Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: British nationals overseas

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-british-nationals-overseas. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Over 50 million overseas trips are made by British nationals each year and over 5 million British nationals live and work abroad. A small number of these British nationals need help from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).


The Consular Service provides high-quality services to British nationals overseas, dealing with nearly 280,000 face-to-face enquiries and helping in over 97,000 assistance cases, including difficult and complex cases involving deaths or murders, forced marriage or child abduction. Between February 2011 and February 2012, there were nearly 10.5 million visits to the Travel and Living Abroad pages of the FCO website.

The FCO supports those British nationals around the world through modern and efficient consular services by continuing to improve the quality of our consular services and the performance of our network, which extends to 271 diplomatic staff in 170 countries.

We produce a range of publications that encourage safer overseas travel and describe how we can help if things go wrong. Support for British nationals abroad: a guide provides information on the support and advice we can give to British nationals, including information on terrorist attacks and major catastrophes.

On 1 April 2011 we successfully transferred the overseas passport issuing operation to the Identity and Passport Service. This has reduced duplication between different systems and helped us to achieve cost savings.

This change, along with others such as simplifying our notarial services, which involves preparing legal documents, lets us concentrate on our main assistance and crisis work, improving our services to the most vulnerable.

We have improved the operation of the Legalisation Office, the only authority to issue Apostilles (certificates that confirm UK public documents are genuine) in the UK.

In 2011 to 2012 we set up 24-7 crisis centres for British nationals caught up in natural disasters or political and civil unrest. We used social media and other channels to ensure that British nationals had the latest travel advice. Our ambassadors are using blogs and social media to communicate directly with citizens in their countries, giving us a reach of millions.

Following a series of natural disasters in 2011 and 2012, we reviewed our response and have now:

  • expanded our Rapid Deployment Team network, including for the Middle East
  • introduced London Crisis Response Teams
  • designed a new Crisis Management Planning framework for overseas posts
  • upgraded the FCO’s Crisis Centre in London to give us the ability to handle multiple overseas crises simultaneously

We established a new contact centre in Malaga in 2011 to initially handle all consular telephone enquiries in Spain, Italy and Portugal. This model is being copied in a number of locations across the globe and frees frontline staff to concentrate on our main assistance work.


The Foreign Secretary gave a speech in April 2012, Looking after our own: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy, about supporting British nationals around the world by providing modern and efficient consular services.

The FCO’s consular strategy is published every 3 years and sets out the FCO’s vision for how it will provide a modern, efficient service supporting British nationals overseas.

Consular Excellence, the new consular strategy for 2013 to 2016, builds on the successes of the 2 previous 3-year consular strategies.

Consular Excellence will encourage innovation and excellence in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s consular service over the next 3 years. It is an interactive strategy and will be updated every 6 months.

Appendix 1: advice for travellers

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We publish advice to help Britons enjoy safer overseas travel and explain how we can help if things go wrong. If you would like to order hard copies of any of these publications you can do so by:

  • UK orders: email your order (include leaflet title, quantity and delivery address) to: fcoleaflets@tso.co.uk or call 08444 777 399
  • Overseas orders: contact the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of the country that you are in

Our Consular Assistance team in London can be reached on 020 7008 1500 (+44 20 7008 1500 from abroad). This number operates 24 hours a day.

Our customer charter sets out our commitment to providing a high level of service to you and what we ask from you in return.

Checklist for travellers gives advice on how to carry and secure money while you travel, including guidance on the safety of your passport, stolen items and consular assistance.

Support for British nationals abroad: a guide provides information on the support and advice we can give to British nationals, including information on terrorist attacks and major catastrophes.

Death overseas provides information for friends and relatives, explaining what practical support British consular staff can offer you and what you need to do yourself.

Disabled travellers provides general information on staying safe overseas and what help you can receive if you do get into difficulties.

Emergency Travel Document explains what to do if your passport has been lost or stolen or is otherwise unavailable and you’re abroad.

Guide for bereaved families is for families and friends of British nationals who die overseas. As laws and local custom vary widely from country to country this guidance is therefore general.

Going to live abroad Going to live abroad is a major decision and you should obtain a wide range of information and advice before you go. This leaflet provides tips and sources of information as a general guide.

In prison abroad explains what the British Consulate can and cannot do for you, what you should do for yourself and information for relatives.

Know Before You Go is an FCO campaign which helps travellers have a safe and enjoyable holiday by encouraging them to be better prepared before going.

Mental health helps British nationals experiencing difficulties abroad, providing mental health information.

Missing persons abroad explains what practical help our consular staff can offer you, what you may wish to do yourself, and where you can go for additional help when a relative or friend goes missing abroad.

Rape and sexual assault abroad While most visits abroad are trouble-free, we are becoming more aware of people being sexually assaulted whilst they are overseas. This leaflet provides advice if you think you have been raped, sexually assaulted or drugged and for when you are returning home.

Victims of crime abroad explains what we can do for you and what you may need to do for yourself.

Visiting friends and family checklist. A checklist to help you prepare when visiting friends and family overseas.

Appendix 2: advice for women travellers

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Travelling alone or with a couple of female friends can be a great experience. Unfortunately women travellers can be targeted by criminals.

When you’re out and about

  • think about how your clothing will fit in with local customs – what are local women wearing?
  • don’t wear expensive jewellery
  • wear a wedding ring (even if you don’t normally) to help avoid harassment
  • be wary of new ‘friends’, even if they are fellow holidaymakers
  • don’t tell strangers where you are staying or give out too many details about your travel plans
  • if you’re travelling alone you may attract unwelcome attention and you may receive unwelcome propositions or remarks – it is usually best to ignore them
  • act confidently
  • plan your daily itinerary - know where you’re going, what you’re doing and how to get back
  • some hotels and hostels have cards with contact details and directions – take one
  • never hitchhike or accept car rides from strangers
  • ask your hotel or hostel to recommend a taxi firm – try to pair up with someone you know when travelling by taxi

If you ever feel uncomfortable or in danger, don’t be afraid to draw attention to yourself by shouting and making a fuss.

In English-speaking countries you may receive more attention if you shout ‘fire!’ rather than ‘help!’

Going out at night

  • always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return
  • be cautious of people who ignore your personal space, do not listen to you, make you feel guilty if you resist their advances or appear drunk
  • carefully consider whether you should leave the pub, club or party with someone you have just met

Drug-assisted rape or ‘date rape’

Unfortunately, drugs are increasingly being used in rape.

Once someone has added drugs to your drink, you won’t normally be able to detect them. Rape drugs can also work in non-alcoholic drinks, such as coffee and tea.

They are normally colourless and tasteless, and can make you virtually unconscious and defenceless.

Never leave drinks unattended and its best not to accept drinks from strangers.

If you begin to feel strange, sick or drunk after only a couple of drinks tell a trusted friend. They should take you to a safe place, such as your hotel room.

If you are alone, phone the local police, a hospital or the British Consulate. And always try to drink responsibly - alcohol is the most frequently used drug in drug-assisted rape.

We’ve published advice on what to do if you think you have been raped, sexually assaulted or drugged abroad and for when you are returning home.

Stay safe in your hotel or hostel

  • only use your first initial and no title (‘Miss’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’) when checking in
  • never leave your key where someone can note your room number
  • don’t leave your window open, especially if your room is on the ground floor or has a balcony
  • remember to lock your room door even when you are inside the room
  • use a door wedge on the inside of your hotel room door for extra security
  • if the door has a spy-hole or chain, use these before opening the door to unexpected visitors.