Guidance

If you’re affected by a crisis abroad

Advice to British people affected by crises abroad such as large-scale terrorist attacks, natural disasters and political unrest, and how the FCDO can help.

If you are travelling or living abroad, particularly in areas where a crisis is more likely to occur, take sensible precautions. This applies if you’re travelling to or living somewhere where there is a high risk of terrorism, unrest or natural disasters. You are responsible for your own personal safety, and should read and follow the advice provided by the UK government and local authorities.

If you are affected by a crisis abroad call the FCDO on (+44) (0)207 008 5000.

The help the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) can provide in a crisis may be limited. We have a duty of care to our staff and we will not send them into a situation where we judge that their safety could be seriously at risk.

Before you travel, you should:

Depending on the crisis and your location, you may be able to request our help on a range of channels. For example you may be able to contact us by phone, online or text message. In some crisis situations, you may be able to speak to a member of our crisis team on the ground.

How we define a crisis

Sometimes the FCDO will set up a specific crisis response to help British nationals who might be affected in that crisis. There are 3 types of incident which could require a crisis response:

  • an incident in which large numbers of British people may have been killed or injured, or which continues to pose a danger. This includes terrorist attacks, major transport incidents, major pandemics and natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis
  • civil or political unrest
  • events which cause disruption and hardship to large numbers of British people. This includes major travel disruption, for example, airport shutdowns

Who we can help in a crisis

In a crisis abroad we can usually provide help to:

  • British nationals
  • British nationals with another nationality: ‘dual nationals’
  • in certain situations, other people are eligible for help, including:
    • family members of British nationals travelling with them (spouse/partner and dependent children aged under 18 only – we cannot usually help other family members)
    • Commonwealth nationals who do not have an embassy of their own

How we can help you in a crisis

Large-scale incidents are usually difficult to predict, and our ability to help may be limited. The information in this section does not cover every potential crisis. These are an outline of principles the FCDO follows to help British people and other eligible people in a crisis situation abroad.

We may:

  • open a dedicated hotline and online form for people to contact us about British people who need help
  • share this data with other organisations, such as the travel industry or local authorities, to provide additional support
  • send additional FCDO staff to support in-country, when it is needed and safe to do so. In large-scale crises, these teams can also include specialists from the British Red Cross and the UK Police Disaster Victim Identification teams
  • work with airlines, airports and travel companies and highlight their advice and services. In exceptional circumstances, where commercial flights are not available, we may provide additional transport, such as a charter flight, where you may be charged an appropriate fee for seats. If you cannot pay in advance, we will provide you with a short term loan that must be paid back later
  • in extreme circumstances, send military aircraft or vessels to evacuate eligible people

What to do in a crisis

If a crisis occurs, or if you can foresee an imminent crisis, you should:

  • try to stay in touch with your family and friends: tell them if you are safe or if you need help
  • contact your airline or tour operator and insurer
  • find out the emergency procedures for where you are staying (for example, rented accommodation or hotel)
  • decide whether to leave the country, if it’s safe to do so, especially during civil or political unrest. If you decide to stay, we can’t guarantee we will be able to help you
  • Check and follow FCDO Travel Advice and subscribe to email alerts for updates
  • follow the advice of the local authorities
  • avoid all crowds, demonstrations or large gatherings

How to prepare for a potential crisis

Some steps that you could take to help you prepare are:

  • if you are working abroad, familiarise yourself with your employer’s evacuation and contingency plans, particularly in high-risk locations. Make sure your employer has your next of kin’s details in case of an emergency
  • keep your passport, visas, and those of your immediate family members, up-to-date and safe. During a crisis, local UK passport or visa services may be limited or closed, which could make travelling more complicated
  • make sure your vehicle (if you have one) has fuel
  • make sure any domestic generator fuel supplies are as full as possible
  • consider preparing supplies of useful items, or items more difficult to secure in an emergency, for example sufficient medical supplies (first aid kit, specific prescription medication that you or family members require), a torch, batteries, and access to several days’ supply of food and water

After a crisis: support in the UK

If you or your family are affected by a crisis abroad, you may need further help when you return to the UK. These organisation may be able to help, but the FCDO cannot accept any responsibility or liability for the advice provided by any of them.

At some airports, we work with organisations to support British people who have been affected by crisis when they arrive:

If you are feeling unwell, or overwhelmed and unable to cope as a result of your experience, speak to your GP or call NHS 111. Remember to tell them that you were affected by a crisis overseas. Health professionals may also provide details of other organisations that may be able to help.

The British Red Cross works with the FCDO to give emotional support to British citizens affected by disasters overseas.

Though the charity Disaster Action no longer operates, its website includes a helpful leaflet series ‘When Disaster Strikes’. These were written for bereaved people and survivors of disasters.

Cruse Bereavement Care offers support when someone dies, through services available throughout the UK. You can contact their telephone helpline on 0844 477 9400 (open Monday and Friday 9:30am to 5pm and until 8pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, except bank holidays), or email helpline@cruse.org.uk.

Cruse also provides specific support for young people through a dedicated telephone line and website: 0808 808 1677 and www.hopeagain.org.uk

Terrorist attacks abroad

We regularly update FCDO Travel Advice to help you decide whether or not to travel to a particular country. We cannot predict most terrorist attacks but in some cases we can assess if there is a high risk or threat.

We cannot help you if you have travelled to a particular location against our advice. For further advice read guidance on reducing your risk from terrorism abroad. If you plan to travel by sea, you should also read guidance on piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Support for victims of terrorist attacks abroad

The FCDO may offer specific assistance for British victims of terrorist incidents overseas and their families. Our Exceptional Assistance Measures (EAM) are available because many travel insurance policies explicitly exclude acts of terrorism from their cover. Through EAM, government ministers can activate special assistance in the immediate aftermath of a crisis to victims of terrorist attacks, above our normal support for British people abroad. This can include medical evacuation, paying immediate medical expenses and helping you to return to the UK.

The British Red Cross can give immediate financial help to people who have been seriously injured or bereaved by terrorist incidents abroad. Find out if you are eligible for the British Red Cross relief fund or you can call the dedicated message service 0800 072 5415.

You may be entitled to financial support if you are injured or unable to work because you were involved in a terrorist attack overseas. Find out more information about Carers and Disability Benefits, and financial help if you become disabled. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also provides advice about payments and benefits relating to bereavement.

Victim Support can offer emotional and practical support to anyone personally affected by a crime, including terrorist attacks overseas. You can contact them through their free 24/7 helpline on 0808 281 1136 or the Victim Support website.

Compensation for victims of terrorist attacks abroad

The Victims of Terrorism Overseas Compensation Scheme provides financial support to people bereaved or injured through terrorism abroad, and to cover loss of earnings, compensation and expenses. If you are directly affected by such an incident, read the guidance or call the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) helpline on 0300 003 3601. The FCDO cannot influence the outcome if you apply to the scheme.

We work with others as part of the Government’s Victims of Terrorism Unit to offer longer-term support and assistance to provide support for victims of terrorism.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 31 August 2022 + show all updates
  1. Guidance reviewed and updated

  2. Change to "How we define a crisis" paragraph, the collapse of travel companies is removed as a crisis incident

  3. Added links to email alerts and social media channels at the top of the page

  4. link to "Support if you're affected by a crisis abroad" page added

  5. Information has been updated

  6. First published.