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Last updated: 8th October, 2020


Dealing with emergencies abroad

Being abroad can open up new life experiences, but it’s important to remember that sticky situations can arise – for example, you may run out of cash or even have a medical emergency. These situations are stressful but don’t lose hope in finding a solution. This article outlines some common problems and the best course of action. 

The first rule of what to do when abroad – whether for a short trip or a long stay – and when faced with a crisis, is not to panic. While this is easier said than done, staying calm can often ease a difficult situation, especially if there is a language barrier between you and the country you are visiting.  

Plan for the worst and hope for the best 

Planning for an emergency abroad is one of the best ways to deal with that emergency if it occurs. Having an emergency contact back home in the UK  who is willing and ready to help you out when you need it is an excellent plan. Whether it’s your parents, friends, partner or neighbour, emergency contacts are important and can help prevent a drama from turning into a real crisis. 

Another way to prepare could be sharing your itinerary – there are plenty of available apps to help with this, as well as apps that can guide you in other aspects of your trip. Having a regular check in schedule also brings peace of mind. If people at home know what you are doing, where you will be and when, it will make it easier for them to help you during an emergency. 

Making sure essential bills can still be paid  

Cancelled flights due to bad weather or, in the worst case, when an airline collapses, are other travel emergencies you may have to contend with. While inconvenient, the biggest impact on you could be the money you spend, and if you have enough cash to see you through. Knowing your accommodation and other essential bills can be paid for make an unpleasant and stressful situation easier for you and can help you deal with the emergency at hand. 

Imagine, for example, your wallet or purse has been lost or stolen, or what if you are obliged to stay in a country because of a pandemic or natural disaster for longer than expected? Your emergency contact in the UK can use international money transfer apps like PagoFX to pay your hotel bill or other important expenses abroad. Again, this is where being able to transfer money quickly and securely can help. 

Be insured and know who to call in an emergency

Running out of cash is, of course, only one emergency. A more serious crisis would be if you were to injure yourself or fall ill and need a doctor. Travel insurance is essential, especially if you have an underlying/pre-existing medical condition. Having such insurance in place means that you can be covered when it comes to medical bills or buying new items that may have been stolen.

Make sure that when you go on trips you take your travel insurance documents with you and keep them in a safe place. If something happens, every insurer will have a crisis team number or an emergency assist team that you can call. If it’s really urgent, they will have an evacuation plan to get you home, safe in the knowledge that all of your costs, including the costs of any repatriation flights, should be covered.

It’s a good idea to know the phone number of your local embassy or consulate. Find these numbers and keep them safe and written down (remember your phone could go missing!) before leaving home, just in case something goes wrong. All of this information will be available on the web or via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Make sure you are prepared with health basics

Even with your insurance in place, and whether you have a pre-existing medical condition or are otherwise fit and healthy, it is wise to bring basic medication with you such as paracetamol and rehydration tablets, which are readily available from your local pharmacy.  

You can, of course, buy such medication when you are abroad, but you cannot assume that everyone speaks English, and if you are allergic to certain medication, being clearly understood is important! 

Learning key words or phrases to get you by 

Learning the basics in the local language can be a huge advantage. While you probably won’t be able to become a fluent speaker for every country you plan on visiting, it is handy to know certain key phrases and words in case of emergency – as well as the usual greetings, words of thanks and how to ask basic questions. Here are a few useful emergency phrases to learn (that we hope you won’t have to use):

● I need help

● Can you call the police?

● I need to be taken to hospital

There are also many language apps that can be useful in a pinch – Google Translate has an exhaustive list of languages and can work even when you don’t have mobile data: just download the correct language in advance. It can also help you read images such as menus, road signs and instructions easily and reliably.

Research and advice about your destination 

Something all these tips have in common, and one of the best ways to deal with an emergency situation overseas, is to plan for one. The media often reports on people stranded overseas, uninsured, with no money and no way back – research and planning are extremely important. Research in advance websites, articles, discussion groups and general advice forums relevant to your destination, such as Lonely Planet’s The Thorn Tree

You can also find travel advice updates on government websites, which can help you plan for an emergency situation and give you advice on what you must do if you find yourself in difficulty. For example, gov.uk advises people to report emergency situations immediately to a local police station or authority.  

Expect the unexpected and all will be well 

Some emergencies are perhaps easier to plan for than others. No matter what happens, at least make sure that access to cash and getting your essential bills paid is one headache you don’t have to worry about. 

PagoFX by Santander is a low-cost and secure way to send money abroad easily from your smartphone. From the UK, your emergency contact can send money abroad if you’re in located in one of our recipient countries. Backed by a leading global bank, you can feel confident that your payment is secure and supported by in-app live support, which means means that if you do have any questions you can get an answer from a real person without having to waste time on hold to a call centre. Download PagoFX by Santander for iOS or Android or sign up on PagoFX.com today.