Is Barcelona Safe? 12 Essential Travel Tips for Visitors

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Barcelona is one of Europe's most enticing cities for culture, architecture and food. But, it's also known for pickpockets. Find out how to keep your valuables safe and avoid common travel scams.


Photo © Pixabay/Kristina Spisakova

Spain's soaring unemployment rate, tourism and scarce legal deterrent for petty crimes have created a perfect storm of petty crime in popular destinations – in particular, Barcelona.

But, there's no need to cancel your flights. As long as you can keep a hand on your wallet, you have nothing to fear in Barcelona.

Spotting a pickpocket

Often working in pairs or groups, pickpockets prey on distracted and disoriented tourists. One captures your attention while the other rifles through your bag or slips your phone from your pocket.

It might seem rude or culturally insensitive to question odd or friendly behavior from strangers while you're traveling but this is the attitude pickpockets rely on.

You don't want to be constantly wound up and paranoid when you're trying to relax while on holiday. But, if you do feel suspicious, it's easy to brush your hand over your wallet, pull your bag closer or have a quick look over your shoulder. Don't be afraid to confront anyone following you either, although there's no need to get aggressive. If the thieves know you're onto them, they'll quickly skulk off to await an easier target.

Forewarned is forearmed so if you can recognize a dodgy character or situation you'll know when to be alert and then you can spend the rest of your holiday being pleasantly distracted.

Where pickpockets strike

Pickpockets congregate at popular attractions and transport hubs.

Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona's most popular attractions, with thousands of visitors and locals wandering, shopping, eating and soaking up the atmosphere. However, the boulevard is also notorious for thieves and scammers. During the day, take care when watching the street performers, as they may be working alongside pickpockets in the crowd. Avoid the gaming tables, almost everyone here is on the act.

The south end of Las Ramblas gets a little seedy at night, with prostitutes and drug dealers aplenty. 

Plaza Catalunya, at the northern end of Las Ramblas, is another place to watch your valuables. To the south, beware in Barrio Gotico, one of the city's historic districts. During the day it's easy to find yourself isolated in the area's narrow, winding streets.

The popularity of the Picasso Museum makes Carrer Montcada a popular hangout for thieves. The same goes for Carrer de la Princesa and the sidestreets near Mercat Santa Caterina.

Stick to the main roads when making your way to or from Rambla Del Raval as some of the streets near this popular nightspot are a little dodgy.

Be aware of your surroundings when you're arriving or departing the city, particularly if you are carrying your luggage and maybe a little stressed or disoriented. Sants and Franca train stations, Estacio del Nord bus station and the Cercanias Metro line, which goes out to the airport, are all prowled by pickpockets.

Protecting your belongings

  • Don't dress like a traveler. That's an instant advertisement to any pickpocket
  • Brightly colored clothes aren't big in Barcelona and will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Subdued, autumnal colors make up the locals' preferred palette
  • Barcelona is a seaside town but there are two very different dress codes for the beach and the city. There's plenty on show at the shore but don't wear your board shorts and bikinis too far from the water
  • Despite the declining influence of the Catholic Church, Barcelona's style is still quite conservative. Fitted clothes are fine but female travelers should avoid overly revealing garments. Miniskirts and low-cut tops will draw the attention of pickpockets, but also some disapproving glares
  • Jewelry is like a red rag to a bull for thieves. Don't go out dripping in gold or silver
  • Bum bags are right out. Not only do they scream 'I'm a tourist, rob me', but they're very easy to rip or cut off
  • Handbags with long straps are also easy for grab and run thieves, who sometimes zoom by on bikes. Try to wear any bags across your body, rather than just over the shoulder, making it more difficult to wrestle them from you. At the very least, tie some knots in any long, thin straps to make them a little shorter and stronger.

Extra tips to keep you safe

The way you behave is perhaps even more important than how you dress in avoiding criminal attention. A really sharp eye will be able to pick you as a tourist no matter how you're dressed but you can still show you're no easy pickings.

Walk with purpose and try to look and try to avoid that lost lamb look, even if you have no idea where you are. If your group has to look at the map, try and find a shop, cafe or an alcove to do it in, rather than standing around in a circle of confusion. Asking directions from a shopkeeper or waiter actually often yields a clearer route than consulting your map.

