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When can the British Embassy help?

Hand on a globeNearly 50,000 Brits sought help from the Foreign Office last year when they ran into serious problems abroad.

Most asked for assistance dealing with lost or stolen passports while others needed help after ending up in hospital without travel insurance or being arrested for drug offences.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says its overseas staff helped 48,027 British nationals in 2012-13.

Officials dealt with 5,435 people who were arrested, 6,193 deaths and 3,599 hospitalisations, as well as 28,783 cases of lost or stolen passports.

The FCO’s annual British Behaviour Abroad report claims Spain, the USA, France, Thailand and Greece are the countries where the greatest number of Brits needed help.

However it points out these figures include both holidaymakers and ex-pats.

Who can help you if you run into trouble?

If you’ve got a British passport, you should contact the British High Commission within Commonwealth countries, otherwise go to the British Embassy or local consulate office. 

These can be found within capital cities but in some countries, such as Spain, local consulate offices can be found across the country including Alicante, Gran Canaria and Malaga.

"We’re not in a position to help people make travel or social arrangements, but help those facing real problems abroad," says Mark Simmonds, Minister for Consular Affairs.

"These can include victims of crime, bereaved families who’ve lost a loved one abroad or Britons who’ve been arrested or detained."

Find your nearest support

Sarah Wright from Newcastle sought help when her passport was stolen on holiday in Barcelona.

"I reported it to the police who gave me the embassy details so I could get a replacement. 

"It was a little intimidating as there was full airport security there but staff were helpful and it was a fast service."

To find your nearest source of support go to gov.uk/world/organisations but remember this is for emergency situations only.

The FCO is not for advice on where to watch football matches, booking hotels or helping with translations for holiday tattoos, which were just some of the more bizarre enquiries made over the past year.

What can the British High Commission or Embassy do?

  • Supply lists of local doctors, lawyers, interpreters and even funeral directors. 
  • Help you contact family and friends in emergencies.
  • Send a representative to visit you in hospital or if you’ve been arrested.
  • Provide support if you’ve been physically or sexually assaulted.
  • Provide information on transferring money.
  • Issue replacement travel documents if your passport is lost or stolen.

And what it can’t do

  • Get you out of prison, investigate crimes or interfere in criminal or court proceedings.
  • Carry out searches for missing people, as this is the responsibility of the local authority in the country you’re in.
  • Pay bills or give you money.
  • Make travel arrangements for you, say if you miss your flight or lose your ticket.
  • Help you enter a country if you don’t have the appropriate visas.

How can I contact the local High Commission or Embassy?

It’s worth making a note of the contact details for the British High Commission or Embassy in the country you’re visiting before you leave. 

Details including out of hours numbers, addresses and opening times can be found at gov.uk/world/organisations.

Before you go, check your passport and visas are valid and ensure you’ve got comprehensive travel insurance.

You should also read up on local laws and customs for the country you’re visiting including the rules of the road if you’re planning to drive.

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Sue Hayward

Carl Chambers

Sue Hayward is a personal finance broadcaster, journalist and author. Sue talks and writes on money matters including chatting on BBC Radio & TV as well as contributing to magazines, websites and newspapers. Sue's also written two books; the latest of which is 'How To Get The Best Deal'.

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