How to deal with being a victim of crime as an expat 

May 19, 2020

Safety tips for expats are similar to those for anybody visiting a new city but with some additional suggestions because you are planning a longer-term stay:

Research common travel scams: in most countries there are scams operating with the aim of catching unsuspecting travellers off guard. Everything from fake wi-fi hotspots to broken taxi meters are used to take advantage of unsuspecting visitors. Do your research and keep your wits about you. 

Keep valuables to a minimum: only carry a small amount of cash and consider how you are dressing, including accessories. Valuable clothing or jewellery might make you stand out to a pick pocketer. 

Don’t be distracted: thieves will sometimes try to distract you with something ‘free’ or by asking you a question. Ignore anything that seems unusual or answer from a distance and keep walking. 

Avoid walking alone at night: if you are exploring your new home alone, stick to public places. Avoid isolated paths or laneways and wait for friends or family to visit before you explore quiet parks. At night take legitimate taxis or public transport to avoid walking distances alone. 

Blend in: do your best to dress and behave as a local. Walk with purpose and try to avoid behaviour that may make others think you are new, even if you don’t know where you are going. If you want to orientate yourself in a new city, consider taking an organised walking tour with a group. As the saying goes - there is safety in numbers. 

Stay in touch with family or friends: ensure your friends and family have contact details for you, particularly if you are moving to a more dangerous location. Make sure they  know where you are and have contact details for your employer or someone in your destination country should they become concerned about your safety.

Register at your embassy or consulate: if you are moving overseas for an extended period, it is worth registering with your country’s embassy or consulate so they are aware you are there should something serious happen i.e. natural disaster or terrorist attack. 

Watch out for rental scams: if you are planning on renting a property, watch out for scams, particularly in cities where accommodation is at a premium. Be very cautious if you are asked to pay a deposit without seeing the property, the rental for the property seems too good to be true or you are asked to post or wire money. 

Unfortunately becoming a crime victim is a negative experience that can happen to anyone at any time in life. It can be particularly difficult when you are living overseas away from the support of family and friends or don’t speak the local language. 

If you are attacked or mugged:

Flee the situation: if you can, get away by any means possible and get to a public place where you can get help.

Make noise: the last thing an attacker wants is draw attention to themselves, anything you can do to make noise is likely to discourage them. Consider carrying a whistle or personal alarm that will make this easier.  

Give them anything valuable: if they are looking for valuables give them to them. Nothing is worth being injured or worse. 

Self-defence: if absolutely necessary and as a last resort in a violent situation use self-defence. Targeting the eye or groin area is particularly effective. Once you are disengaged from your attacker flee and seek help immediately.

Contact the emergency services: 

Emergency service numbers vary by country. If you are not sure, 112 sometimes redirects to the correct number. However, it is worth checking emergency numbers before you leave on assignment. The other issue may be access to emergency services, if you are in a rural or remote area, this may not be possible. Get in touch with your employer or a colleague to find out the best way to proceed.

As a matter of course, you should report all crime even if it is minor to the local police. When you do this, you may be increasing your personal safety and that of others in the area if the perpetrator is caught. It will also make it easier for you to get support and make insurance claims for damaged or stolen items. 


Tend to physical trauma: 

Depending on injury level you may need to attend your family doctor or, for more serious incidents, a hospital. If you have been sexually assaulted, many larger hospitals have specialist units that will treat you with dignity and respect. If you are not sure where to go, contact your people department who should be able to provide you with any information you need.  


Contact your expat health insurance company:

If you can, contact your international health insurer to work out the best course of action for your situation. If not, contact them at the earliest possible opportunity, they will be able to provide you with guidance on where you can receive treatment and follow up care. 


Cancel bank cards:

If your wallet or purse was stolen, don’t forget to cancel any bank or credit cards as soon as possible. Most banks across the world have an emergency number that will allow you to do this. 


Inform your employer:

Last but by no means least, inform your people department that you have been a victim of crime. They should be able to assist you. Support could be practical, emotional or financial depending on the situation you find yourself in. 

A physical attack is a very upsetting experience. It is normal to feel a myriad of negative feelings afterwards including shock, sadness, anger or guilt. You may not be able to sleep, have nightmares or struggle to concentrate. This is particularly difficult if you are working in a high-pressured expat role. 

Do not feel disheartened, with the right support it is possible to move on from a traumatic event. Exactly how this happens for you is unique, some people need time to themselves to process what happened, others speak to family members or a professional, others find getting back to a routine helps them to cope. Take some time to work out what will work best for you. If you have expat health insurance you may have access to an expat assistance programme where you can avail of professional counselling.