Even if you are the victim of theft you should be able to minimize your losses by keeping your most valuable items close to you. Don't keep any prized possessions in handbags or backpacks. Only take out as much cash as you need that day, along with a photocopy of your passport. Keep the rest and the real deal safely locked up at your accommodation.

Carry your wallet in your front pocket and try to get into the habit of brushing your hand over it every so often. This will make you feel more secure as well as letting any scoping pickpockets know you're alert to their presence.

What to do if you get pickpocketed

If a pickpocket does manage to pull one over on you, don't panic. Don't spend time trying to tracing your steps to track down the perpetrator either. You can be sure they've either already vanished or passed on your stuff.

It's better to focus this frustrated energy on dealing with the practicalities of the situation. Your first priority should be to cancel your cards. Your bank should have a 24-hour emergency contact number for this sort of situation. It's wise to keep this written down somewhere. Canceling your phone account is also a priority if you're not using a prepaid service.

Getting a replacement passport and canceling the old one is integral if you're planning on going home at any point. You can do this at your consulate but you'll to get a police report first.

You should report all robberies to the police (in any emergency, call 112). If you visit one of the inner city police stations for this purpose you're sure to run into plenty of other cheated tourists. This might make you feel a little better about falling victim, but the resulting lines can be frustrating. 

To report a crime, including stolen property and passports, visit the nearest Policia Nacional, regional police (Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, and Policia Foral in Navarre) or Guardia Civil Station to file a police report (denuncia). Some Spanish cities also offer a Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (SATE - Servicio de Atención al Turista Extranjero) run by the Town Hall and National Police where tourists can report crimes in a variety of languages, including English.

While in Spain, you can also call a dedicated English-speaking police line on +34 90 210 2112 from 9am – 9pm 7 days a week, or file a police report online for minor offenses such as a bag or car theft.

Try and prepare all the details, serial numbers, passport numbers, distinctive markings etc, of anything that has been stolen. Don't waste time talking about the photos that were on your camera, they would have been deleted almost immediately.

Give a clear, concise explanation of theft and where it occurred, or where you think it occurred.

In June 2011, the Hotel Association of Barcelona began trialing a system in which tourists can make police reports from their accommodation. It's only currently available in a few hotels, but if it works to streamline the reporting process it could be widely available. Check with your hotel when you arrive.

Common scams in Barcelona

The flower scam

One of the most popular traps involves a couple of unassuming ladies offering you a flower. Don't take it. The flower is just an excuse for the women to get close and get into your pockets. If you do take it, you'll soon learn it wasn't a gift. The women will demand money for it, pestering you for some tiny amount. When you decide it's worth un centavo to be rid of them, they will kindly reach into your wallet to help you locate the right coin, simultaneously clearing out all your notes.

Obviously letting a stranger put their hands in your wallet isn't a great idea but these sneaky couples can be very persistent. Even if you don't take the flower they may grab your hands, urging you to accept it, all the while getting themselves closer to you and your valuables. The best approach is not to acknowledge them at all, don't slow down or stop. If you do end up with a flower in your hand just drop it on the ground and continue on your way. You might cop a few curses but at least you'll keep your stuff.

The pigeon poo scam

Another classic trick is for someone to spray paint or milk onto your clothes. A kindly local will quickly approach to tell you about your unfortunate accident and offer to help clean you up. The aim is for you to drop what you're carrying as you attend to the stain, or for your helpful friend to get his hands into your pockets. If you do find yourself the target of this messy method, politely but firmly refuse any assistance. Keep a tight hold on your possessions and walk away quickly. You can clean yourself up later.

The crowded metro scam

This trick involves a group of thieves who'll push in front of you as you try to get on or off a train. They create some delay at the door, meaning their buddies, who've slipped in behind, have an excuse to bump into you. They also work on a divide-and-conquer principle, trying to separate potential victims from their traveling buddies. You should be alert whenever you're taking crowded public transport, but if you find someone try to squeeze between you and your friends' chances are your possessions are in jeopardy.

A variation of these techniques can happen at any bottleneck or queue, like a shop entrance, bus line or escalator. The thieves will use any means to hold you up, from dropping coins to having someone fall at your feet. If you bend to help pick up the coins or the clumsy stranger you present your bag and back pockets to the waiting cutpurse. It may seem cruel but don't be afraid to push past and get yourself out of danger.

