How The British Embassy Can Help Brits Abroad
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is responsible for British Embassies and High Commissions worldwide, and is well known for being the best place to find information about countries you want to visit in advance - maybe you want to check visa requirements or what vaccinations you'll need.
When you are actually abroad, though, the FCO can provide invaluable help in disaster and emergency situations.Hopefully you won't need their help, but if you do, it's good to know in advance what the FCO can and can't do in an emergency.
Who Can The FCO Help?The FCO can provide support and assistance to British nationals when they are outside of the UK. It doesn't actually matter if they usually live in the UK; the protection is there wherever they currently reside. Sometimes, if you have a dual nationality you may also be able to ask for help from the FCO, and in very limited circumstances they will help European Union or Commonwealth nationals who come from a country with no local diplomatic or consular office.
What To Do In an EmergencyThe FCO are the first point of contact for anyone who has suffered a serious holiday mishap. If you lose your passport, they may be able to issue you with a replacement, or at the very least a document that will get you back home again.
If you've had an accident, been taken to hospital, or suffered from a bereavement while abroad, they would be the people to speak to - although they can't pay for your treatment, offer legal advice or pay costs of transportation/burial. In the case of a bereavement, they can provide a UK death certificate if you register the death with them, advise you about procedures, and inform next of kin back in the UK.
If you've been arrested or imprisoned, they will send a representative to visit you, inform people back home, and give you a list of local lawyers to choose from.
If there's a natural disaster or political emergency in the country you're visiting, the FCO will help, too.
What The FCO Will Not DoThey can't give you any legal advice or recommend a lawyer, and they won't be able to stump up your bail or get you out of jail. If and when you're released, they can't prevent the local authorities from deporting you.
They won't help you enter a country if you haven't got the correct visa, have lost your passport or it's invalid.
They can't investigate crimes or search for missing people abroad, although they will be able to point you in the direction of someone else who can help.
They won't give you money apart from exceptional circumstances where they may be able to lend you some - although you'll have to surrender your passport and of course, pay the money back.
They won't make travel arrangements on your behalf, find work or accommodation for you, or intervene in your business arrangements.
What About a Major Catastrophe?Unfortunately, nobody can predict a natural disaster, act of terrorism, major accident, political unrest or conflict. In general, it's up to the Foreign Secretary to decide whether an event is a major catastrophe which will affect significant numbers of people.
If the decision is made that a major catastrophe has taken place, the FCO will consider whether exceptional help should be provided from the public purse, and if so will usually set up public help lines, provide information to those who have been affected and their families, and often send extra staff to the country involved.
Where Should I Go For Help?You can find the Consular Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and there is usually a British Embassy (or High Commission in Commonwealth countries) in most countries - usually in the capital city.
Most travel abroad is trouble free, and you won't need to know that the FCO is there for you in an emergency. It's always good to know that there's an organisation there to help in times of distress and need.