17 Jun 2024

What should you do in an emergency situation overseas?

8:54 am on 17 June 2024
A young traveller on a boat in Venice

Photo: Hank Paul for Unsplash

British TV doctor Michael Mosley's death while on a trip to Greece has raised questions about emergencies overseas.

The 67-year-old went missing while on a walk on the Greek island of Symi last week. His body was found five days later, after an extensive search.

He is believed to have died of natural causes - police say he died after taking a walk in scorching temperatures.

So what should New Zealanders do in the event of an emergency overseas?

British physician and science journalist Michael Mosley.

Dr Michael Mosley, who died while on holiday in Greece recently. Photo: Anna-Karin Nilsson / EXP / TT NEWS AGENCY / TT News Agency via AFP

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson says there are two key actions to take before you travel:

Register your details with SafeTravel

SafeTravel is the official source of advice for New Zealanders living or travelling overseas. It's where you can find the most comprehensive advice about what to do when things go wrong - including advice on different types of emergency situations, and information on the types of consular assistance that New Zealand embassies can provide.

If you register your details on SafeTravel, MFAT can relay important information and account for your safety. If you're overseas and require urgent consular assistance, you can contact the 24/7 Consular Emergency Line on +64 99 20 20 20.

Get comprehensive travel insurance

This tip cannot be understated - travel insurance can save your life in the case of an emergency abroad.

Your policy should cover any activities you plan to undertake (from scuba diving to scooter riding), personal liability, medical treatment, emergency medical evacuation, and any pre-existing medical conditions. Even minor medical treatment can be very expensive overseas.

A woman with a wheely suitcase at a train station

Photo: Davey Gravy for Unsplash

What to do if someone goes missing

Locating a missing person overseas is primarily a police matter. The best thing you can do is contact your nearest NZ Police station and inquire about making a missing persons report. Any information you have about the missing person's last sighting, social activity, potential whereabouts or contacts can help paint a fuller picture.

Consular staff may also be able to help if there's concern for the missing person's safety or welfare, or if all other methods of contact have been unsuccessful.

What to do if someone gets sick

Illness or injury can strike out of nowhere, even if you're a well-seasoned traveller. There are a few things you can do in this situation.

First, contact your insurance company - they will assess what medical costs and evaluations can be covered for you. It's important to check the fine print here, as many insurance companies specifically exclude activities such as adventure travel or medical tourism.

If possible, you should also try and obtain a full medical record for your insurance company, as it may enable you to make an ACC claim on return. Things like special flights and medical escorts are not always included in insurance policies, so this could save you from spending a large sum.

The New Zealand Embassy is a great point of contact too - it can assist you in getting in touch with your friends and family, helping move money around, or in contacting your insurance provider.

Group of people inside airport

Photo: Unsplash

What to do if someone dies overseas

If the deceased person is not accompanied by someone, MFAT and New Zealand embassies can arrange for their next or kin or close family to be notified. They can also advise on burial, cremation, and repatriation options, as well as costs and contact details for local funeral directors.

Do you need to pay for repatriation?

All costs associated with a New Zealander's death overseas, including funeral services or repatriation of remains, are the responsibility of the family. However, your travel insurance may be able to help cover some of the costs, depending on policy.

Formal processes for what to do when someone dies might differ overseas - it's important to follow the local process. Depending on the cause of death, an autopsy or post-mortem may be required by overseas authorities - this is governed by local law and regulations and the New Zealand government can't intervene.

Families will also need to engage a funeral director in New Zealand and a funeral director in the country where the death has occurred, to work together on repatriation arrangements.

Other overseas emergencies

The SafeTravel website provides advice on a host of emergency situations that travellers could find themselves in - this includes arrest and detention, hostage-taking and kidnapping, internet dating scams, lost, stolen or damaged passports, large-scale emergencies, internet fraud and international scams, financial difficulties, and nuclear incidents.

For more information on what to do when things go wrong, visit the SafeTravel website

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