Dealing with Emergency Situations in Foreign Countries
Most vacations carry on without incident but some don’t. If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in any of the crisis situations below overseas, keep calm and follow the steps listed:
Lost or Stolen Passport:
Visit your closest Embassy or Consulate immediately to apply for a replacement one. It is always advisable to scan your important documents (passport, visa, health insurance, credit cards) and email them to yourself so you can access copies anywhere in the world. At the embassy, you will undergo an interview to prove your identity to the best of your ability. Also inform the local police if it is theft.
Lost or Stolen Money:
The first thing to do is to call your credit card company and cancel all your cards. If you don’t have a copy (see above), your hotel may have one. If it’s your traveler’s cheques, call your bank and have them voided immediately. Contact the local police and your Consulate that may be able to help you access funds from home if you are in need of money.
Health or Sickness:
It is always advisable that you have travel insurance when you are overseas, particularly if you are with family. One of the important benefits of travel insurance is the temporary care of minors in case you or other adults in your party are the ones who take ill. Call you insurance company and find out the protocol.
If you do not have travel or overseas health insurance, your best bet is to call your Embassy or Consulate and see what they advise. Be prepared to pay out of pocket in the local currency.
Remember that international calls from your hotel room, although it’s an emergency will cost you a small fortune. If you are taking your laptop or iPad with you on your trip, it’s a good idea to have a Skype account with some credit on it for cheaper calls. (You will of course, need an internet connection).
Most tourists don’t go about trying to get arrested in foreign countries, but weirder things have happened and you have to be careful and wise about how to navigate this situation. A third of tourists get into trouble because they are duped into smuggling something in or out of the country. So be careful who you accept packages from.
Although you are subject to the laws of your destination country, most countries will allow a consular representative to see an incarcerated foreigner, IF REQUESTED. Contact your Embassy or Consulate immediately and ask them to recommend a lawyer. They may even be able to arrange funds to be transferred to you from your home country for legal fees and the like and monitor the physical conditions of your incarceration.
Terrorism or Civil Unrest:
It’s not a far cry these days to imagine being caught in a country stricken by terrorism or civil unrest. Pre-planning and doing your research (and potentially avoiding) high-risk areas can often help, but sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The first thing to do is call your Embassy or Consulate or visit their website to see what kinds of instructions they are offering to their citizens. Try to tune into local stations (if they are in a language you understand) to find out the worst affected areas and try to stay clear of them. After you found yourself a secure place, tune into social media sources like Facebook and Twitter for updates on the situation, while you wait for your consulate to give you instructions. It is critical in times of crisis not to deviate from set security plans which were devised through analysis and planning. In other words, don’t be a hero.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis are some of the natural disasters that may affect you overseas. Listen to local advisories for what food and water is safe to ingest and monitor the situation on local or news channels and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Register with your Embassy or Consulate so they know your whereabouts and can plan to evacuate you as soon as possible. Read up on emergency preparedness and response information.
In the extremely unfortunate event of a death overseas, once again your Consulate will play a big role: contacting the next-of-kin (if not in the travel party), providing guidance to the family on local burial and the returning of the remains to the home country (which involved local customs and laws as well), and helping to arrange funds to cover the costs.
Momaboard’s Crisis Prevention Tips:
1. Keep scanned copies of your important documents (visas, passports, health insurance, credit cards) in your email so that you can access them from anywhere
2. Give a friend/relative back home a copy of your itinerary so they know where you are supposed to be and when you will be returning
3. Take a few minutes when you arrive at your destination to come up with a “disaster plan” with your family. If you get separated, where will you meet? Pick someone outside the city you are in that everyone can call and report their location to. It may sounds like dull stuff but it may save your vacation, and more importantly, your life.
Resource: TRIP (Travel Responsibly, Informed and Protected) for valuable articles on travel security and safety.