How to stay safe and avoid getting pickpocketed in Asia
Pickpocketing is a common problem all over the world, but it can be particularly exacerbated in Asian countries, where foreign tourists stand out from the crowd. Although Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world with an incredibly low crime rate, in other countries like Thailand or Vietnam, pickpocketing is still extremely common – especially in capitals like Bangkok or Saigon.
In the following, you will learn about some of the most common forms of pickpocketing in Asia and some tips on how to stay safe during your trip. If you want to know more about how to avoid pickpocketing when traveling, check out the article by Sundried .
Unfortunately, pickpocketing is very common, especially in crowded places like market plazas, bars or clubs. The best thing to do to prevent this is to leave valuables locked in your hostel or keep them in a zippered pocket or a zippered purse while travelling. An anti-theft backpack with an internal zipper may be a good investment if you’re planning to travel across Asia (there are plenty of different models where the zipper is against your back, and not on the outside like in other common backpacks). I personally recommend a camera bag of this kind if you’re travelling with a professional camera or other photography equipment that screams money, so that you can keep your lenses safe while carrying them around. Be especially careful with your belongings when you use public transport, particularly when overcrowded. Keep your subway card or bus tickets in a zipped pocket outside of your wallet so that you can avoid taking out your wallet every time you need to get on a bus or in a subway station. Never keep your wallet or phone in an external pocket of your backpack, and if you’re wearing a purse wear it across your body and move it on the front instead of over your shoulder. And for those who believe to have an extraordinary spidey sense: no, you won’t notice someone taking your wallet from the back pocket of your jeans or from the pocket of your jacket, so if they’re unzipped, use them only for tissues or trash.
Those are extremely common especially in Vietnam, where men on motorbikes grab your phone out of your hand as they drive by. Ideally, you should keep valuables out of sight when you’re on the streets unless you really need them. For example, avoid having your phone in your hand while walking in the streets, which can be difficult if you’re dependent on google maps like me. You may consider purchasing a cheap smartphone with a prepaid sim card for your vacation in Asia;the only apps you will use in China, for example, are WeChat, Alipay, DiDi for taxis and Baidu maps. In case you lose your phone, don’t rush immediately to the police station: those kinds of robberies are so common in big cities like Saigon that the police won’t really be able to do anything unless you somehow manage to memorise the plate number or you can track the position of your phone. First, deactivate any payment methods you have active on your phone or change the most important passwords, then go to the police. Avoid staring at your phone on subways as well, as thieves can grab your phone when the train stops and run away from the station. In this case it may be wise to exit at the next stop and contact the security guards, since stations usually have security cameras.
Kids and beggars
Some of the kids have unfortunately been trained to rob unsuspecting tourists appealing to their empathy. Some people got distracted or felt compassionate towards their requests and got pickpocketed without even noticing the loss at first. Try to be a little more cautious around them, especially if they are in groups. Don’t give money to beggars either, as you will have to take out your wallet to do so, and therefore expose yourself to an unnecessary risk.
-Never leave belongings unattended. When you’re at a cafe or restaurant, keep things on your lap or wrap the bag strap around your leg. Don’t leave your bag at the side of the chair or at your feet, and always make sure the zipper is closed.
-Store money in different places so you don’t lose everything at once. Don’t keep credit cards, documents and cash all in one wallet: lock everything in a safe place in your hotel and keep only what’s really necessary on you while sightseeing. In China for example, you can leave your credit cards at the hotel, because you can pay with WeChat or Alipay everywhere; do keep some cash on you though, in case you lose your phone or the battery dies. That way you still have alternatives even if something gets stolen.
-Don’t keep your wallet or phone in your back pocket. Keep it in your front pocket or in a properly zipped bag.
-Keep your crossbody purse in front of you so that you can constantly see it.
-Avoid displaying expensive items, like jewelry and watches, as it can make you a target for thieves. Use your camera with a neck strap and keep it in a bag when you are not using it.
-Write down emergency phone numbers, such as those of the local police and the international contact number of your bank in case you need to cancel your cards.
-Scan and photocopy all important documents like travel documents, passport, driver’s licence, visa, credit/debit cards etc. Keep a photocopy and email a copy to yourself and someone else. That way it will be easier to replace your documents even if you lose them.
-Buy comprehensive travel insurance.
-Carry at least two credit cards while travelling. Leave one card in the hotel’s safe deposit box in case of an emergency.
-Adjust your credit card limit and set mobile alerts for predetermined transaction limits, so you will be notified each time a transaction hits above the preset limit.
-Contact the local embassy in case your passport gets stolen.
–If you are mugged, hand over your belongings and walk away. Do not try to do anything heroic and remember that your safety comes first.