your credit card numbers and contact information in a secret email to yourself or on a piece of paper kept separate from your wallet. Scramble the credit card numbers slightly (e.g., add one to the last digit). Don’t just rely on being able to call toll-free numbers to report stolen cards; write down the local numbers for the country you are traveling and include the emergency collect-call number.
- Record the serial numbers and contact information for any traveler’s checks you are going to carry.
- Make photocopies of your passport and know the contact information for the nearest embassy.
- Have photocopies of receipts for valuable electronics that you may be carrying. Your travel insurance will want proof of purchase for a camera, laptop, or any other item that you report stolen.
- Have travel insurance documents ready to go with contact information. Have at least a loose idea of how to get a claim started; sometimes a cut-off time after the incident applies. You may not be able to wait until you return home before starting a claim.
Learn more about how to choose the best budget travel insurance for your trip.
What to Do If You Are Robbed
Start by immediately canceling any debit or credit cards as well as traveler’s checks. If your passport was stolen, you’ll need to contact your embassy and set up an appointment to be issued a temporary travel document.
If your room was robbed, report the incident to reception then change hotels if possible. Many thefts are performed by disgruntled, underpaid hotel staff; someone may return to your room to snatch whatever was missed the first time.
For any hope of filing a claim with your travel insurance, you’ll need a police report.Unfortunately, working with the police in many Asian countries can be difficult at best. You’ll most likely have to see the tourist police who will ask questions and provide a printed report. Don’t expect that the police will be much help or that you’ll be able to recover lost items -- even if you know who stole them!