Watching out for pickpockets in Barcelona: stories of sorrow and horror

Before going to Barcelona, everyone I’ve talked to all told me to watch out for pickpockets.

“They have the most pickpockets in the world,” one friend said.

“Everyone I know who went there had something stolen,” said another.

But of course, pickpockets don’t deter the over 7 million tourists from going there every year. And that included me.

The whole time I was in Barcelona, I had been extra careful about pickpockets. A quick Google search will tell you that Barcelona is the #1 city in the world with the most number of pickpockets. I did my research about them before going to Barcelona, and thought I knew every trick in the book.

I always kept one hand on my bag, and clutched it even harder when I was anywhere really touristy, like at the Sagrada Familia or walking down Las Ramblas.

The amount of pickpockets in Barcelona is no joke either – at every hostel and restaurant, there’s signs telling you to watch out for pickpockets. Hostels in Barcelona are especially strict with security since you have to show your key card to enter (I’ve been to lots of hostels elsewhere where you could literally walk in and sleep in an empty bed without anyone suspecting a thing!)

Also at every hostel I’ve stayed at, I’ve heard people complain about having their wallets, passports, iPhones, etc stolen. Seriously, with the amount of iPhones I’ve heard get stolen in Barcelona, these thieves could team up and open their own Apple Store.

Here’s a few real-life situations of what happened to some of the travellers I’ve met:

Scenerio 1 – The overly touchy prostitutes:

A bunch of prostitutes come up and chat up a young man and starts groping him. He thinks it’s all in good kinky fun until he walks away and realizes that his iPhone is gone.

Scenario 2 – The very friendly local:

A guy walks up to a local man with a map and asks him for directions. The man comes closer and helps him examine the map, while asking him questions like “How are you enjoying Barcelona?!”, “Have you tried the tapas?” The guy walks away thinking, “what a friendly local!,” only to later realize that his iPhone is gone.

Scenario 3 – The swift encounter:

A girl puts her iPhone on the table in the restaurant. A man rushes across the room, grabs her iPhone, and runs out the door.

And then there’s me:

Scenerio 4 – The two-man team:

I was sitting in a cafe with my tote bag in front of me. I was drinking a latte and reading a book when a man around his late-40’s comes up to me and mumbles something in Spanish. I swiftly told him I don’t understand, and went back to reading my book. He kept talking and talking until I finally looked over again, and said that I can’t speak Spanish and that I can’t help him. He gets up, and walks out.

I thought that was strange, but went back to reading my book. Suddenly, my mind goes into “pickpocket alert” overdrive, and I quickly looked up and realized my tote bag was gone. I ran out of the cafe to chase after the bastard, but he was already gone.

The bad – I had been in Barcelona for 2 weeks without anything going wrong. Of course during my last night there, I would get all my shit (including my passport!) stolen. Later I kept cursing about what a simple scam I’d fallen into – one  guy was the distraction, while another must’ve snatched my bag from behind.

I’d also just bought a book about an hour ago that I was really excited to read, and that was in my bag too. Those thieves couldn’t even speak English. Oh the irony.

The good – Luckily my iPhone was safe in my jacket pocket, and I only had 8 euros in my wallet. I was also able to cancel all my credit cards immediately.

For any of you going to a pickpocket heavy destination, here’s a few tips to protect yourself!

1. NEVER let go of your belongings. Your bag should be attached to you at all times. I let my purse sit in front of me for 10 minutes before it got stolen – that’s seriously how bad it is!

2. Never put electronics (such as your iPhone!) on a table (unless it’s chained down to it).

3. ALWAYS leave your passport in a locked storage area preferably in your hotel or hostel. Also make like 100 photocopies of it just to be safe.

4. NEVER keep too much cash on hand. Rather try to withdraw small amounts from your credit card at a time. You’ll never get your stolen cash back, but a stolen credit card can easily be cancelled, and your money reimbursed.

5. NEVER keep anything in your jean pockets, especially in the back pockets.

6. If prostitutes try to grope you, they’re not doing it because they’re turned on by your good looks. RUN!

7. If suspicious middle-aged men try to talk to you in another language, kick him in the balls and run.

8. Try out to look too much like a tourist. Pickpockets LOVE tourists.

If you’ve been pickpocketed, the first thing you should do (other than possibly cry and curse at the world) is go the the nearest police station and file a police report. Yes, some cops in Barcelona are incompetent and claim to not speak a word of English despite working on the most touristy street, with English speaking tourists flocking to their station to report their stolen belongings….but do it anyway.

