© Crown copyright 2019
This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0 except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3 or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.
This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-british-nationals-abroad-a-guide/support-for-british-nationals-abroad-summary
1.Our Customer Charter
This Charter sets out our commitment to provide a high quality service, and what we ask from you in return.
- Be professional, non-judgemental, polite and helpful to you whatever your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, religion or belief
- Give clear information on how to contact us
- Tell you beforehand if there is a charge for a service we provide
- Deal with your enquiry accurately and efficiently, explaining clearly from the start what help we can give and when you should approach others for advice
- Keep waiting times to a minimum when you call or visit us and advise you of any delays
- Provide a private interview room if needed
- Protect any personal information you give us, in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679, the Data Protection Act 2018 and all other applicable data protection laws. You can find a copy of our privacy notice on consular services
- Use your feedback, comments and complaints to help us improve our services
We will aim to:
- Offer a fast response and consistent advice to your first-time telephone enquiries, worldwide and around the clock, with priority calls escalated for action
- Assess your needs promptly and provide effective assistance based on your individual circumstances and local conditions, making every effort to contact vulnerable customers1 within 24 hours of being notified of your situation
- Provide a rapid and high-quality response, with specially trained staff, if you are caught up in a crisis overseas, with consistent and regularly updated advice and assistance as the situation develops
- Meet our published targets for fee-bearing services, including issuing emergency travel documents which will normally be ready in two working days (in straightforward cases, once we receive your full and complete application online, or at our Embassy, High Commission or Consulate)
- Provide up-to-date and objective travel advice, offering a real-time response to your enquiries via social media (on weekdays from 9am-6pm and out-of-hours for urgent enquiries)
What we ask of you:
- Treat our staff with respect. If your behaviour is abusive, we may refuse to help you
- Be prepared to pay for some services e.g. an emergency travel document. We do not make a profit from these charges; they go towards the costs of providing consular services
- Provide us with feedback so that we can improve our services
- Buy adequate travel and medical insurance to help cover any unexpected costs
- Have any necessary vaccinations, pack enough medication to cover any unforeseen extended stays or emergencies and leave your contact details and itinerary with family or friends
- Follow our travel advice and local advice on what is safe and unsafe, respect local laws and take care of your money and passport (not forgetting to include your emergency contacts on the inside back cover)
Be aware that if we have done all we can to help you, and have explained that we are not able to do anything more, we may write to you explaining that we will no longer respond to your emails, phone calls or letters unless they contain new information.
Please note that we have a duty of care to our employees. We will not send staff into a situation where we judge that their safety could be seriously at risk. For more information on the services and support we provide or alternatively, please speak to a member of staff.
We expect British people to take responsibility for themselves and their safety while overseas. This guide highlights some of the main things you can do to prepare for your travel and stay safe abroad and what help we can provide if you do get into difficulty.