The clipboard cover scam

Someone holding a clipboard will approach you, asking you to complete a survey of some sort. They'll shove the sheet into your face, obscuring your view and allowing them or an accomplice to dip into your bag.

Again, there are plenty of adaptations. People asking directions hold up maps, nightclub promoters wave posters and scalpers flash phony tickets in front of your eyes. They all serve the same sinister purpose, so don't let yourself be fooled.

The devious diners scam

Other thieves roam the outdoor dining areas of Barcelona's many restaurants, looking for any unwatched bags or cameras. These crooks come in all shapes and sizes. Some lone opportunists will just pick off whatever they can find, others work in groups and have elaborate methods to distract diners.

One story we've heard involves a raucous group of well-dressed young girls sitting down at a table next to some travelers. They made a lot of noise but didn't order and soon they all stood up and left. The waiter returned, saw they were gone and instantly told his unsuspecting patrons to check their bags, which were all gone.

There are similar reports about beggars approaching tables and insisting on a donation, even getting abusive. Anything to attract your attention while an accomplice slips away with your stuff.

Don't leave bags at your feet at restaurants and don't put your jacket over the back of the chair, especially not if there's anything in the pockets. It might be slightly uncomfortable but it's best to keep your things in your lap.

The fake policemen scam

These guys are closer to conmen than pickpockets but the end result is the same. It starts when someone pretending to be a fellow tourist approaches and asks for directions or advice. Even if you just wave them off, another group of men will then appear, flashing IDs and claiming to be undercover police. They'll say they've been tracking your newfound friend, on drugs or terrorism charges or something equally intimidating, and that you're now a suspect by association.

Demanding identification of some sort, they'll try and get you to hand over your passport or wallet. They might just split with your things or they might be subtler and try to pocket the cards and cash. Some people have even reported being told to give up their PIN as the 'cop' has a phony conversation with HQ on the telephone to confirm their identity.

Don't cave into these intimidation tactics. Don't risk provoking the gang but ask to have a closer look at their badges. Ask to walk to the nearest police station before handing over any documentation. That should be enough to put these scammers off.

Variations on a theme

There are hundreds of variations on these popular techniques, but they all boil down to one main element: misdirection.

Barcelona's pickpockets are very fast and very skilled but they are also very predictable. When know what cues to look for it should be easy to spot and avoid crooks. If something feels a little amiss, it probably is.

Barcelona's residents are very welcoming and helpful, but they are also quite reserved, compared to southern Spaniards at least. They will gladly offer you directions if you ask, but it's unlikely they'll try to initiate a conversation out of the blue. They definitely won't try to touch you.

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  • Kim said

    Yet this article fails to mention that 90% of crime in Barcelona is commited by immigrants (mostly from Morocco, South America and Eastern Europe). You will hardly see any locals pickpocketing or attacking tourists. Sadly, there is no prison sentence for petty crime so there is no way to stop these people. If anything, they are growing in number. So I would advise to stay away from strangers and to try to blend in with the locals as much as possible so you don't stand out as an easy target.


    • Ash said

      Okay, I would live there, i may actually tetire there. It'sa just so Great and affordable compared to any country east of spain.


      Is there is a bitter sweet story to this period so I am a well season traveler and I put all valuables under my clothes and pickpocket proof type hardware I don't know how to describe it. They make all kinds of things. So anything in my pockets that will be stolen is not valuable however the fact that was attempted I still reacted. After I gave up on the Chase that piece of paper the kid got was nothing more than the ATM receipt saying I just took out €400 so I had the last laugh. I'm just lucky that it wasn't a setup because when I hit him and chased him what if there was 3 other guys waiting to jump me?


  • Barcelona is Beautiful said

    Barcelona is Beautiful! :)


  • Anon said

    Simple solution....Hefty jail sentences for pickpocketing. problem solved.


