Most travellers are familiar with the Smartraveller website. Run by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), it provides a wealth of information for Australians planning to travel overseas.
Not only does it provide general travel information, it also provides country specific advisories so that travellers can familiarise themselves with important information about their destination/s.
Much of this information is useful in the trip planning stages and will also keep you acquainted with important updates while you are travelling.
The Smartraveller website is a valuable resource for all Australian travellers. But, do you know how DFAT can assist you while travelling? Perhaps more importantly, do you understand what they can’t do for you while you are overseas?
What DFAT can and can’t do for Australians who need assistance while travelling is governed by the Consular Services Charter. You can read the full Charter here.
Generally speaking, DFAT can assist all Australian citizens. If you have dual nationality and require assistance in the country of your other nationality, this can only be provided in exceptional circumstances. So, if you are dual citizenship of Australia and the US and need assistance while in the US, the Australian consular officials may not be able to help you.
The Consular Charter sets down the Australian government’s expectations for all Australians while travelling. These range from taking care of your safety, health and finances to arranging comprehensive travel insurance and following travel advisories on the smartraveller website.
Assuming you are taking all necessary and reasonable precautions for your safety whilst overseas, consular officials may provide assistance to you should you need it. Whether this is possible of course, depends on the Consular Services Charter.
So what consular assistance and services can DFAT provide to Australian travellers?
The assistance which can be provided depends on the specific circumstances of the traveller concerned and what resources are available to consular staff. Typical assistance offered (but not guaranteed) includes;
- Replacement of lost / damaged passports and travel documents (for a fee).
- Provision of contact details for local doctors and hospitals in a medical emergency.
- Provision of contact details for lawyers and interpreters if you are the victim of a serious crime or assault.
- Welfare checks / visits from consular staff if you are arrested / imprisoned.
- Provision of contact details for local lawyers and interpreters if you are detained by local police.
- Advice and support in the event your relative dies overseas, goes missing or is kidnapped.
- Liaison with your friends and family on your behalf (if you agree). Sometimes though, consular staff may need to contact your family without having obtained your consent (eg in an emergency).
- Provision of assistance to make evacuation arrangements in the event of natural disasters, terrorism and civil unrest. In some cases, you may have to pay the costs incurred.
- Helping you to vote in federal elections whilst overseas (not in all locations)
- Witnessing and authenticating documentation, administration of oaths and affirmations (subject to fees)
Assistance DFAT can’t provide to Australian travellers
There’s no doubt that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides significant assistance to Australians travelling abroad, but there are some things that consular staff simply can’t do for you if you run into trouble while travelling.
DFAT cannot do any of the following for you:
- Guarantee your safety while overseas.
- Make your travel arrangements.
- Provide legal advice, act as an interpreter or translate documents (DFAT should though be able to refer you to lawyers and interpreters).
- Act on your behalf in overseas court proceedings or legal matters. This includes commercial matters, criminal cases and family law disputes.
- Conduct searches for missing people. Any such search is the responsibility of the local authorities.
- Investigate crimes or deaths which occur overseas. These matters are the responsibility of local authorities.
- Get you out of jail or stop you from being deported.
- Pay bail, fines or legal expenses on your behalf.
- Pay for your medical expenses.
- Arrange visas, licences or permits required by other countries.
- Store your luggage or hold lost property.
- Become involved in any immigration, customs or quarantine matter.
- Receive or send post for you.
This list is not exhaustive and full details can be found in the Consular Services Charter.
Please don’t assume that DFAT is obliged to provide you with assistance if you run into trouble while travelling overseas. DFAT has authority to consider your circumstance and determine if they will assist. They are also able to determine the level of assistance they provide. Help is not guaranteed and it is your responsibility to ensure you take all necessary precautions to travel safely while overseas.
When preparing to travel overseas, we recommend your pre-trip planning include:
- Research the travel advice and country specific information provided at smartraveller.gov.au
- Subscribe to receive updated travel advices from DFAT for the countries you will be visiting
- Register your trip details with DFAT so they can contact you in an emergency. This also helps DFAT know if you could require assistance following events such as natural disasters, civil unrest or terrorism.
- Download the smartraveller app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Save consular assistance phone numbers in your smartphone. Emergency consular assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling 1300 555 135 (if in Australia); +61 2 6261 3305 (if outside Australia) or SMS +61 421 269 080.
- Take note of addresses and phone numbers for Australian embassies, high commissions or consulates in the countries you will be visiting. These can be found here
There is no doubt that DFAT offers a breadth of support to Australians travelling overseas. Understanding what they can and can’t do for you should make life a little easier if you run into trouble overseas. For more information, head to www.smartraveller.gov.au