Brits still getting in trouble abroad

16 July 2010 08:38

Brits still getting in trouble abroad

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 drink 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 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 have good travel insurance and pack extra medication in case of delays and to have emergency numbers to hand.  Yet, additional research commissioned by FCO, shows one in five people is still travelling without travel insurance.

Getting the right travel insurance policy can help to prevent a number of problems, but having the right travel insurance is not a licence to be irresponsible. 

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.

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, including World First Travel Insurance, to communicate travel advice directly to travellers in a variety of ways.

The stats:

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 Zealand6 (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.

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Martin Rothwell, Senior Partner World First Travel Insurance, says:

At World First we are a partner in the FCO's Know before You Go Campaign. The FCO site is packed with top tips for travelling and living abroad. If you do one thing before going on holiday, make sure checking out the FCO site is it. But don't forget to buy travel insurance too!!