Advice for British people with mental health needs, and their families and carers, while travelling or living abroad.
This guidance explains some differences in laws and practices in other countries as they relate to mental health.
Factors that affect your mental health during travel
Your mental and physical health before and during a trip usually affect how well you cope with travel.
There are clear links between mental and physical health, so you should look after yourself during travel and when you are abroad. Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Keep in regular contact with the people who normally support you, such as, family, friends and colleagues.
Stress levels can be intensified during travel because you may not have familiar support systems. You may also experience 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 how to manage them.
Plan before you travel
You can find information about how travel can impact your mental health at NHS Mental Health and Travel. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers has a list of resources on travel and mental health.
You may wish to discuss your travel with your doctor or community mental health team.
Follow the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel checklist to prepare for travel abroad.
Get appropriate travel insurance before you travel
If you do not take out adequate insurance, you will normally have to pay for any emergency yourself, which may include expensive medical bills.
Read the FCDO advice on foreign travel insurance which includes contacts for more information and help finding specialist insurance. Always check the small print and make sure it includes your pre-existing medical conditions, and any activities you intend to undertake. Some insurance companies will exclude cover for a mental health condition, so you should check what several companies offer.
If you need specialist insurance, organisations such as MIND have information on insurance cover and mental health including a list of specialist insurance providers.
If you are travelling to the EU or Switzerland, check for the latest information on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), or phone on 0300 330 1350.
Research healthcare at your destination
Consider what health precautions you may need to take for your trip. Ask your doctor or medical professional for advice.
FCDO Travel Advice provides information for visitors on local healthcare, and how to contact emergency services. Sign up for email alerts to get the latest updates. You can also follow FCDO Travel on Twitter and Facebook.
Check what mental health services are available at your destination, and research local attitudes to mental health. Facilities, resources and the understanding of mental health issues vary from country to country.
Local laws, policies and attitudes towards mental health in your destination are likely to determine the type of any psychiatric care you may receive. In some countries, this may include forced admission without consent, poor local facilities or treatment, 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 certain behaviours, including disturbing the peace and making threats.
Living in country guides contain information on healthcare if you live abroad.
Check your medication is legal abroad and on the airlines
Some medication may be illegal in the country you are visiting, or contain ingredients that are illegal there. This may include prescription medication.
Ask your doctor or medical adviser for the generic name for your medication if you do not know or check the information at:
- NHS – travelling with medicine
- NHS – can I take my medicine abroad
- GOV.UK – travelling with medicine containing a controlled drug
If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read guidance from NaTHNaC on travelling with medicine. For further information on the legal status of a specific medication you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
Check with your travel provider if you need documentation to prove you must carry medication, and ask what kind of container it should be in. This is particularly important if you travel by air for liquids and gels, because of security restrictions at airports.
Check your medication is available abroad
Some medication may not be available in other countries. If you need medication, take enough with you for your whole trip and allow for unforeseen delays to your return to the UK. Ask your doctor or medical professional for advice.
Keep your medication and documents with you
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 power of attorney
If you want to, you can give someone 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 2 types of power of attorney: health and welfare, and property and financial affairs. You can choose to make either, or both; they do not have to be the same person.
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.
Plan for staying in touch with family, friends and carers
Make sure you know how you will stay in regular touch with your UK family and friends. This is especially important if you’re travelling alone, or in a remote or crisis high-risk area. 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
If you need help for a mental health issue abroad read the guidance on medical emergencies and hospitalisation abroad.
Travel advice has phone numbers for emergency services in most countries. In the European Union call 112.
You can also contact the nearest British embassy or consulate or phone the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) 24/7 on +44 20 7008 5000.
Returning to the UK
If you are abroad and need help to return to the UK, the FCDO 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 non-government organisations. See what the FCDO can and cannot do.
You may not automatically be entitled to state benefits if you have never lived in the UK, or if you have lived abroad for some time. This includes free NHS hospital treatment. To be eligible as a British national, you must meet certain residence requirements and/or make the appropriate National Insurance contributions. This includes the habitual residence test. For more information on healthcare and other matters see returning to the UK guidance.
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 and contact charities and organisations for advice.
If they are missing overseas
See the information on what to do if a relative or friend goes missing abroad. When contacting the police or the FCDO, you should give details of the person’s mental health needs, including diagnosis and professionals involved in the UK, and any other reasons why they may be vulnerable. The FCDO 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
NHS mental health webpage offers information and support for mental health.
These UK organisations may be able to help you before you travel, or help family and friends in the UK. Some can only help people who are in the UK. As independent organisations, the FCDO cannot be held responsible in any way for their advice and/or any decisions and outcomes that result from this.
- Age UK
- Alzheimer’s Society
- Anxiety UK
- Bipolar UK
- Calm Harm
- Men’s Health Forum
- Mental Health Foundation
- Mental Health & Money Advice
- NHS Mental Health Services (including urgent help)
- 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
These international organisations may be able to help you whilst you are overseas. The FCDO cannot be held responsible in any way for their advice and/or any decisions or outcomes that result from this.
- Befrienders Worldwide with the Samaritans
- World Federation for Mental Health
- World Health Organization
FCDO welcomes your views on the support it provides, to help identify what it does well and what it could do better. Contact FCDO using the feedback contact form.
You can read the disclaimer relating to this guidance.