Medellín Robbery – Jeff describes his experience being robbed at knifepoint in Laureles and how he replaced stolen items without a cedula.

On Saturday night, I went to dinner with a friend at Mondongo’s in Laureles. And after dinner I walked back along La 70 (Setenta) in Laureles to the Estadio metro station to take the metro home, as I have done many times in the past.

Inside Mondongo's in Laureles

Inside Mondongo’s in Laureles

La 70 is a busy street on Saturday nights and there were many people along this street as I walked. While I was walking on the sidewalk, I passed a motorcycle sitting next to the sidewalk with two people on it.

As I was walking by, the passenger jumped off the motorcycle and immediately threatened me with a knife and asked for my cell phone and wallet. I know you should never resist, so I quickly gave the thief my cell phone and wallet and he immediately jumped on the motorcycle and the two young men were gone.

This happened so fast and several people were nearby. And this happened in only about 30 seconds or so.

A Colombian who witnessed this robbery asked if I was OK and if he should call the police. I was shaky and in shock but happy that I wasn’t injured. However, I realized there was probably nothing the police could do at this time. So, I told this Colombian not to call the police. Also, I didn’t really get a good look at the thief, as I was looking more at his knife.

So, I walked a few more blocks to the metro and returned home. The thief got my cell phone and in my wallet that was stolen were my cedula, a debit card, a Civica card and a small amount of Colombian cash.

A typical Laureles street

A typical Laureles street

Is Laureles Safe?

Laureles-Estadio is considered by some to be one of the safest neighborhoods in Medellín. But the robbery statistics in Laureles-Estadio do not support this claim of Laureles being one of the safest neighborhoods in Medellín.

Laureles-Estadio has a higher crime rate in terms of robberies than in other neighborhoods in the city. And my experience demonstrates that robberies can happen even on busy streets. Also, Laureles has many streets that are not very busy where it can be more risky to walk, particularly at night.

An article in March 2019 in the El Colombiano newspaper (in Spanish) reported robberies statistics in Medellín for 2017 and 2018. Reported robberies of persons in 2017 and 2018 were most common in:

  • La Candelaria (El Centro) robberies of persons – 6,548 in 2017 and 7,047 in 2018
  • Laureles-Estadio robberies of persons – 2,140 in 2017 and 2,826 in 2018
  • El Poblado robberies of persons – 2,001 in 2017 and 2,480 in 2018.

Reported robberies of businesses in 2017 and 2018 were most common in La Candelaria (El Centro) followed by El Poblado and Laureles-Estadio:

  • La Candelaria (El Centro) robberies of businesses – 1,147 in 2017 and 1,264 in 2018
  • El Poblado robberies of businesses – 536 in 2017 and 543 in 2018.
  • Laureles-Estadio robberies of businesses – 503 in 2017 and 469 in 2018

Reported robberies of homes in 2017 and 2018 were most common in Laureles-Estadio followed by El Poblado and Belén:

  • Laureles-Estadio robberies of homes – 201 in 2017 and 241 in 2018
  • El Poblado robberies of homes – 181 in 2017 and 228 in 2018.
  • Belén robberies of homes – 199 in 2017 and 222 in 2018

So, Laureles-Estadio is actually in the top three comunas in Medellín in terms of robberies of persons, robberies of businesses and robberies of homes.

Medellín Robbery My Experience Replacing Stolen Items

Banks and mobile providers like Claro will typically want to see a cedula. But I discovered it is possible to replace stolen debit cards and get new cell phone service without a physical cedula.

After being robbed on Saturday night, the next day on Sunday, I went shopping and I bought a new cell phone. And I went to the Claro office in Premium Plaza mall with the new cell phone with a photocopy of my stolen cedula and my passport.

But the staff at Claro said they couldn’t do anything. I talked to a manager and couldn’t even get them to deactivate the IMEI of the stolen cell phone. They said I needed to go to a police station for a denuncia (police report) and then get a contraseña (a temporary ID) or a new cedula.

So, I went to the nearest police station from Premium Plaza mall located in El Poblado a few blocks from Parque Poblado. But at this police station they said they didn’t do denuncias for foreigners. And they said I had to go to the Fiscilia office in Barrio Caribe to file a denuncia but that it was closed on Sunday.

When I returned home, I looked on the Fiscilia website and found that I could file a denuncia at the police station in Sabaneta near where I live.

Civica card, photo courtesy of Metro de Medellín

Civica card, photo courtesy of Metro de Medellín

Monday – Getting a Replacement Civica Card

The Civica card was the easiest thing to replace of the items that were stolen. I happened to have a meeting at Mayorca mall on Monday morning.

After this meeting, I went to the Medellín Metro Civica office at the Itagüí metro station that is next to Mayorca mall. Note this Civica office has moved, it used to be on the station side near Mayorca mall but in late 2019 moved to the other side of the metro station.

I stood in a short line for about 15 minutes and was able to get a replacement Civica for free with my passport. The Civica office accepts several types of ID’s including a Colombian cedula, passport, driver’s license or university photo ID.

