Guidance

What to do if you’re affected by a crisis overseas

Advice for British nationals affected by crises abroad, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters and major political unrest, and information on what help the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.

British nationals travelling or living overseas, particularly in areas where a crisis is more likely to occur, should take sensible precautions. This applies if you’re travelling to or living in a location where there is a high risk of terrorism, unrest or natural disasters.

You’re responsible for your own personal safety, and should read and follow the advice provided by the British government and local authorities.

In some circumstances, there will be limits to the assistance we can provide in a crisis. We have a duty of care to our employees and we won’t send our staff into a situation where we judge that their safety could be seriously at risk.

Sign-up for FCO travel advice email alerts and follow FCO travel advice on Twitter and Facebook

How we define a crisis

There are three broad types of incident which could require a crisis response:

  • an incident in which large numbers of British nationals may have been killed or injured, or which continues to pose a danger to you. This includes terrorist attacks, major transport incidents, major pandemics and natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis
  • civil or political unrest which causes us to advise you to leave the country
  • events which cause disruption and hardship to large numbers of British nationals. This includes incidents such as volcanic ash, the collapse of travel companies and major airport shutdowns

How we can help in a crisis

In a crisis overseas we can provide help to people who are:

  • British nationals – see Support for British nationals abroad: A guide for more information
  • British nationals with another nationality – ‘dual nationals’
  • in certain situations, other eligible persons including nationals of other European Union member states and Commonwealth nationals who do not have an embassy of their own to get help from, and family members of British nationals (spouse/partner and dependent children aged 18 years and under only – we cannot usually assist other family members)

What you should do in the event of a crisis overseas

  • make contact with your family and friends
  • during civil or political unrest, or if you feel threatened, make a decision about whether to leave the country, if it’s safe to do so. If you decide to stay, we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to help you leave the country at a later stage
  • continue to check FCO travel advice and subscribe to email alerts for updates
  • follow the advice of the local authorities unless our travel advice advises differently
  • avoid all crowds, demonstrations or large gatherings
  • if you’re a visitor, remain in touch with your airline or tour operator and insurer
  • if you’re visiting and staying in a hotel, identify the emergency procedures in place

If you wish to leave, but are unable to do so due to disruption, cancellation or overload of commercial transportation operations, we advise you to:

  • follow the advice of the local authorities
  • if you’re a visitor, remain in touch with your airline/tour operator and insurer, and try to stay in touch with friends or family
  • take sensible precautions until it is safe to attempt departure
  • if you need consular assistance, call the FCO on (+44) (0)207 008 1500
  • depending on the crisis and location, we can offer a range of channels for you to request help (for example: in person to a member of our crisis team on the ground, by phone, the internet or SMS) – we’ll advertise these widely at the time

How we can help you in an overseas crisis

The information below is an outline of the principles we follow when providing consular assistance to British nationals and other eligible persons in a crisis overseas. You should also read our information on further support if you’re affected by a crisis.

  • we will provide travel advice updates on GOV.UK, Facebook and Twitter
  • in some circumstances, we may set up a hotline for you to call if you’re concerned about your safety or in need of consular assistance. The phone number will be advertised widely at the time
  • we’re able to take details of any British nationals who may be affected by a crisis, and will record any information given to us on our alert system. In certain cases, we’ll take follow up action to help British nationals affected
  • set up an information desk at the airport or closest point of safety, if required
  • work with the local authorities, including hospitals and police, to establish the facts of the incident
  • work with tour operators and airlines to give the best possible information about their response to incidents which cause significant disruption to travel
  • in very exceptional circumstances, we may organise an assisted departure where we help you to access transport, or provide transport for an evacuation to an appropriate place of safety. There may be limits to this assistance depending on the security and transport situation. In some circumstances, where we have advised against all travel to the affected area, we may not be able to provide you with any assistance
  • deploy expert teams to support British nationals and to reinforce our embassy staff, including in some cases experts from the British Red Cross and UK Police specialist teams
  • during a pandemic we will, as far as possible, continue to provide a consular service for British nationals resident or travelling overseas through our network of embassies, high commissions or consulates. This may be limited, depending on the scale and severity of the situation. In extreme cases we may have to close our embassies, high commissions or consulates. We won’t be able to repatriate British nationals during a pandemic
  • in some situations, and only when all other options have been exhausted, we can pay some costs or fees on your behalf (for example, travel costs, travel documents, cash advances, charter flight costs) when you agree to sign an Undertaking to Repay form, which we will provide for you
  • during, or in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, we may offer Exceptional Assistance Measures for victims of terrorist incidents overseas, and their families, to take account of the exceptional nature of terrorism in which individuals are random victims of attacks directed at society as a whole. We won’t provide this financial assistance if victims have travelled against our travel advice

Stay informed

Be prepared

Before you travel:

When you’re abroad:

  • if you’re working overseas, familiarise yourself with your own employer’s evacuation and contingency policies, particularly in high-risk locations
  • keep in regular contact with family and friends so that they know your whereabouts
  • make sure your employer has your next of kin details in case of an emergency
  • keep your passport, and those of immediate family members, up-to-date, and any visas that they may require; during a crisis, local UK passport or visa services may be limited or closed, which could make travelling more complicated
  • you or your employer may 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
  • make sure that your vehicle and any domestic generator fuel supplies are as full as possible
Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 27 March 2017 + show all updates
  1. Added links to email alerts and social media channels at the top of the page
  2. link to "Support if you're affected by a crisis abroad" page added
  3. Information has been updated
  4. First published.