Advice for British nationals with mental health needs, their families and carers, to prepare for travelling and living abroad.
This guide explains some differences in laws and practices in other countries. It includes information on how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can help British nationals abroad, if they need it.
It complements the FCO’s general information on consular assistance: Support for British nationals abroad: a guide.
See FCO Travel Aware poster Mind How You Go
Factors affecting mental health during travel
Your mental and physical health before and during a trip will usually determine how well you cope with travel.
There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important.
Stress levels can be intensified during travel because of a lack of familiar support systems, disrupted daily routines, language barriers, culture shock and unexpected situations.
The NHS has more information on the factors that affect mental health during travel, as well as information on how to manage them.
Planning before you go
Follow the FCO’s travel checklist to prepare for travel abroad, and also:
Get comprehensive travel insurance before you travel. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will normally have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself, including expensive medical bills.
Read the FCO advice on foreign travel insurance. Always check the small print and make sure it includes any pre-existing medical conditions you have, and all activities you intend to undertake. Some insurance companies will exclude cover for a mental health condition, so it is worth shopping around.
If you need specialist insurance, organisations such as MIND have information on insurance cover and mental health including a list of specialist insurance providers. The FCO information on foreign travel insurance also includes contacts for more information and help finding specialist insurance.
If you are travelling in the European Economic Area or Switzerland before 31 December 2020, you can continue to use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) during this time, as you did before. Check for the latest information on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) online, or by phone on 0300 330 1350.
Research healthcare in your destination
Consider what health precautions you may need to take for your trip. Ask your doctor or medical professional for advice.
Living in country guides contain information on healthcare for residents in some countries. You can sign up for email alerts so you can find out when these pages are next updated. You can also follow FCO Travel on Twitter and Facebook.
Check what mental health services are available in your destination and research local attitudes to mental health. Facilities, resources and the understanding of mental health issues vary.
Local attitudes towards mental health in your destination are likely to determine the type of any psychiatric care you may receive there. In some countries, this may include forced admission without consent, poor local facilities, questionable treatment, a lack of appropriate medication or difficulty finding English speaking mental healthcare professionals. In some countries, you can be arrested, imprisoned or admitted to a hospital or mental health facility for exhibiting certain behaviours, including disturbing the peace and making threats.
Check your medication is legal
Some medication may be illegal in the country you are visiting, or contain ingredients that are illegal there. This may include prescription medication. If you take medication, check it is legal in your destination.
Check the information on NHS Travelling with medicine and NHS choices – can I take my medicine abroad and Travelling with medicine containing a controlled drug. If you are unsure, check with the embassy of the country you will visit if your medication is legal there.
Check with your airline if you need documentation to prove you need to carry the medication. Ask what kind of container it should be in. This is particularly important for liquids and gels, because of security restrictions at airports.
Check your medication is available
Some medication may not be available in other countries. If you take medication, ensure that you take enough with you to see you through your trip and allow for possible delays. Ask your doctor or medical professional for advice.
Always keep medication and any medical documents in your hand luggage or in a place you can get to them easily. Make sure your medication is clearly labelled.
In case you lose your medicine or need to get more, you may need to have a letter from your doctor stating your need for the medication. This is very important if you are going to a country with strict drug controls. You should always be ready to show this letter to customs officers.
Consider carrying a ‘travelling letter’
Consider writing and carrying a ‘travelling letter’, which gives a brief description of your mental health needs and diagnosis, and the details of your doctor. If appropriate, include details of any difficulties that could occur and what assistance you might then need. This may be part of any Recovery Plan or Advance Directive, if you have one.
Consider giving someone the Power of Attorney
If you want to, you can give someone the power of attorney. This gives someone the power to make decisions for you in case a situation arises where you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
There are two types of power of attorney: health and welfare, and property and financial affairs. You can choose to make either, or both.
Consider who to contact if you need help
Consider who will help you if your mental health deteriorates abroad and how to contact them. Keep details of friends, family and/or carers with you when you travel. Fill in emergency contact details at the back of your passport.
If you need help, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can help you to contact your friends and family in the UK or in the country you are visiting. If you are in the UK, you can contact the FCO 24/7 on 020 7008 1500. If you are abroad, you can contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
While you are abroad
Promote and maintain your mental health when travelling
There are resources available to help you understand how travel can impact your mental health. You may wish to discuss this with your doctor or community mental health team.
You can find information online at NHS Mental Health and Travel. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers has a list of resources on travel and mental health.
Stay in touch with family, friends and/or carers
Stay in regular touch with your family and friends in the UK, especially if you are travelling alone or in a remote area, or if you are aware of a crisis in the region in which you are travelling. Although you may feel perfectly safe, people at home may worry if they do not hear from you and could report you missing.