1,000 new police in Medellín in 2014, photo by National Police of Colombia

1,000 new police in Medellín in 2014, photo by National Police of Colombia

Monday and Tuesday – Filing Denuncias

Also, on Monday I went to the police station in Sabaneta and filed a denuncia (police report) for the stolen cedula and debit card. The police officer said that with a copy of my cedula and the denuncia, I should be able to get a replacement debit card and also restore cell phone service from Claro on a new phone.

In addition, the police officer in Sabaneta said that to report the stolen cell phone, this needed to be done at the police station in Laureles.

So, on Tuesday when I was in Laureles for another purpose, I went to the Laureles police station and filed a denuncia for the stolen phone. The police officer in Laureles said stolen phones were the most commonly stolen items but that he believed many cell phone thefts and robberies were not reported.

Tuesday – Getting a Replacement Debit Card

On Tuesday I went to my bank Colpatria with a photocopy of my cedula, the denuncia and my passport. With these three things I was able to get a replacement debit card in about 45 minutes.

The Claro store on the third floor in Los Molinos

The Claro store on the third floor in Los Molinos

Tuesday and Wednesday – Restoring Cell Phone Service with Claro

On Tuesday, I went to the Claro office in Los Molinos mall. I went with a photocopy of my cedula, the denuncia, my passport, my latest Claro postpago mobile service bill, new cell phone purchase receipt and my passport. Claro also ran a credit check and asked three questions about my credit to verify my identity

With all of these documents and a credit check, I was able to get Claro to deactivate the IMEI in the stolen cell phone and give me a new SIM that would have my old number. And they told me the new SIM would be activated in 3-4 hours.

But after 4 hours, the new SIM was not activated. So, I returned to Claro on Wednesday and they were able to activate the SIM in my new cell phone.

Getting a Replacement Cedula

Over the past four days, I bought a new cell phone, went to three police stations, went to Claro three times, went to my bank twice and went to a Medellín Metro Civica office. And I was successful in to getting replacements for my stolen cell phone, debit card and Civica card. This took much more time than I anticipated.

If you Cedula de Extranjeria is stolen or lost, Migracion Colombia has a streamlined process for obtaining a duplicate cedula.

To obtain a duplicate Cedula de Extranjeria, go to the Migracion page to request a duplicate cedula. This website page asks for your cedula number. And after entering your cedula number you validate your name and enter your email address and the city in Colombia where you want to pick the duplicate cedula.

This website then goes to a payment page where you can print out a receipt to pay 196,000 pesos at Banco Occidente. Or you can pay online from a Colombian bank account. When I used this duplicate cedula process to obtain a duplicate cedula, I paid the same day at Banco Occidente. And I received an email from Migracion saying that the duplicate cedula would be ready to pick up in about three business days.

20 Medellín Safety Tips for Expats

Medellín is generally considered safe to visit if you use common sense and take some precautions. There are a number of basic precautions you can take to be vigilant about your personal safety and improve your security while in Medellín and Colombia.

Here are 20 safety tips in no particular order that should improve your security and greatly reduce your risk of being a crime victim in Medellín:

1. Never resist if you are a robbery victim. Many homicide victims in Medellín resisted robberies. It’s not worth risking your life for some money and/or possessions. Don’t try to be a hero.  This is the most important takeaway from my experience of being robbed. Never resist and give the thief what he wants.

2. Don’t flash your cellphones, cameras, jewelry or money around. In addition, pickpocketing and purse snatching is common in some public places. Distraction is frequently the strategy, so be alert and keep an eye on your belongings. Also, be aware of your surroundings when using your cellphone, as cellphones are the most commonly stolen items in the city.

3. Be careful in El Centro. Chaotic El Centro has the highest crime rates in the city. Street crime in El Centro is quite common. And there are areas in El Centro that are magnets for drunks, drug addicts and homeless people. After dark, El Centro becomes even more dangerous.

4. Be careful on the Medellín metro. As my experience demonstrates, it’s possible to be a victim on the Medellín metro by pickpockets during rush hour that you may not even realize until you arrive at your destination.

5. Stay away from drugs, sex tourism and illegal activities. Participating in shady activities increases your likelihood of becoming a crime victim and historically many of the foreigner homicides in Medellín have been related to these activities.

6. Dress conservatively and lose the shorts and flip-flops. Try not to be such an obvious foreigner tourist that can make you a target. See how typical Colombians dress. An expat in shorts and flip-flops speaking English loudly on an iPhone is likely to attract some unwanted attention.

7. Use ATMs in malls and grocery stores. Avoid ATMs on the street or in areas with few people around. And be conscious of who might be watching you.

8. Avoid bad neighborhoods. The poorest neighborhoods in Medellín like Popular, Santa Cruz, Manrique, San Javier and 12 de Octubre are not really places for expats, even during the day unless you are part of an organized tour like a graffiti tour.