  • Kevin said

    My partner and I just returned from three absolutely glorious weeks in Barcelona. I've traveled in much of Europe and I have to say that Barcelona is my favorite city as it explodes with museums, architecture, great food, and amazing locals. This was my first trip in Spain, so I took note when I read that Barcelona is sometimes named the pickpocket capital of Europe. I should admit up front that I border on the hysterical when the subject turns to pickpockets and the like. So I approached Barcelona with a good deal of trepidation. I am happy to report that if one uses common sense and keeps track one's belongings all will be well. I kept my wallet and my phone in my front pocket and had my hand on it at all times. In the evenings when the weather turned cooler, I buttoned my wallet and phone in the breast pockets of my jacket. We had no trouble at all. I did witness a fair share of tourists who foolishly left their belongings in plain sight. One particular example comes to mind: a young french couple very much in love took no note of the young lady's phone (complete with bright pink carrying case) which she left at the far corner of the table. Eventually, when I could stand it no longer, I managed in my limited French to tell her to put away her phone. The rule of the day is "pay attention." Keep your belongings close to you and check to see that all is where it should be. Leave your passport at the hotel...your driver's license or state ID will suffice. Bring only the money you will need for the day and leave all but one credit card at the hotel making sure to have the card information on you so that if you do lose it you can call in the number and so forth. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Do not let a fear of pickpockets keep you from visiting Barcelona. It's my new favorite city in Europe and I would get on a plane in the morning if I could return.


  • William said

    Was hit by the 'jam in the train door' trick, but all they got was a fake wallet. In Barcelona, and many other places, it is a good idea to have a dummy wallet, filled with paper scraps, in your back pocket, to offer easy pickings, while you keep your real money and cards in inside pockets. Leave your true wallet at home, and just carry cash and a single well-hidden credit card on your person. Also, packpacks with cameras, and phones, are a favorite target


  • Carol said

    I fell victim to the following scam during an otherwise lovely visit to Barcelona this month: We had just arrived from the airport, and I was buying Metro passes from a machine in the Plaza Catalunya station, when a young woman approached and asked whether the machine accepted cash as well as bank cards (I was using a card). My traveling companion answered her, and then the two of them started chatting. The conversation was just enough to distract me, because after I had gotten the tickets out of the machine, I realized that my card had disappeared -- and so had the young woman. Happily, she only got the card, and it requires a PIN code which I don't think she was able to get, because no unauthorized charges were made. Of course I called the bank right away to cancel it, but she would probably have had time to take money out of an ATM if she had my code.


  • Mike said

    This is a great article and set of advice. I consider myself a savvy NewYorker, always on guard, but still got scammed. An Arab looking young male handed me a business card of a local restaurant, as I walked around the Gothic section of Barcelona. I was quite used to this, as many of the businesses had hostesses promoting outside their restaurants. I was then approached by a second similar looking male in his 20's. He handed me a second restaurant card and started asking me me I like Barcelona Football. I realized something was wrong and immediately checked my pockets at which point, I turned on them, they fled dropping my wallet without the cash of course. I didn't pursue. They got about a 100 USD and 20 Euro.

    My advice, don't take whatever they hand you and keep walking. It seems like rude behavior to normal people, but you'll be better off for it in Barcelona.


  • Anonymous said

    I survived the thieves in Barcelona, but found valuables missing from my luggage on arrival back home. Even in the city, I did not feel safe to just walk around. I will happily ignore this otherwise nice looking city.


  • Sylvia said

    I had my wallet stolen in Madrid ,it was my first time there.
    Never put your back pack behind you with your wallet in it.
    The stereo types about certain foreigners stealing are what will you
    into to trouble. I think the person who robbed me was a young Chinese woman.
    Anyone getting to close to you could be a thief.
    Beware the person picking your pocket is the person you would least suspect .
    Get a secure shoulder bag with zipper on top. Keep your purse in front of you at all times .Keep your passport in the hotel safe .
    Anyway have fun!! Do not let the paranoia ruin your vacation .
    Just take precautions.


  • Anon said

    Every single time I take the metro in Barcelona I see at least one person getting robbed. What is really frustrating for me is that you cannot even help to prevent it from happening. I am not going to make a group of pickpockets with knives angry at me for pointing out that they are about to rob someone for someone who is not cautious over his belongings. I would like to help but knowing that you do not get any punishment in Barcelona if you steal something with a value under 400 euros, it would put me in danger and it would not have any effect. If the authorities do not care if you get your belongings stolen, I have to accept that I should not either.