If you take your mobile phone abroad, make sure you have international roaming (the facility to use your phone on a foreign network), and an adaptor so you can charge it.
If you need help abroad
Emergency contacts if something happens to you abroad
Travel Advice pages contain the contact details for the emergency services in most countries. In the European Union, you can phone 112 for the emergency services.
How the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can help
The FCO can:
- listen to you and help you consider your options
- help you contact friends, family and/or carers
- talk to your travel representative or travel insurance company
- try to help you find support and advice where you are and give information about local medical facilities
- offer information to help you make an informed decision about returning to the UK, if you plan to do so
- be available, as appropriate, to offer you assistance if you choose to remain overseas
- help you find information on any local charities or NGOs, or UK organisations you can contact from overseas, if you need emotional support
- visit you in hospital or prison, if relevant
- help medical staff overseas contact medical staff in the UK who may be able to provide advice on your medical history
- raise any concerns about your treatment or welfare with the responsible authority (such as a prison or hospital), if relevant
The FCO cannot:
- give you medical advice
- buy or supply medication
- withhold or remove a passport
- stop you from travelling abroad
- require you to return to the UK
- pay for you to return to the UK
- pay for food, accommodation or medical bills
- get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
More information on what the FCO can do is in the Support for British nationals abroad: a guide
Mental health hospitalisation abroad
Mental health law differs in each country. Local law will govern the area to which you have travelled. The laws or practices on mental health hospitalisation or detention may be different to that in the UK.
If you, or a relative, are hospitalised overseas, contact the FCO 24/7 on 020 7008 1500. If you are abroad, you can contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
Data protection and the FCO
The Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR control how personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government.
The FCO’s privacy notice for consular services sets out how British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates overseas process personal data. The notice explains how the FCO uses personal data, and your rights in relation to our use of your personal data.
The FCO cannot overrule someone’s wishes unless a person is deemed to lack capacity. This may mean that the FCO is not be able to share information about someone, unless they agree to do so.
Returning to the UK
If you are abroad and need help to return to the UK, the FCO can try to assist in making plans for your return. This could involve contact with family or friends, social services, NHS teams and/or charities and NGOs.
If you are returning to the UK after living abroad, have been away for an extended period, or if you have never lived in the UK, you may not be automatically entitled to state benefits, a pension, free NHS hospital treatment or assistance with higher education fees. To be eligible, a British national must meet certain residence requirements and/or make the appropriate National Insurance contributions. This includes the habitual residence test.
It is usually your decision whether you stay overseas or return to the UK. It may depend on your personal circumstances, local conditions, the cost of living and the availability of help where you are.
If you need help abroad, but decide to stay there, the assistance the FCO is able provide you may be limited. You should consider looking for support or services from recognised charities, voluntary groups, welfare organisations or religious groups. If you have served in the British or Commonwealth Armed Forces, the Royal British Legion or the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association may be able to help you. More organisations are listed below.
The local authorities may insist or require you to leave the country. This may be the case if you have been detained, hospitalised under mental health legislation, cannot support yourself, or have overstayed your visa.
What to do if you are worried about someone else
If they are in the UK planning to travel overseas
Try to speak to the person you are concerned about and look at this information together. Talk to any professionals involved in the person’s care and explain your concerns. Consider whether the person has the mental capacity to travel. Contact charities and organisations for advice. Contact information for some organisations is available below.
If they are missing overseas
See the information on what to do and who to contact if a relative or friend goes missing abroad. When contacting the police or the FCO, it is important that you give details of the person’s mental health needs, including diagnosis and professionals involved in the UK, and any other reasons they may be vulnerable. The FCO considers that someone is vulnerable when they cannot protect themselves from significant physical or emotional harm, or be protected by others.
Sources of information and organisations that can help
The following organisations may be able to offer assistance and information. Some can only help people who are in the UK. As independent organisations, the FCO cannot be held responsible in any way for their advice and/or any decisions and outcomes that result from this.
There are a variety of online communities, counselling services and peer support groups that you can access while abroad. Other sources of support and information include:
UK based organisations
The NHS list of mental health helplines has a list of organisations that can offer advice to those in the UK by phone. These organisations in the UK may be able to help you before you travel, or family and friends in the UK.
- Age UK
- Bipolar UK
- Mental Health Foundation
- Office of the Public Guardian
- Royal British Legion
- Scottish Association for Mental Health
- Shout: for support in a crisis
- The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA)
- Inspire Wellbeing (Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Association for Mental Health
- Time to Change Campaign