Our Passports Were Stolen in Ho Chi Minh City, Now What?

Traveling can be bliss, but it can also be a nightmare. This is the story of our nightmare – getting our passports stolen – and how to fix it. If you find yourself in this situation, and need some help, refer to the step-by-step guide below on how to get a new passport abroad.

The incident

Leisurely walking down the street on the way back to the hostel with not a care in the world, our lives were turned upside down within a millisecond.

After a night of fun and drinking on “walking street” Kris and I made our way back to the hostel at around 4am. Laughing and talking on the way back we were unaware of our surroundings. After you’ve been traveling for some time, you lose your sense of danger or fear, and you don’t think anything bad can happen to you. This is astronomically untrue. I’m not saying you need to walk around fearing everything and everyone, but you should always be aware of where you are.

Anyway… this was our first night in District 1 of HCMC, and we met some cool people in the hostel so we all went out. Since we didn’t know the area at all, we actually overshot the hostel on our walk back, and that’s when it happened.

I was walking in the street with my shoulder bag on, and Kris was on my left hand side. There weren’t many people out at this time. It happened so quickly I didn’t even realize my bag was gone until the motorbike was 20 feet ahead of me. They must have been sitting on the corner just waiting for someone to give them an opening. The motorbike came right up next to me, cut my bag off of me with a knife, and sped off. Like I said, I barely felt it happen, they must have done it hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Takeaway: We usually don’t have our passports out with us, especially while drinking. This was our number 1 mistake. If your hostel doesn’t have lockers with locks, find a place to hide them within your stuff. Separate your most important items, don’t have them all in one place. If you can avoid bringing your phone out, also leave it in the hostel. It’s safer there than on your person.

Buy a belly bag that you can wear underneath your clothes, if they can’t see it, they can’t steal it.

Here is what you do if your passport is stolen

Step 1: Panic

Immediate disbelief and panic set in. I touched my hip and felt the empty space where my bag would sit, I looked up and saw the strap of my bag flailing in the air right before the thief tucked it in between him and the getaway driver. All I could muster was, “he took it! He just took it!” Kris and I started running after the motorbike and quickly realized it was pointless as he was already gone. Not only were our passports in this bag, but my iPhone, about 1 million dong, and all of our debit and credit cards as well. It was a huge blow to say the least. The bright side was we didn’t have our USD cash on us, it was back in the hostel, which is the thing that saved us during the recovery time.

I started to cry as I watched our belongings fade into the distance. I am in shock for a while feeling so many mixed emotions; anger, disbelief, guilt, sadness, embarrassment… What happens now? What about our New Zealand plans? They’re going to use our bank cards, how do we cancel them? Why did this happen to us? How could I be so stupid to let this happen? Why are there such mean people in the world?

An added bonus was that our visa would run out at the end of that week, we only had about 6 days to leave the country. This was not possible anymore.

Kris was much more put together than me, assuring me that everything will be ok, and was just happy that the thieves didn’t hurt me. We were both a bit disoriented and tried to find our way back to the hostel. We got there and immediately got on the computer to cancel our bank cards. Depending on your bank, you might have to call them, but most of ours were as easy as an email or a click on the website.

Then Kris thought… “wait, you have ‘find my iPhone’ don’t you? Let’s try that.” We logged in and my heart raced as it was searching for the location. Yes! It’s been found. We were new to the area so we didn’t know where this was. We pulled up google and found that the phone was right here, exactly where we are now. How is this possible? What we realized was it found the location of the MacBook I was using in that moment, not my iPhone. My heart sank. My phone was offline and there was no way to track it.

Takeaway: Give yourself some time to panic, don’t hold back these emotions you are feeling because it does no good to you to keep them inside. But don’t overdo it, allow yourself some freak out time in order to get back to reality.

Step 2: Acceptance

Since it was 4am when this happened to us, we didn’t sleep at all that night. I laid down for a few hours, but my adrenaline did not allow me to sleep. We got up and assessed the situation. The first thing we did was accept it. It happened, and there is nothing we can do about it except to recognize it and start to pick up the pieces.

Acceptance didn’t happen right away, even though we had talked about it. When something like this happens you don’t want to accept it. You want to find a way to get your things back. We took a walk that day to see if maybe they just took the cash and chucked the bag. But there was no luck.

It took a while for us to truly accept that this was happening even after we filed the police report and visited the embassies. Your brain doesn’t want to believe it happened. Anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, embarrassment, and so many others were constantly fighting in my head.

Takeaway: In the end you need to give in, accept, and move on, not letting these emotions take over your life. 

The sooner you accept it, the better.

Step 3: Action

Go to the embassy of your country

After discussing what we should do first, we decided to go to our embassies. We found them on google and took the 50 minute walk to both of them. The UK and US embassies are around the corner from each other.

As we walked into the UK embassy we were greeted by two Vietnamese soldiers who spoke a bit of English. Kris explained the situation and they grabbed the phone and started dialing. They handed the phone to Kris and he spoke to someone telling him he can apply at the Visa Application Center (VAC) and they will send his passport to the VAC where he can pick it up in 4-12 weeks. The time frame is very large, which is concerning, but not terrible news.