  • Sam Leckey said

    It is with no small amount of trepidation that my wife and I pack our bags and make ready for a trip to Europe which will include a week in Barcelona.
    After reading the previous events about the scams and pick pockets all over Barcelona I do not want to become another statistic. I will report upon our return.


  • Richard said

    A pickpocket got my phone as we were walking back from dinner in the Gothic Quarter. We had just turned onto Las Ramblas, and a man started walking next to my left and trying to hand me something. I always just keep walking or say "no thank you." This man was speaking a language I did not understand and kept walking with me. I said "no thank you" at least 3 times, when he then faked like he was going to trip me, then laughed and walked away. Less than minute later I realized he lifted my phone. It could have been far worse. I kept my wallet in my front right pocket, because I was concerned about pickpockets, and luckily my wife was cold and walking to my right, so I held her close to me. I also had a backpack and camera he didn't touch.

    You may want to take lots of great pictures in this beautiful city, but if you carry around your backpack and camera you will make yourself a target. I've also learned it's not enough to just attempt to ignore or walk past the handbills and business cards... Always be aware of what's going on and where your belongings are if ANYONE approaches.


  • Screw Barcelona said

    I had my phone stolen in the Gothic quarter last week while in spain for business. By a guy handing out a card for some kind of music festival. Maybe the same guy as you but probably not because that city is lousy with thieves. I will never set foot or spend another euro in Barcelona again. Worst city in western europe, I've been to cartel controlled cities in Mexico where I felt safer.


  • Bren said

    Oh my god Richard. This same thing just happened to us this evening. Exactly the same scam where a guy kept trying to speak to you. I said no sternly and moved ahead but my boyfriend was extremely friendly with him. He was trying to sell us tickets to a football match (FCB vs Sev) which we already knew wasn't even happened in Barcelona but in Madrid, where we came from 2 days ago.

    Turned around and saw the guy trying to trip my boyfriend, at which point 2 other guys ran across the road and I ran back towards my boyfriend. I wasn't too far off when my boyfriend's wallet suddenly fell to the ground and 1 of the men who was from across the street managed to lift it before I could. Luckily I snatched it back immediately and there wasn't much money in it in the first place.

    Ruined an otherwise lovely night but I can only thank God nothing was lost. We were just returning to our airbnb which was 2 streets off Las Ramblas. Extremely brazen, there were people near us but nobody will help.


  • anonimito said

    I really like Barcelona.
    But I absolutely don't understand the police and system that cannot stop this massive and well organized crime. I think they should go to Vienna (Austria) or somewhere in Germany to get trained (the authorities in Spain, not the thieves.


  • Steve said

    My Experience: Just returned from Barcelona. Myself and my girlfriend were walking in the Gothic Quarter and had a guy come up and ask where we were from. Replied New Zealand and he got excited saying 'Football, Football' (bit of a warning sign, we aren't known for our Football!) and putting his arm around me and pretending to tackle/kick a ball.

    Both the girlfriend and I somehow realised he was making a grab for my back pocket/wallet and stopped what was going on. I was very surprised as he was small guy in comparison to me (6ft 4, 105kg) but he obviously wasn't afraid if I decided to defend myself, or get angry over it...

    We were much more alert the rest of the trip and bloody glad that we didn't experience a good pickpocket.


  • balu said

    Me and my wife are visiting Barcelona on 21st July 2016. I love photography and tasting street foods. Any advice regarding safe guarding my camera and lenses will be appreciated.


  • T Le said

    My DH got pick pocketed today in the subway. I saw a guy almost breathing down my husband's neck and when I asked my DH to come towards me, the guy had already opened my DH's fanny pack and gotten his wallet with multiple credit cards, a bank card and some 200 euros in cash. I felt helpless. What a beautiful city ruined by these petty thieves.


  • Maria said

    To protect yourself from being robbed, you need to be not only careful but to choose the safest way of travelling. Firstly, choose a safe transport. We booked a car on so all our belongings were always with us, buses and public transport are not safe in these cases. Next is appropriate accommodation: hostels are cheap but you never know with whom you are living. So you always have to be on the alert, use safes if possible, keep all your money on credit card.