Check out my next post in a couple days called “Shit! I’ve been robbed! What to do when you’re abroad” to hear about what I did in such a situation, and what it’s like to spend a whole day at a Spanish police station.



  1. June 18, 2013 / 11:30 pm

    Sorry it’s happened to you, Michelle 🙁
    Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  2. June 19, 2013 / 4:32 am

    Well, you should always have at least 2 sets of everything. Keep one set back at the hostel, carry the other in person – so for instance I have 2 credit cards and 2 passports (I have both an EU passport and an NZ passport). If one is misplaced/stolen etc, switch to your backup.

    Money: again, have 2 wallets: carry your valuables in a money-belt or pouch under your clothes. That’s your ‘primary wallet’. You can carry a ‘secondary wallet’ in your pocket, but that should only have a few dollars in it. The idea is that the pickpocket only gets your secondary wallet, and misses the primary wallet.

    I’ve never had anything stolen, but that’s only because I’d always been very vigilant.

    In a Paris hostel, a hot chick from Brazil came and sat down right next in the hostel common-room. I was thinking may be she wants me, but no such luck. Her hand creeped towards my phone on the table, and just as she was about to snatch it, I slammed my fist down 😀 So her attempt to steal my phone didn’t suceed.

    • June 19, 2013 / 7:35 am

      These are some great tips, Marc, and we use them every single day.

      We have a double of everything and because we travel as a couple we carry a copy each of the other persons details so if one persons bag gets snatched, we’ve still got a copy of everything, not to mention backups on USB sticks in the main backpack and saved to Google Drive.

      • Michelle
        June 20, 2013 / 2:04 am

        Great tips! If only I had the luxury of owning 2 passports haha. Next time I travel to a pickpocket heavy place, I’ll definitely keep 2 of everything handy!

  3. June 22, 2013 / 4:30 pm

    I’ve not been robbed in Barcelona, but I have in Madrid, Seville and Logroño (I should say that I live in Spain, so it’s not entirely uncommon). One thing to note, which I learned the hard way: yes, you can report things missing in Spain easily at a national police station, called a denuncia. If it’s an electronic that has been stolen, be sure to have the ID number of the device so that you can actually place the denuncia and not be turned away. Also, note that you cannot be recompensed or try and take anyone to court if the object stolen has not been taken by force. If a thief takes something out of your back, you’re SOL.

    • Michelle
      June 26, 2013 / 3:39 am

      Oh wow…that pickpockets are really abundant in most of Spain I’ve heard. And I heard that not much happens with pickpockets either after they’ve been caught. I wish they would make stricter laws about it!

  4. June 24, 2013 / 2:47 am

    Hi Michelle.good tips, especially the number 7. LOL! By the way, its very important to keep your valuable stuffs separated during travel abroad. There are travel accessories that really keep your valuables a bit safer. Stash Shoes, and one time i saw a “headband thats convertible to a small bag”. i think its perfect for the credit cards and passport.

    • Michelle
      June 26, 2013 / 3:42 am

      That headband one sounds like a really good idea! I’ll have to look into getting one the next time I go back to Barcelona 😀

  5. Alex
    September 1, 2013 / 3:19 am

    Two guys just stolen my iPhone from my front pocket of the jeans on the street near by La Rambla street. I’ve walked with two my friends and at one moment one guy from the street try to recommend a dance club and at the same time an another guy (he’s accomplice) take my belt and shows me how it’s dancing at the club. He just shaked my belt and at this moment I didn’t get the feeling when my iphone is stealing. I recognized it in 5 minutes after that. We’ve tried to find them, but those guys is already left their place.

  6. Alex
    September 1, 2013 / 3:20 am

    Thank you for the tips! I’ve read it after my situation.

  7. Scotj1981
    September 11, 2013 / 7:09 pm

    I too was approached by Arabic men…. Bola amigo, I went straight to protect my pocket and they snatched it out of my hand and run off. Apparently there are over 50 reported cases each day. By the time I went to a pay phone to cancel my phone there were £3000 worth of call charges. The law is not strong enough. Avoid Barcelona and go elsewhere. I am well travelled and the experience is enough to put me off ever going again.

  8. November 24, 2013 / 6:11 pm

    I was robbed on the metro in Barcelona – in July during my 8-month trip around the world. While doing research for my blog post I found your site. Although it sucks that you were robbed, hopefully by sharing our stories we can help others. Here’s my blog post about being robbed,

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