9. Never leave your drink unattended. It takes almost no time for someone to drug your drink with something like Scopolamine (aka Devil’s Breath), which can wipe the memory of its victims and can affect the ability to resist criminal aggression.

10. Take care even in El Poblado and Laureles. Street crime is possible everywhere in Medellín. El Poblado and Laureles are touted by some as the safest part of the city. But robbery statistics have been increasing in El Poblado and Laureles. This is likely due to criminals targeting the wealthiest areas of Medellín where most foreign tourists stay.

In addition, take care in Parque Lleras, which has been experiencing problems with street crime, drugs and prostitution resulting in an increased police presence. Also, take care in Laureles-Estadio, which also has been experiencing increases in robbery statistics.

11. Don’t carry lots of cash with you. Only carry what you need for the day or night with you.

12. Put your bag, purse or backpack in front of you. In busy areas like El Centro it’s common for snatching of bags, purses or backpacks.

13. Late at night call for a taxi. During the day, hailing a taxi on the street will likely be fine. But at night calling for a taxi or using an app like Cabify is safer and will ensure you are getting a legitimate driver.

14. Don’t walk alone at night. It’s safer in groups. And if walking alone, stick to well-lit streets where there are plenty of people.

15. Try to keep a low profile. If you keep a low profile you are less likely to become a target. And never give out information about where you live to strangers.

16. Watch out for motorcycles. A disproportionate number of robberies and crimes in Medellín take place by criminals on motorcycles due to the ability for a quick getaway. So, take care brandishing phones in taxis or on the street as you may attract unwanted attention from a criminal on a motorcycle.

17. Don’t carry your passport with you. Carry a copy of your passport with another ID like a driver’s license. Only bring ATM and credit cards which you plan to use. Leave your passport and other cards locked up in a safe location.

18. Don’t invite strangers to your home or hotel. And if you are meeting someone you don’t know, always do this in a public area like a mall, restaurant or café.

19. Change locks and buy a security door. When you are living in a place long-term in Medellín always change the locks. No telling who else will have keys. And for even better piece of mind change the door to a security door reinforced with steel inside and around the frame. But make sure to get permission from the owner if you rent before replacing a door.

I travel often so I bought security doors for two apartments I have lived in. Thieves are looking for doors that are easy to break into and many apartments in Medellín have front doors that are quite easy to break into.

20. No Dar Papaya. Don’t give papaya. This is a famous quote in Colombia, which means essentially don’t put yourself in a position where you become vulnerable to be taken advantage of. Many of the above tips are ways to “No Dar Papaya”.

These common-sense safety tips apply not only to Medellín but also generally apply to other cities in Colombia and other countries in Latin America.

Medellin Guru’s Safety and Security Series

Safety is the biggest concern of foreigners visiting Colombia or planning to move to Colombia. So, we have a series of 15 popular articles about safety and security in Colombia:

  1. Is Colombia Safe? Colombia Security and Safety Tips
  2. Is Medellín Safe? Medellín Security and Safety Tips
  3. What are the Safest Neighborhoods in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley
  4. Medellín Robbery: Expat Experience Being Robbed at Knifepoint
  5. Colombia Gun Laws: Is it Legal to Have a Gun in Colombia?
  6. Scopolamine: The Realities of Devil’s Breath in Colombia
  7. Colombia Protests: Tips for Foreigners to Stay Safe During Protests
  8. Is Bogotá Safe? Bogotá Security and Safety Tips
  9. Is Cartagena Safe? Cartagena Security and Safety Tips
  10. Is Cali Safe? Cali, Colombia Security and Safety Tips
  11. Is Santa Marta Safe? Santa Marta Security and Safety Tips
  12. Is Pereira Safe? Pereira, Colombia Security and Safety Tips
  13. Is Manizales Safe? Manizales Security and Safety Tips
  14. Is Bucaramanga Safe? Bucaramanga Security and Safety Tips
  15. Is Barranquilla Safe? Barranquilla Security and Safety Tips

The Bottom Line: Medellín Robbery – Expat Experience Being Robbed at Knifepoint

NEVER RESIST if you are a victim of a robbery in Medellín or other city in Colombia. Things can be replaced and there is no reason to risk your life for a few possessions.

The bottom line is that if you take the precautions we recommend above with our safety tips, your risk of being a victim of crime should be greatly reduced. However, robberies are possible anywhere – even on busy streets or in more wealthy neighborhoods.

After living nearly nine years in Colombia, my Medellín robbery experience on Saturday was the first time I have been robbed by threat of force. Also, I was a victim of a pickpocket on the Medellín metro a few years ago during rush hour resulting in the theft of my cell phone.

However, I experienced more violence when living in the U.S. For example, I was physically assaulted in my home in Dallas during a robbery. And I was robbed at gunpoint in Los Angeles. Also, I was robbed at knifepoint in Baltimore.

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Editors note: updated on January 27, 2020 to add the process to obtain a duplicate cedula to replace a stolen cedula.

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