3. Staying safe overseas
Ensure you check travel advice and sign up for country specific travel advice updates. Our travel advice will help you to form your own judgements about travelling or living in a particular country, and alert you to any new information. Keep an eye on news reports of any problems in the area you are visiting. Follow @FCOtravel on Twitter and @FCOtravel on Facebook for updates from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Choosing to go to a country against our travel advice may seriously restrict any help we can provide and may also mean that your travel insurance is not valid2
Before you travel, get comprehensive travel insurance which covers any pre-existing medical conditions you have, and all activities you plan to do – think particularly about the more adventurous activities which you would not normally undertake at home. If you do not take out adequate insurance, you will have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself, which could include an expensive medical bill or additional flights if as a result your travel plans have to change
At least 8 weeks before travel, check the latest country-specific health advice on the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNac) TravelHealthPro website on travel-related risks and diseases, including vaccine recommendations. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad. Guidance is also available from: NHS (Scotland)’s fitfortravel website and the NHS website
Take any prescribed medicine with you and keep it to hand, as well as a copy of the prescription. Ensure you take enough medication to cover your time overseas. Check that your medication is legal in the country by contacting the foreign embassy of the country you are travelling to
Make sure your passport is valid and in good condition and that you have any necessary visas. Ensure you fill in the emergency contact details in your passport
Leave copies of your passport, travel insurance policy (plus the insurer’s 24-hour emergency number), ticket details, your itinerary and contact details with your family and friends before you go. Take copies of these items with you as well
Take enough money for your trip and some backup funds, credit cards, travellers’ cheques, or prepaid cash cards. Before you leave, ensure you know how to replace your credit cards and travellers’ cheques if you lose them or they are stolen, and know how to contact your bank. Keep a separate note of their numbers
Before you go, get a good guidebook and get to know your destination. Find out about local laws and customs, and the standards of behaviour people expect in the country you are visiting so that you can follow them. Be aware of your personal security and take sensible precautions to protect yourself
If you are going abroad for a long period, you might want to grant someone power of attorney to look after your financial affairs in the UK, while you’re away. You could also consider whether you want to give someone the power to make decisions about your welfare or health care in case a situation arises where you are unable or incapable to make decisions for yourself
There is no legal right to consular assistance. All assistance provided is at our discretion.
4. Who we can help
We can provide the support set out in this guide to people outside the UK who are:
British nationals (whether or not they normally live in the UK – see page 6 of main guide
British nationals with another nationality (known as ‘dual nationals’ – see page 6 of main guide, although this will depend on the circumstances - normally we cannot help dual nationals when they are in the country of their other nationality
Nationals of European Union Member States without a local embassy or consulate)3
Nationals of other Commonwealth countries where there is not a local embassy, but only in certain circumstances (see page 6 of main guide)
We cannot provide this support to other countries’ nationals, even if they have been living legally in the UK
5. How we’re funded
Consular assistance provided to British nationals overseas is not funded from UK tax revenue, it is funded by a small premium included in the price of every British passport. The remainder of our income comes from the fees we charge for documentary, notarial and certain assistance services.
Fees are calculated based on the cost of our global consular operation so that every British national pays the same fee for the service they use no matter where they are in the world. The fees are approved by the Privy Council and laid before Parliament.
6. What kind of help we can provide
Our priority is to provide assistance to those British nationals overseas that need our help the most. The level and type of assistance we offer is tailored to the individual circumstances of each case. Our staff will make an assessment of your vulnerability and the needs you have, based on who you are, where you are, and your situation. We will then aim to offer assistance which helps meet your needs, such as:
Provide advice and help if you have suffered rape and sexual or physical assault, are a victim of other crimes, are ill or in hospital
Provide timely, accurate, local information so that you can help yourself effectively. This might include details of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
Issue emergency travel documents
Provide information about transferring money through commercial providers
Provide details of other organisations that may be able to provide specialist support
Contact family or friends for you if you cannot do this yourself
In addition we also:
Work alongside the local authorities, travel industry, insurance companies and others to provide rapid and effective support in the aftermath of major incidents affecting a large number of British nationals
Provide documentary services such as consular birth or death registration, help with marriage or civil partnership documents, or providing notarial services
Help you enter a country, for example, if you do not have a visa or your passport is not valid because each country has the authority to decide who they allow into their country
Issue you with a new or replacement passport, or accept passport applications because passports are issued by Her Majesty’s Passport Office in the UK
Pay any bills or give you money because we are not funded to do this and you would not get these bills paid for you if you were in the UK. You should take responsibility for yourself. It would be unfair for those who take out insurance to subsidise those who do not
Ensure your safety and security in another country because this is the responsibility of the government and authorities of that country
Give you legal advice or translate formal documents because such support is best provided by independent professionals. We do not have the funding or the expertise to provide these specialist services
Carry out searches for missing people because doing so is the responsibility of the local authorities. To search effectively requires resources that only local authorities can provide
Investigate crimes, get you out of prison, prevent the local authorities from deporting you after your prison sentence, or interfere in criminal or civil court proceedings. This is because we cannot interfere in another country’s processes and must respect their systems, just as we expect them to respect the UK’s laws and legal processes
Get you better treatment in prison than local prisoners (although we may raise concerns with local authorities if treatment falls below internationally-recognised standards). Nor can we get you better treatment in hospital than the treatment that is given to local people. This is because we cannot interfere in another country’s processes just as we would not accept such interference in the UK
Make travel arrangements for you, or find you work or accommodation, or make business arrangements on your behalf. This is because these are private arrangements which are your responsibility to make for yourself
Get involved (including offering advice) in private disputes over property, employment, commercial or other matters. This is because we are in no position to judge the facts and have no jurisdiction overseas to resolve such matters
7. Crisis response
Major incidents that affect a large number of British nationals abroad may call for levels of response beyond those we describe on pages 25-28 of the main guide. It’s not easy to define absolutely what the circumstances might be, but they could be the result of natural disasters or large-scale accidents, civil unrest, terrorism or conflict.