  • David Herz said

    one thing no one is bringing up, even though it is illustrated in one of the photos, is that people are so no- present, so distracted by their electronic devices that they don't even need to be distracted by professional pickpockets to be robbed. Most of the cellphone ipad gameboy or whatever bedazzled people would never even know what hit them until much later...


  • Grace Chung said

    "The crowded Metro scam" was exactly what happened to me in Paris on 12/19/2016. Lost my whole wallet. Pissed but I learned my lesson.


  • leeq said

    Every time I visit Barcelona, I get one of my belongings stolen. A camera, a smartphone, wallet, etc.
    With useless police system, Barcelona is definitely the pickpocket capital in Europe! :)


  • Chris Redman said

    Lots of very interesting and helpful tips here, but for the guys, have you never thought about putting several elastic (rubber) bands around your wallet? Makes it harder for the pickpocket and you are more likely to feel the tug. Or have the wallet on a piece of elastic or chain fixed to your trouser belt?

    My weakness is for a phone in my shirt pocket, so looks like it will be in the front jeans pocket on my trip next week.


  • Adela said

    Me and my husband went from London to Barcelona for a 4 days holiday to celebrate his birthday. I was prewarned by my colleagues and friends to be very careful and I alse red the comments on this website about pickpockets. On our second day of holiday in Barcelona we had bookings to see the Sagrada Famiglia. After we have seen the Sagrada Famiglia we went to Pannus Delicatessen to have a coffee and some pastry. While I went to find a table to sit my husband has been paying and took the tray with the coffees to bring it at the table. We think this was the moment when his wallet was stolen. He had his wallet in his left coat pocket with the zip up. He had all his cards there, driving licence, £50 and 10 euros, not too mich money, but it was enough to ruin our holiday, had to go to the police, waiting there for a couple of hours etc. My advice is to be extra careful. We knew about pickpockets, we tried to avoid it but they are a lot and everywhere


  • Jim Gallagher said

    I have been to different parts of Spain almost a dozen times. Barcelona is definitely the worst with prostitution drugs and pickpockets. They work in groups as high as 10 people. Ages 3 to 75. Strollers to wheelchairs. Once they spot you a simple group text will have them after you. I from NYC was always well prepared. The only time it Olmsted happened was one guy was following me and I zigzagged across the street. He was wearing a baseball. Cap and sat on a bench behind a bush and I waited for him to get up. Three minutes later still sitting. I started walking to my right and wow. Right in front of me was the guy. I looked back at where he was. He slid his hat off his head right onto the bush behind him to make it appear as if he was still sitting. I extended my hand to shake his and I told him you are the best I have seen so far. I have told some guys come here. I want to buy you a drink. I would then tell them that the Knapp sack I am carrying is not see through and he should be careful. I said you may take my wallet but o may take your life. He didn’t finish his beer. I told another guy. I am 50 years old ugly but from newyork so tell the two girls rubbing up Behind me to get the f””” out of hear before I start hitting you till I can’t swing anymore. I put a fake wallet in my back pocket wrote the word nothing written in bold letters. When this guy took it and was a block away I yelled hey what did you get. He turned the corner and read the note. He came back threw it at me and yelled something in Spanish. Everyone works together. Waitresses venders etc. the police should stop this and make arrests. I will say that I have never seen violence involved ever. Believe everything you read and be careful. Also be careful of the beutiful women. As the kinks song Lola dictates. “ walks like a women but talks like a man”


  • Roberto said

    I learned you always have to be cautious in Barcelona. I almost got pick pocketed on the metro, they tried the crowed metro scam. Three young males split me and my wife up then targeted me. I was wearing pants with zipper pockets and had my wallet in the front pocket. I caught the one of the guys hand in my pocket. I called him out on it he seemed not to care. He looked a little scared because I am 6'6 and 265 and was staring him down. His freinds seemed angry that he got caught. Should I have beaten his ass?


  • MVS said

    Barcelona is quite attractive, but at the same time full pickpockets. I was also a victim of them on my tourist trip to Barcelona. They stole my wallet. After telling my story, I also heard several other experiences, told by colleagues, about experiences of this type to tourists who go to Barcelona. In the vast majority of cases they work in groups; while one or the other distracts your attention, the other one steals your belongings. You usually only notice what happened afterwards. The tip is, leave your valuables in very safe pockets, preferably in the inner pockets of your coat, on the front of your body.


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