How to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
International terrorism remains a serious threat to British nationals living or travelling overseas. Attacks can occur anywhere in the world, usually with little or no warning. Terrorist attacks abroad will continue to target western interests, including British tourists, travellers and expatriates.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Terrorism and travel advice
The aim of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Travel Advice is to provide a source of information and advice about foreign travel – including terrorism and other risks you may face overseas – so that you can make better-informed decisions about your own travel. The FCO doesn’t advise against travel everywhere that terrorists operate.
The FCO constantly reviews the threat to British nationals from international terrorism using all of the resources and information available, including information gathered by the intelligence services. There may sometimes be constraints on the extent to which intelligence can be reflected in public information.
Increasingly terrorists look for targets that aren’t well-protected places, and where westerners can be found. These include places like bars, restaurants, shops, places of worship, tourist sites and transport networks. Significant dates, anniversaries, public holidays, religious festivals and political events have been targeted. Terrorists have also conducted attacks in response to international political or social developments, for example the release of films and cartoons that are considered to be offensive. Terrorist groups continue to use social media to inspire or direct so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks which are difficult to predict and disrupt, and could take place in almost any country.
Terrorists sometimes call for attacks against British interests and those of other countries in social media, publications and other public messages. These calls are often intended to motivate sympathisers to carry out attacks.
Aviation and airport security
The risk to aviation including at airports is clear from recent terrorist attacks. No country can give an absolute guarantee of security standards at its airports, but some airports may be less able to protect against terrorist attacks than others. The UK and its international partners continue to work closely with many countries, and with the aviation industry to reduce the threat, with additional security measures in place for direct flights to the UK where necessary.
On 21 March 2017, the UK government announced new aviation security measures for flights to the UK from Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Under the new measures, large phones, laptops and tablets won’t be allowed in the cabin on flights from those countries. These devices must be placed in hold-stowed luggage. You should contact your airline if you are transiting through one of these countries on route to the UK. Devices may need to be placed in hold-stowed luggage at the start of your journey.
Minimise your risk from terrorism
In many countries, the threat from terrorism is higher than it is in the UK. You’re responsible for your own personal safety. You should always be aware of your surroundings, and report any concerns to the local security authorities.
If you’re travelling abroad you should regularly check the FCO’s travel advice for the country you’re visiting and subscribe to email alerts and the FCO Travel twitter channel for updates. The FCO constantly reviews the threat to British nationals from international terrorism and as far as possible will reflect any credible threats in travel advice. As a general principle you should follow the advice of competent local authorities in the country you’re in.
You can minimise your risk from terrorism by taking the following steps:
- follow media reporting about the country and region
- be vigilant in public areas and places that attract foreigners and westerners – eg hotels, restaurants, bars and crowded places like markets, malls or sports events. Always be aware of your surroundings
- be vigilant around significant religious occasions (including the holy month of Ramadan) and public holidays; terrorist groups sometimes call for attacks around these times; during Ramadan in 2016, terrorists attacked Istanbul airport, a café in Dhaka and carried out several attacks in Saudi Arabia
- look out for anything suspicious and if you see anything report it to the local police immediately – many terrorist attacks are foiled by the vigilance of the public. Where appropriate, you should also report concerns to your employer or your travel company
- think about the routes you use and have a plan of action to follow in the event of an incident
- try to avoid routines that could make you an easier target – vary the time and route of your regular journeys
- keep your mobile phone charged and with you, with emergency numbers programmed in
- consider the extent to which you might stand out from the crowd, particularly when travelling off the beaten track or to out-of-town destinations
- be discreet on social media about yourself and your travel and social plans
- tell family, colleagues, neighbours or trusted hotel staff about where you’re going and when you plan to return
- identify places where you could seek refuge in an emergency
- in airports, minimise the time spent in the public area, which is generally less well protected. Move quickly from the check-in counter to the secured areas. Upon arrival, leave the airport as soon as possible.
The UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) has issued advice to the public on the steps to take to keep yourself safe in the event of a firearms or weapons attack. Find out more from NaCTSO about what to do in the event of a terrorist incident abroad.
The National Counter Terrorism Security Office and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure also offer more detailed advice to individuals and businesses in the UK on terrorism risk mitigation, much of which is also relevant to living and travelling abroad.
Published: 22 March 2013
Updated: 10 July 2017
- Updated links to NaCTSO advice on keeping safe.
- Revised text on vigilance around religious occasions and public holidays,.
- changed to reflect urgent update to aviation security advice
- Revised 'Terrorist targets' section
- Updated and resequenced information
- Update to "Minimise your risk from terrorism" section
- Update and additions to the list of general tips on how to minimise your risk from terrorism.
- Corrected Topic and detailed guide categories.
- First published.