The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) today releases its annual British Behaviour Abroad report which shows that Britons are still getting into preventable problems abroad. Based on cases reported to FCO staff around the world between April 2009 and March 2010, the report shows high numbers of drink1 and drug related cases – 944 Brits were arrested for drug related offences last year, accounting for a seventh of all arrests of British Nationals around the globe.
FCO staff overseas also report continuing high numbers of road traffic accidents. In addition, staff report that they are frequently assisting elderly Britons who are being landed with extremely high treatment and repatriation bills, as a result of not declaring pre-existing health conditions when they purchase travel insurance. Mental health cases are also a concern, often caused by people failing to take their medication on holiday. The recent volcanic ash crisis also underlines the need to pack extra medication in case of delays and to have emergency numbers to hand.
Separate FCO research2 also highlights a risky lack of preparation, leading to many of the preventable incidents reported to staff overseas. The survey found that Britons are spending an average £12.00 at the airport on magazines and sweets – more than double the cost of a standard single trip insurance policy3 – yet one in five (19%)4 are still travelling without travel insurance. Britons are also spending nearly twenty minutes longer cleaning their house before they go abroad (46 minutes), than they do researching the local laws and customs of where they are travelling to.
With so many of the reported incidents being preventable, the FCO is appealing to British Nationals travelling or going to live abroad to make some simple preparations before they go in order to minimise preventable problems. Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister, Jeremy Browne, said: “This report shines a light on the number of Britons who get into difficulty abroad each year. The worrying fact is that so many of these situations are preventable. Helping out Britons in trouble abroad is part of our job, but we can?t get you out of jail or pay your hospital bills. A bit of preparation before you go, such as arranging travel insurance and checking our website, will ensure you get the most out of your trip without bad memories and big bills. The message from the Foreign Office is clear – have a great time while travelling or living abroad, but make the necessary preparations before you go.”
The report, based on incident figures reported by British visitors and residents to FCO offices around the world, reveals that over the period April 09 – March 2010, the most Britons (5,283) needed consular assistance in Spain, although as a proportion of British visitors and residents, most assistance was needed by Britons in Thailand (957), Pakistan (273), and Cyprus (736). There were 563 British deaths in Germany and 471 Britons hospitalised in Greece. In addition to assistance cases, FCO staff around the world dealt with 1.95m consular enquiries last year.5
The figures, which help to provide the FCO with a clear understanding of where resources could be best deployed, shows the importance of the FCO?s „Know Before You Go? campaign which offers travel advice to British Nationals. The campaign works with around 400 travel industry partners to communicate travel advice directly to travellers in a variety of ways.
Arrests and drug offences:
Over 2,000 Britons (2,012) were arrested in Spain last year, significantly more than in any other country. However, when taking visitor and resident numbers into consideration, proportionally Thailand is the country where the highest number of Brits were arrested (249), followed by the UAE (265), and the USA (1,367).
Drug offences were a significant cause of these arrests, contributing to over a third of the total arrests in France (37%), over a quarter in Ireland, Italy and Thailand (27% for all) and over a fifth in South Africa (22%). There were a total of 994 arrests for drug offences worldwide, which accounted for around a seventh of all arrestable offences. As a proportion of the number of visitors and residents, Britons were most likely to be arrested for drugs in Thailand (68 cases), followed by Cyprus (39) and the UAE (24). In Canada, nearly three quarters of all drug arrests were for smuggling Khat, a substance that is legal in the UK but illegal in North America.
As high profile cases throughout 2009 and 2010 have shown, what may be acceptable in the UK, including public displays of affection, may cause offence or even be illegal in other countries. This highlights the need for Britons to ensure they carefully research the area to which they are travelling, as breaking local laws can lead to more severe punishments than in the UK.
Hospitalisations and deaths:
3,689 cases of Brits being hospitalised abroad were reported to the FCO last year, with the highest number occurring in Spain (831), followed by Greece (471), and Egypt (235) which has replaced France (217) as the country where the third highest number of Brits ended up in hospital. As a proportion of the number of visitors and residents, Britons were most likely to be hospitalised in Thailand (199), followed by Greece (471), Egypt (235) and India (99). The FCO embassies commented that many of these hospitalisations were due to moped and motorbike accidents as well
as drink-related incidents such as balcony falls. Suspected swine flu accounted for a rise in hospitalisations in Egypt and Greece.
There were 5,930 reported deaths of UK citizens abroad including natural causes, accidental deaths and unlawful killings. Proportionally, most Britons died in Thailand (292), Germany (563) and Cyprus (323). To avoid preventable illness, the FCO recommends visiting your GP as early as possible before travel to obtain any necessary vaccinations or medication. With road traffic accidents continuing to be a significant cause of accidents and deaths, Brits are also reminded to wear protective clothing and helmets, even if the locals don?t, and to familiarise themselves with local rules of the road.
Lost or stolen passports were by far the most frequent problem encountered by British tourists and residents with 27,272 reported incidents worldwide. 6,618 passports were lost or stolen in Spain, 3,268 in the USA, 2,400 in France, 1,017 in Germany and 832 in South Africa. However, when considered proportionally, most passports were lost or stolen in New Zealand 6 (1,662), South Africa (832), Thailand (827) and Australia (980). Many of these locations are popular backpacking destinations and South Africa records a high level of opportunistic crime, highlighting the importance of safeguarding important documents at all times and particularly when on the road. To speed up the replacement of your passport if it is lost or stolen, the FCO recommends making a photocopy and storing it separately from the original.