The US embassy was much stricter as far as who could enter, they wanted me to prove I was a US citizen, but since I had everything stolen I had no proof. They allowed me inside, but made Kris wait outside. I spoke to a Vietnamese woman inside who handed me an application to fill out and bring back. She also told me I need to report it to the police. My passport would only take 2 weeks to get processed. Great news.

File a police report

Our next step was to head to the police station that was closest to where the incident occurred. We asked the friendly staff at Vietnam Guide Home where we could find one and they helped us out.

The police were pretty efficient with our case and we got it done very quickly. The only issue was that we had to report that we had lost our passports instead of saying they were stolen. If we had reported them stolen then they would have to open an investigation and we would not get our police report back right away. Time is something we did not have the luxury of, so we did what the officer said and reported that we lost them. I almost wanted to make them open an investigation on principle alone, but it was not logical.

Lodge the application

IMPORTANT NOTE: I cannot stress this enough, before you go traveling, make sure you have digital copies of all of your personal documents in case something like this happens. Have copies of every document you can think of that can prove that you, are you. This will help make the process shorter and less painful.

We got our police report back 1 day later, which was needed to lodge the application for Kris, but for me it was not needed. We filled out our applications and submitted our supporting documents. Here is everything we needed:

Kris’s UK application at the VAC:
Cost: £115

Application for a new passport
Lost/stolen form
Credit card form (for payment to be processed in England)
Police report
Birth certificate copy
Picture of stolen passport
2 passport photos (make sure they are the correct size, each country has different standards)

Amanda’s US application at the embassy:
Cost: $145 USD

Application for a new passport
Lost/Stolen form
$145 USD (cash or bank cards accepted, we used cash)
Picture of stolen passport
Any other supporting documentation of your US citizenship (pictures of driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate etc.)
2 passport photos (make sure they are the correct size, each country has different standards)

For some reason, the US embassy did not need my police report, they just told me to hand that into immigration. We were both also able to order a book with extra pages in it for no extra cost.

Now, we wait. That is all you can do, once the applications are in, they are out of your hands, you cannot convince them to produce them faster, it doesn’t work. The US embassy does provide you with an option to get an emergency passport the same day that you go there. You have to pay $145 USD up front for it, but when you get your new passport, you don’t have to pay extra. So, if that is something that will give you comfort, it’s an option for Americans.

The VAC does also have an option for an emergency passport for UK citizens, but it is only good for a maximum of 5 countries, so it’s purpose is really for people who plan to go back to the UK and then apply for a new passport. We did not want to/could not afford to go back to our home countries, so our best option was to stay put, and wait.

Once we received our passports, we had to get to immigration, where they would tell us if we had to pay a fee for overstaying our visa. Even though this was not our fault, we could still be subject to paying an overstay visa fee.

Takeaway: Report your passport stolen first, then go to your embassy and follow the directions for the application process. 

After you receive your passport, head to immigration in District 1.

Immigration

I got an email one morning saying my passport was at the embassy and that I could pick it up. I sprinted there. If I could glue it to my body I would. I received my passport exactly on the 2 week mark of the day I lodged the application. Pretty efficient! The embassy also gave me a letter stating why I overstayed my visa, that my passport was stolen and I could not leave the country. This is to politely ask immigration not to charge me money for overstaying my visa. I brought it back to the hostel and took a picture of it.

I went to immigration which was only a 10 minute walk from my hostel and found a large building with lots of chairs and people in uniform behind glass windows calling peoples numbers. I walk in and get a number. I have to fill out the NA5 form. You have to get someone to photocopy it for you in the building and it costs 10,000 dong per page. I also had to photocopy my embassy letter and my police report. So it cost 30,000 in total. Pretty pricy if you ask me.

When my number was called I went to the window and handed in my documents with my passport. She told me to sit and wait until someone called me. A man in uniform came to get me and brought me to a windowless room in the back. It looked like a police interrogation room with its blank walls and single table and chair.

He explained that they would hold my passport for 7 days in order to issue me a new Vietnam visa that would only be valid for 15 days. I would have to get out of the country before this time was up. Not incredibly inconvenient but still annoying. Then I would have to pay 232,000 dong that day for the new visa, and to come back in 7 days to get it. He said it may be quicker and he would call me if it is ready before 7 days. He also said that I could be fined up to 2 million dong for overstaying my visa, even though I have the letter from the embassy telling them my situation. I pleaded with him to not charge me, but he stated that it was not up to him, but his commander. Since it was well out of my hands to argue, I nodded and left.

Takeaway: As soon as you get your passport, immediately take it to immigration, even if you haven’t overstayed your visa. Immigration can change the rules at any time, so don’t take my story as gospel. 

You never want immigration on your bad side.

Still waiting…

As of right now, I am still waiting for my passport to get back from immigration so I don’t know what my fate will be. Will they charge me the full amount? Or will the commander be having an especially good day that day and let me off with a warning?

Kris is still waiting for his passport to arrive in HCMC.

Only time will tell…

 

Amanda is a freelance writer traveling the world by bicycle. She has her own blog about her travels around the world. Global Bike Trip.



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