Backpacker and Gap Year Advice If Things Go Wrong

While abroad on your gap year you may encounter a number of things that may effect your time away, for instance illness, theft, violence or worse.

Initially if you become ill or have an accident you must contact your insurers. If you look at your policy you will find a 24 hour helpline and reporting number to use. They will then be able to guide you to a local hospital or clinic that will be able to help you. Also if you are unlucky enough to have something stolen you must contact the local police and get a theft report from them. You will need this for claiming purposes.

British Consul

There may be other catastrophes that you encounter while away and if you are a British traveller then you may be able to get the help from the British consul.

You may be unaware of the help the British consul can give you so find below some questions and answers you may have.

What is a consul?

Consular representatives have a more restricted range of duties than embassy or high commission staff, but their main role is to look after the interests of British people in difficulty abroad - the most recent figures show that consular assistance and advice is given to more than 52,000 British travellers a year.

Most are full-time government employees (there are 1,600 consular staff overseas), but just over 250 are "honorary" officers who do other jobs alongside their consular duties. In some Commonwealth countries, the senior consular missions representing other member countries are called deputy high commissions.

What can a consul do?

You can get help and advice from British diplomatic missions 24 hours a day but if you have a serious problem to deal with such as death, a bad accident, illness or arrest, the consul will step in to advise you, give you relevant contact numbers and, if necessary, speak to local authorities on your behalf. They can act as go-betweens, keeping relatives and friends at home informed - and might be able to exert pressure and influence to assist your case. However, there are few "rights" you have when it comes to getting help from a consul.

Remember though that your insurance company or representative if on a structured programme may be of help in the first instance.

Consuls charge for their services (these are laid down by Parliament and aim to cover costs, including staff, accommodation and overheads). Payment is generally made in the country where the service is performed, made in advance and is usually in local currency.


If you have money, valuables and tickets stolen, the consul can advise friends or relatives at home on the best way of transferring cash to you. In an emergency, the consul will cash you a sterling cheque worth up to £100 if supported by your bank card (assuming you haven't had this stolen, too) but will charge you £36 for the service (plus an extra £72 if outside normal office hours).

Remember though that your insurance company or representative if on a structured programme may be of help in the first instance.

One of the most common tasks undertaken by consuls is replacing lost or stolen passports (in 2000 consulates issued or amended 434,070 passports and issued 9,130 emergency passports covering travellers for a one-way journey back to the UK). If your passport is stolen, or goes missing, you first need to report the loss to the police and ask for a report (the insurance company will also require this if you want to claim the costs back later). The consul will ask you for full issue details and will want you to provide proof of identity in the form of, for example, credit cards, airline tickets, traveller's cheques or driving licence with photograph.

Normally the consul will make checks with the office that originally issued your passport, so the process can take a couple of days - but if you need a replacement in a hurry, they can get one to you in a matter of hours. If you can produce a photocopied page of your passport containing your personal details and number, the consul should be able to carry out the replacement more quickly.

Illness and Death

The consul will not normally visit you in hospital if you have family, friends or a rep in the country to look after you, but if you are on your own or critically injured, the consul will contact the hospital to find out if there is anything he or she can do.

If the person you are travelling with dies, a consul can give advice about local burials or cremations or give you the name of an experienced international undertaker to bring the body home. If you register the death with the consulate, it can give you a UK death certificate, except in certain countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and South Africa.

Crime and Arrest

While consuls cannot investigate a crime, give legal advice, pay legal costs, intervene in court cases or become directly involved in any legal action, they can help you get in touch with local lawyers, interpreters and doctors. They can also advise you whether the country has a state-funded compensation scheme and whether legal aid is available. If neither you nor your family can raise enough money to cover the costs of a defence lawyer, the Foreign Office may in exceptional circumstances allow money for this - but only against a signed undertaking by you to repay.

The consul may attend your trial, depending on its seriousness, and ensure that you have the free services of an interpreter (a requirement of international law). They will also visit you if you have been arrested or imprisoned, and arrange for messages to be sent to relatives and friends.

If a relative is arrested while abroad, you should contact Consular Division at the Foreign Office on 020 7008 1500 and alert the consular officer responsible for the country concerned.


Applications for repatriation are considered on an individual basis. As a British citizen, you do not have a right to repatriation - even if you die abroad - and the consulate would have to take various factors into account, such as whether you are insured, whether you are normally resident in the UK and whether family or friends have been asked for help with covering the cost of getting you home. If money is granted to you for repatriation, it would be on the basis of a government loan that you would repay at a later date.

Moving abroad

If you are planning on a permanent move, the consulate can often help with practical advice and contact numbers. In some volatile countries the Foreign Office recommends that British nationals should register with the consulate so they know how to get in touch with you if necessary.

More information

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website is and lists contact numbers and addresses of UK embassies and consulates abroad. You can also call the Travel Advice Unit (0845 850 2829); for precautionary advice visit