We will work with the local authorities of the country, travel industry, employers, insurance companies and others in response to such incidents and will tailor our information and support to each crisis and the needs of those affected. In very exceptional circumstances we will seek Ministerial authorisation to enhance the level of support we are able to provide in order to assist those caught up in such incidents and at risk of harm.
If you fail to follow our travel advice this may restrict the help we can provide to you.
8. Our commitment
The Consular Customer Charter at the beginning of this guide sets out our commitment to providing a high level of service to you. It also sets out what we require from you in return.
9. When our job is over
We offer support to British nationals in difficulty abroad and to their families (either in the UK or elsewhere) to help them deal with the immediate effects of what has happened. In certain exceptional cases, our officers may be involved in a particular case for a longer period of time. For example, if a British national is murdered overseas or dies in suspicious circumstances, we will try to provide their family with information given to us by local investigating authorities if we are permitted to share it. But sometimes people need long-term help in areas where our staff are not trained professionals, such as support from bereavement counsellors. Although we cannot provide this help ourselves, we can suggest where you can go for guidance. This may mean going to another UK government department or getting in touch with a non-governmental organisation or charity.
10. Important notes
This document sets out the help which we aim to provide to British nationals who are in difficulty overseas. It does not cover the work undertaken by other government agencies, such as issuing passports (Her Majesty’s Passport Office) or visas (UK Visas & Immigration). We provide the support described in this guide in across the world in different and sometimes difficult conditions. Local factors such as security, the law, transport, medical facilities and relations with the local authorities, as well as our assessment of how vulnerable you are, may all define the help we can provide. And, like any government department, we have a responsibility to use public funds efficiently and effectively.
11.Our duty of care to our staff
We have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of our employees in the course of their employment. We will not send staff into a situation where we judge that their safety could be seriously at risk.
We recognise that many people need our support at a time of great personal distress or anxiety. Our staff will always aim to be empathetic and professional when supporting you. Please remember that our staff cannot replace specialist advisers such as translators, counsellors or lawyers.
We expect you to treat our staff fairly and with respect. If you are physically or verbally abusive, they may refuse to help you.
If you are not happy with the support we have provided, you can make a complaint.
We consider that someone is vulnerable when they cannot protect themselves from significant physical or emotional harm, or be protected by others. We will almost always treat many types of consular case (e.g. victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault and forced marriage, and cases involving children and young people) as vulnerable. In others, it will depend on the circumstances. ↩
No foreign travel can be guaranteed as safe and you take personal responsibility for any trip you make abroad. Any decision to travel to, stay in or leave a country is for you to take on your own responsibility on the basis of the best available information from our travel advice and other sources. While every care is taken in preparing our Travel Advice, the FCO does not assume any responsibility, including legal responsibility, to those who read the travel advice and who choose to take it into account when making any decisions relating to a particular country, or to those affected by their decisions ↩
In accordance with EU Directive 2015/637 ↩