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Getting Government Assistance Overseas

By: Catherine Burrows - Updated: 1 Nov 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
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In a perfect world, every trip abroad would be safe, enjoyable and trouble-free. What happens when things go wrong? Is there anyone overseas who can come to your aid and what can they do to help? The good news is that as a British citizen you automatically fall under the protection of the UK government in more than 170 countries around the world.

Government Assistance

The UK government offers its citizens protection and assistance via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Its services are relevant to anyone travelling abroad, living abroad or anyone who is remaining in the UK but needs help in relation to a loved one who is currently overseas.

The offices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have several different names and functions. Generally speaking, most major or capital cities abroad will host a British Embassy, the head of which is an ambassador. In a Commonwealth country it may be called the High Commission with a High Commissioner at the helm. In other cases, you will be assisted by the British Consulate and consular officials.

Why is Government Assistance So Valuable?

Embassy and consulate staff are a really good bridge between you the traveller, the resources and protection of the UK and the local environment. They will be able to relate to your interests and will have extensive and valuable knowledge of local customs, laws, language and culture.

You must remember that the FCO is not your first line of assistance. Government advice is very clear. Make sure you have full and adequate travel insurance that includes good medical cover before you leave. Also, familiarise yourself with and fully respect local laws and customs. Finally, remember you are overseas and your behaviour and actions need to be guarded and moderate.

If government advice and your travel preparations have failed you and you find yourself in trouble, it may be time to contact the local British embassy or consulate.

What Government Assistance is Available to Me?

It’s important to remember that government assistance is not a route to getting out of trouble, the function of these offices are to offer advice and basic, practical assistance. As well as helping travellers, the UK offices help people in the UK assist stricken relatives who are overseas. Some of the ways the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can help you are:

  • Deaths and accidents abroad are extremely distressing. Bereavement or hospitalisation is traumatic and more so in an international setting. The FCO will be able to arrange repatriation of the deceased traveller and assist with legal documentation. In the case of sickness and injury, they will contact UK relatives, assist with language issues and translators and help source appropriate medical treatment. They will not pay for medical or funeral costs.
  • Criminal Incidents. If you have been involved in committing a crime, rightly or wrongly, the FCO can inform family members in the UK and provide information regarding suitable interpreters or legal advice. They will also ensure that you receive fair treatment at the hands of prison and police authorities. Just because you are a British citizen, there will be no chance of ‘skipping jail’. You will be treated in exactly the same way as your host country’s nationals.
  • Victim of Crime. In the unfortunate event that you have experienced a crime, the FCO will provide administrative and legal guidance. They will ensure that you can make arrangements to continue your holiday or return home by helping to arrange funds or travel documents. They will not pay for you to get home or to initiate legal proceedings against a third party
  • Lost documents and passports are one of the most common reasons why travellers need to use the services of a local Embassy or Consulate. The FCO will usually be able to arrange emergency documentation until a replacement passport can be issued. This allows you to continue your trip or return home to the UK.

How Do You Get Help

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an excellent internet facility which allows you to identify and contact relevant overseas offices.

It’s sensible to make a note of these details before you start your journey abroad, in certain parts of the world it may be tough to find an internet connection. Language barriers will also hamper any attempts you might make to find the relevant information. Against the backdrop of an emergency, it makes sense to have the details to hand with your travel documents.

Don’t forget the FCO also issues very valuable advice and recommendations that should be noted and acted on before you even leave the UK.

Access to government assistance wherever you are in the world is a fantastic privilege as a British citizen. Use the assistance wisely and do not abuse the help that is available to you. It’s very reassuring to know wherever you are in the world there’s always a little bit of the UK that’s ready to help you when you need help most.

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