Travel Emergency – What do I do?
We all learn the number to call for the Police or an Ambulance when we are toddlers. When we first travel overseas it seems strange when we realize that not all countries have the same emergency number.
I grew up in the UK and currently live in Hong Kong, which both use 999 but thanks to Hollywood I am well aware that in the USA you dial 911 and I spent enough time in Europe to know the ubiquitous 112.
What happens when you are off the beaten track? Do you always remember to make a note of the emergency numbers in that country, and carry them with you? Even more importantly do you key them into your phone so that you can dial them quickly in an emergency? Do you even carry your phone when you are travelling?
I have visited around 50 countries and could not rattle off the emergency numbers in most of them. Worse still when you start to look into it you will find that some countries have separate numbers for the different emergency services. Maybe you can remember the Fire Service number but not the Police one when you are under pressure
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of emergency numbers, which you can find with a quick Google search. It is worth making a note on a piece of paper that you will carry in your Wallet, and also perhaps putting a digital note in your phone.
Don’t panic, as in most circumstances there will be locals nearby ready and willing to call the emergency services on your behalf. If you get mugged downtown in a Capital City in daylight the chances are you will soon find yourself in the care of both a Policeman and a Doctor.
When you are out doing sporting activities there is a chance you will be less likely to receive help from a friendly passerby. If you are into Mountain Biking, Hiking, Skiing, or even Water Sports then please make sure you have an emergency plan – a charged cell phone and list of emergency numbers should be part of that plan.
Maybe; if you are too lazy to look up the numbers on Wikipedia then maybe a tool like this one we found will help you providing you have a data roaming plan, and that phone battery is charged.
Remember that many countries now do not have coin operated pay phones. If you can find a payphone it should have a list of emergency numbers, and it should operate without a card for an emergency number. So the message again is don’t panic.
If you are somewhere civilized but quiet; then you should try to ask a local shop or business for help rather than knocking on a house door. Strangers at front doors may not be met sympathetically even in an emergency in many places.
There are some words that should be easily understood in most languages – including Hospital, Police and Fire. Another one that maybe useful is Ambulance, or even Taxi. Again if you are going somewhere with a non-European derived language; you may want to check indifferentlanguages.com for some key words before you go
Once you find a Policeman, Fireman, or Doctor and the immediate emergency is over, what should you do? You may find yourself at the cashier of a hospital being asked for your credit card, or worse yet leaving a Police station without your Wallet or Passport.
Your travel insurance company probably provides you with an emergency 24 hour number (ours does). Call it and explain what has happened and ask for advice on what to do next. Your insurer can probably arrange to guarantee the deposit at the hospital, and should be able to get you some emergency cash, and help to arrange a replacement passport.
How much help you get will depend on what you are covered for – a helicopter evacuation doesn’t come cheap. You should find that if you need to re-book flights while your new passport arrives, or because you are in hospital when you were meant to fly the insurance company will cover the re-booking costs and probably your accommodation in the mean time. These kind of things will be documented in your travel insurance policy details.
If you don’t have Travel insurance
If you don’t have insurance then please get in touch with your Consulate or Embassy. They are not going to hand you piles of cash but they will have solid advice on what you should do. They can tell you what has worked for others, and can probably get hold of someone back home for you who could wire some cash or provide other practical assistance.
Premium branded credit cards like American Express, Visa or MasterCard may well have a “concierge” or similar service who can be of help. Certainly lost credit cards can be replaced, and many credit cards include some level of travel insurance. It is worth making a note of the emergency number on the rear of your credit cards just in case.
If you booked your trip through a travel agent, they may be able to assist you. They may also have a contact network that can provide assistance locally. Similarly if you are travelling with work then it is worth contacting your HR department to see whether they can provide any assistance, and of course to let them know you may be delaying your return to work.
Please note that most of the advice in this post is for real emergencies. Please don’t call the local emergency services or your Consulate if it is not a matter of severe consequence. Things can happen when we travel – friends and colleagues get delayed on different flights, bags go missing (they usually turn up again), hotels sometimes get double booked. These kinds of problems may seem dramatic at the time but should not require outside assistance.
Stay calm, and collected and look for a solution. If you have a local representative from your travel company then work with them to resolve issues, if not you will usually find hotel staff can be very obliging providing you stay calm and polite.
You may also want to see our article on whether Travel Insurance is a Scam