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Nobody likes to think of the unexpected happening to them on holiday. Yet thanks to a global network of embassies, high commissions and consulates, help will always be available to British nationals who get into difficulties abroad. 

Happy holidays? Most of the time! But not always. We Brits make roughly 60 million trips abroad each year. The vast majority pass without incident - save overdoing it on the all inclusive buffet. Yet a recent report shows that the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office receives around 470,000 enquiries each year from Brits who have got into difficulties while on holiday.

Help is always there when you need it

You slip on the steps to the pool and fracture your ankle. You lose your passport. You are the victim of a violent crime. When the unexpected happens to you on holiday, that dream destination can suddenly feel like a very scary and lonely place.

That’s where the Foreign & Commonwealth Office comes in.

Thanks to a global network of embassies, high commissions and consulates, help will always be there if you get into difficulties while you’re abroad. The FCO has somewhere you can go for assistance, advice and reassurance in over 180 countries. The aim is to provide help when you need it most.

It’s a free support network - funded by a small fee that you pay when you renew your passport. Having said that the FCO will charge for some services, such as issuing emergency travel documents or arranging international money transfers.

What’s the difference between an embassy, a high commission and a consulate?

Generally speaking they are all very similar. They are all run by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. And they are all there to offer help and support to British nationals who have got into difficulties overseas.

An embassy is always in the capital city of a country. A high commission is essentially an embassy in a commonwealth country such as India. And a consulate can be located anywhere in a country.

Who can go to a British embassy for help?

Anyone outside the UK who is a:

  • British national
  • Dual British national (in certain circumstances)
  • European commonwealth national whose country does not have a local mission, where the FCO has agreed to help their nationals

How can the British Embassy help you?

The FCO is capable of providing invaluable support to British nationals. But there’s a limit to what they can do. If you’re calling on them for advice on the best local beaches, you’re likely to be disappointed. Likewise they can’t throw their weight around to get you out of prison if you’ve been misbehaving. Here’s a breakdown of what the FCO can and cannot do.

The FCO can:

  • Issue replacement passports or emergency travel documents if your original passport is lost, damaged or stolen
  • Give appropriate help and support if you have been the victim of rape, assault or another crime
  • Provide information about transferring funds from your friends or family if you have run out of money
  • Visit you in hospital within 24 hours of your admission
  • Help people with mental illness
  • Give you details of reliable, English-speaking local lawyers, doctors, interpreters and funeral directors
  • Contact you within 24 hours of being told that you have been detained
  • Make special arrangements for your safety in cases of terrorism, civil disturbance or natural disasters

The FCO cannot...

  • Get you out of prison, prevent local authorities from deporting you or interfere in criminal or civil court proceedings
  • Help you enter a country if you do not have the required documents
  • Give you legal advice, investigate crimes or carry out searches for missing people
  • Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
  • Pay any bills on your behalf or give you money - except in exceptional circumstances where you may be offered a loan
  • Make travel arrangements for you or find you work or accommodation

How can you find your nearest embassy?

Before you go away, be sure to save the details of your nearest embassy, high commission or consulate in your phone. If you are travelling in uncertain local conditions or visiting remote areas, register first with your nearest British embassy.

What next?

If you’d like to know more about how the FCO can help you abroad, read their guide.

Save travels!

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