Yes we can. No we can’t. What the British consul can do for you
The British Consulate operates out of 227 countries across the world. As our representatives abroad they provide a string of vital services to protect us – British nationals - abroad. But there is a limit to what they can do.
While our man in Havana might be able to get you out of a sticky situation, if you lose your passport, help you if you are the victim of a crime or contact friends and family if you are detained abroad, there is only so far they can go. So it might be a surprise to some to find out that the British consulate is neither babysitter nor personal assistant. Neither are they there to act as your personal travel consultant while you are away either.
Of course not!
But that is exactly what some people appear to think. Last week the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a press release announcing the start of a new campaign to educate the travelling British public on what they will and won’t do for British nationals. They made the point by presenting a list of the things that consular staff have been asked to do. This included a man who called the Embassy in Mexico City to request that staff go to the airport to check whether he had left his mobile phone on a plane. Then there was the woman in woman in Italy who called up the Embassy to ask how she could synchronise her TV antenna to receive English channels.
All very funny, no? But calls like this – and they happen more often than you might think – take already pressed staff away from the work they should be doing, which is helping Brits in genuine distress. And that doesn’t include giving information on how to treat a cat’s infected paw, finding out if someone’s Albanian fiancé was already married, asking for the name of a chef to make haggis for a Burns Night event. It does happen.
In the press release the FCO said “The FCO’s priority is to protect the welfare of British nationals abroad, and consular staff will always do their best to assist people when they find themselves in difficulty. However, it is important for travellers to understand what services we provide before getting in touch. There are also some simple pre-travel steps that you can take to reduce the risk of getting into difficulty and needing our help, such as taking out comprehensive travel insurance, researching the destination and any health risks and ensuring access to emergency funds.”
The message is clear. Make sure you have funds, travel cover and that you find out about the place you are going. Don’t want to be disappointed when you can’t tune in to Coronation Street, do we?
What the FCO CAN do for you:
- Issue you with an emergency travel document
- Provide information about transferring money
- Provide help if you have suffered rape or serious sexual or physical assault, are a victim of crime, are ill or in hospital
- Give you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
- Contact you if you are detained abroad
- Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
- Provide help in cases of forced marriage
- Assist people affected by parental child abduction
What the FCO CANNOT do for you:
- Help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visas
- Give you legal advice or translate documents
- Investigate crimes or get you out of prison
- Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, but we will raise concerns if treatment falls below internationally recognised standards
- Pay any bills or give you money
- Make travel arrangements for you
- Help your cat or tune your telly
Getting the lowdown on the countries you visit
We have compiled a number of ‘Essential Guides’ to start you off discovering new places. They include information about healthcare, currency, electricity, security and crime so you’ll know before you go. While they won’t take the place of a comprehensive guide, they will help you to make the first steps towards understanding the country you are about to visit.
There are lots more on the World First website but here are links to a few of the most popular: