When your residence permit is stolen….

After finishing his last exam in Groningen, international law student Ahmed Farah went out with his friends to celebrate – but he had his residence permit stolen. What happened next?

1. Self-flagellation and the blame game

There’s a scene in The Da Vinci Code where the albino monk takes off all his clothes and tortures himself. I didn’t do that (thank God!), but the mental anguish I experienced was similar when I lost my residence permit and mobile phone a few days before I was supposed to travel to Geneva on an Erasmus exchange. Initially, when I found my jacket had been stolen (my phone, keys and residence permit were all inside it), I was somehow numbed to the seriousness of the loss.

After searching the Warhol for it and interrogating the bouncer, I somehow figured that it’d all be all right. Fast forward to the next day, when my landlord was kicking me out of the house to make way for his new tenant, and it hit me. I spent the day beating myself up. How could you?… Idiot!

I filed a police report. They were friendly enough and gave me the URL of the City Hall’s lost-and-found website (verlorenofgevonden.nl). Since it was the weekend, though, there wasn’t much I could do but wait and try to reconnect with a God I remember only when things are bad.

Someone spotted a jacket, just like mine, being worn by a man near the Coffee Company and confronted him. He claimed it was from H&M (lie!) and seemed startled. She told him to keep the jacket but drop off the residence permit at the police station. Someone else went on and on about how I needed to re-evaluate my life and watch out for the people I associate myself with. Apparently, losing your residence permit has now become a measure of how sane and stable someone is. 

2. The Confession

Two days into this mess I emailed the one person who matters most to me: my mother.  There’s a sense of guilt and shame that comes when a financial burden, such as myself, accidentally finds ways to be more expensive. I had to discuss the €140 cost of a return visa plus the €250 replacement for my residence permit, not to mention that I would probably have to cancel my flight to Geneva (almost €200 wasted) and postpone my exchange trip (transfer fees included).

That was before the discussion on rent and living expenses during the exchange had even begun. The email was typed out carefully, with ‘sorry’ scattered everywhere. Her response was short, along the lines of ‘it’s ok, these things happen’. To say that I was relieved was an understatement.

3.Fixing things

Monday involved waking up early and calling the Swiss embassy, emailing the Czech embassy, calling the IND and waiting impatiently at the International Service Desk for them to open. The Dutch offered a return visa immediately while a new residence permit was being processed (enabling me to return to the country if I left), and the Swiss and Czechs allowed me to travel to their countries with just a Dutch return visa. A visit to the police station and constant checks of the City Hall’s lost-and-found website confirmed that the residence permit had indeed been lost.

On Tuesday I went to the IND and negotiated a six-month return visa. A residence permit seemed useless since I’d be on my exchange trip till June, after which I would be graduating. The IND was helpful enough, though, and it seemed that things had worked out for the best.


Always report the theft of your residence permit/passport to the police! You’ll need the police report to get a replacement. Also, remember to check the City Hall’s lost-and-found website: verlorenofgevonden.nl.

A return visa for a non-EU national is usually sufficient to travel to another Schengen country and back. However, it isn’t a guarantee. Make sure you check with the embassy. Travelling is very different here for a non-EU national than it is for an EU national. Watch out because there are several simple mistakes you can make that’ll land you in big trouble.

Chill out. You’ll always have obstacles to overcome. There’s no use worrying too much. However, if you’re smart you’ll try to avoid these obstacles in the first place.