What do you do when the unthinkable happens?
When this happened to us, we could not find a published guideline on
what to do. Several authorities gave us misleading information which
led to time consuming forays to various agencies that proved to be totally
unnecessary. We hope that an account of our experience will provide
some of the necessary steps that must be taken in order to cope with a
To set the scene, we were at “The Net” Internet Café at the Center Point Complex in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo. We were fully engrossed at the computer and did not notice someone taking one of our backpacks, which was located on the floor beside us. As soon as the theft was realized, we reported the incident to the Shopping Complex Security Guards. They then advised us to go directly to the Police Station and file a report there also. Terry wrote out a detailed list of what was missing and we received an officially typed Police Report the next day.
As there are no Embassies in KK, we had to fly to Kuala Lumpur to visit both the American Embassy and Australian High Commission. We made reservations with Malaysian Airlines and they assured us we could travel without passports as long as we arrived at the old airport (domestic terminal) in KL. They were adamant that the Police Report would be sufficient for Immigration purposes. We arrived at the airport, had our boarding passes in hand and proceeded to Immigration. It was here that Immigration advised us that we could not travel without passports. We had to cancel our flight, and report to the Immigration Office at the airport. The main problem here was that we did not enter the country at KK by air. We actually arrived in Sandakan via the ferry from Zamboanga, Philippines. Next we were directed to the main Immigration Office in the city. There was no way we could prove we entered the country legally, so they had to fax Sandakan for a copy of the manifest for our arrival date. This procedure took two days, after which we were issued with a Special Pass at a cost of RM20 (US$5) each and valid for less than two weeks. They did not ask us how long we intended to stay in the country, and we naturally assumed this Pass was purely to enable us to travel to KL.
When we rebooked our flight to KL, we were informed we would be charged a RM50 (US$12.50) each cancellation fee! We pleaded our case at the Malaysian Airlines Head Office. As we were given misleading information by their staff, they did waive the fee!
Both the American Embassy and Australian High Commission requested proof of citizenship. They wanted to sight copies of our passports or original Birth Certificates (certified copies would suffice). We were both issued with temporary passports (validity one year) as we only had copies of our Birth Certificates and our Marriage Certificate (we had a friend in the Philippines break into our boat, locate the documents, scan them and email the graphic files to us as email attachments). Though the Australian High Commission issued Sandy’s passport the next day, the US Embassy spent three days attempting to get verification via email in order to issue a 10-year passport, after which we elected to have a one-year passport issued immediately. Both Embassies advised us to go directly to the Immigration Office for our entry stamps. At the Immigration Office, we filled out forms (purchased for $0.25 each) and waited over an hour, only to be told that our previously-issued Special Passes would be sufficient for travel back to KK and our passports would be stamped there!
There was no Immigration check from KLIA (KL International Airport). On arrival in KK, we had to explain our situation to Immigration but there was no problem.
Back to the Immigration Office in KK for what we thought would be a simple procedure – the “chop” in our passports. Wrong! We were sent from the 6th Floor to the 4th Floor where we had to fill in an “Extension of Special Pass” form. After about three hours of frustration we were finally issued our Extended Special Pass (at the cost of RM20 each once again, plus the fee for two more forms) valid for one month this time!
At times we certainly felt like we were the “victims” and were being
penalized for someone else’s wrong doing! However, we did keep our
sense of humor and overall, thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Sabah.