20 September 2013

Reporting theft in Cusco

Update: So it turns out my blog is currently being returned fairly high in the results of those searching for information on how to report a theft (of a passport) in Cusco.  As such, a quick update in an effort to pay forward the help that others gave me…

Hello to the person in Cusco who has just had something, probably their passport and/or phone, stolen and is frantically searching the Internet for information.  A few words, then some useful information….
Don’t panic
There we go.  The most useful thing I can say at the moment and the words which are mostly likely to make you say “what do you mean, don’t panic!  I've just had my passport stolen!” Don’t worry, I've been there and know what it is like.  You are currently a mixture of panicked, scared, angry, and confused – this is normal.  It will be OK.

Right. Something approaching what I hope is useful information for you…
(Caveat: this information is based on what I can remember – things may have changed, my memory may not be as good as I’d like.  Your hostel can probably help with information, if nothing else.)

Don’t panic.  No, wait – I’ve done that bit.

The police station I went to was in Plaza Tupac Amaru, which is just off Av de La Cultura, a short walk from where you buy tickets for Machu Picchu.  You can easily walk here from anywhere central.
If you are looking at Google Maps then the police station is in near the Mega supermarket. It is a large building and easy to find – this should be link to Google Street view show the station: link.
There will probably be a few cop cars & bikes parked outside and there was always a police officer near the door when I was there.

The choice phrase you want it: “me robaron de mi pasaporte” which is roughly “my passport has been stolen” - substitute "pasaporte" with whatever of yours has been stolen.
At this point expect a look from the copper which says “not another gringo who has had their passport stolen” – this is normal.

Given that you are currently stressing, a polite reminder: unless you are fluent in Spanish you are probably going to have some interesting times in explain matters – the tourist police have some English, but it varies. Just keep calm and it’ll be OK.
(As a side note and something I really need to write about – I whole heartily recommend Fair Play as a language school.  It’s a good school, with great teachers and it does good too.  I really struggle with learning languages, but they managed to teach me enough to survive 3 months in South America. If you are looking for a language school you’d do very well by looking here.  Update: I did write something.)

The tourist police are all too familiar with tourists who have had their passport/wallet/phone/bag/etc. stolen and know that you need to report things so that you can get a police report (a denuncia) for your travel insurance.
They are going to ask you about what happened, when you discovered it was gone and the circumstanced of the theft (pickpocket, from my dorm room, etc.).  They may ask you the same questions a few times in a few different ways so as to make sure your story is straight – they aren't trying to trick you, it is just that people do abuse the police to get a denuncia so as to commit insurance fraud.

Once they have your details they need to type-up the report and you need to pay for it. Yes, you’re going to have to pay and this isn’t some form of scam.  The police will direct you to a local bank (Banco de la Nacion, when I was there – it’s a short walk from the plaza, the police had maps when I was there to show you where it was) to pay the small fee (S/7.60 in September 2013 – a few £$€).  In the event the police offer does ask you for cash and more than a few bucks worth, something probably isn’t right.

Expect there to be a long queue at the bank and it take a while to get to the teller to pay.  GET THE RECEIPT!  You must have the receipt as this prove to the police that you have paid and thus they will give you the official, typed, report.

That’s it.  You now have your police report and can deal with your insurance company.

I know how horrible it is to be abroad and have your passport stolen.  It will be OK, it is just going to take some sorting out.

For the British: HM Passport Office has some useful information on their website - the page on an Emergency Travel Document (Emergency Passport) is a good starting point.  It is worth noting that an ETD will only get you home - you can't use it for general travel.  You can transit through other countries on the way home (e.g. fly from Cusco to Lima to Madrid to London), but it is just for transit.  If, like I was, you are travelling around for a while, trying to go to many countries, you have some interesting choices ahead of you, probably involve changing all of your travel plans. Speak with the folks at the Passport Office - the people there helped me a lot, and I've thanked them for it.

Hopefully this was of some use to someone.  Rob, London, June 2014.

And now back to the original post....

Last Saturday I had to report the theft of my passport and phone to the police, if for no other reason than my insurance company requires the theft reported within 24 hours - something I easily did.

I'd been told that there was a tourist police station in Cusco's Plaza de Armas, so I headed there.

After a walk around the square I couldn't see the police station, so started talking with what was very obviously the tourist police - they are easy to spot, they look very different to the other police, especially Traffic - and are very visible in all the normal tourist locations, where in this case their police car was also marked as being tourist police.

At this point I'd had 2 lessons in Spanish, having arrived in Peru with almost nonexistent Spanish - Holla, mi llamo, por favour, etc - where thankfully the tourist police have some English.
Using a combination of my practically non existent Spanish, their English and a few choice phrases I'd got from Gil - where "me robaron de mi pasaporte" was, and still is, the most useful one - I managed to explain that I'd had my passport and phone stolen.

The police's immediate response was "do you need a report?" I'm guessing they get a lot of this. "OK, hop in and we'll go to the station and do it". 

At which point they indicate for me to get in to the back of their police car, something I do. Here starts my first, and I hope only, ride in the back of a (Peruvian) police car.

In hindsight, jumping into the back of a random car in Peru may not be my smartest move (although to be fair, that is how taxis works around here), but I was fairly certain that they were real coppers (unlike the fake "police" who mug you) and that it was ok. I did have second thoughts as we headed away from where I thought the other tourist police station was, but a few minutes later we arrived at Plaza Tupac and a police station. 

On route we'd chatted in a mixture of English, Spanish and sign language (I really need to write something on how effective sign language is) about what had happened, all of which was repeated at the police station. (given that there is a big poster in the police station about how unhappy the police are with false theft reports I suspect he was just checking my story.)

The report itself was written on bank paper, by hand, with me and the coppers signing it at the bottom, and then adding inked fingerprints - odd.

In order to actually get the report I needed to pay for it, but not directly to the police. Oh no. Instead I wandered over to the nearest Banco National, queued for 10 minutes to get in to the bank (yes, in to) and then another 20 minutes of queuing to get to a teller, who knew exactly why I was there the moment I handed over a scrap of paper which looked a lot like a small Rizla with some printing on it.

A few Sol later and I'm wandering back to the police station, receipt for my payment in hand.

By the time I get back the report has been typed-up and looks something more like an official report and not ideas jotted down on paper. Most useful when trying to convince insurance companies to pay out (not that I'm going to be able to claim for much).

Overall the whole process took a couple of hours and was far less painful than I had been expecting. The police were helpful, although were far from surprised that another Gringo had their passport stolen.

I went back to the police station a few days later in vain hope that it may have been found - the police had 8 passports sitting in a desk draw, alas none of which were mine. There is a reason why the police weren't surprised when I said I'd had stuff stolen from me.