Consular State of Play 2016–17
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Australian residents took 10,756,890 trips overseas in 2016–17. Over the past five years, this number has grown by about 5% each year. In addition to short-term travellers, there are an estimated one million Australian citizens resident overseas at any given time.
In many cases where Australians find themselves in difficulties overseas, they do not let the Australian Government know because they have made arrangements through travel insurers, travel agents, employers, family or friends, to sort out the problem themselves.
Only one in one thousand Australians who are overseas at any given point during a year need the Australian Government's assistance when they get into trouble.
We give priority to cases involving particularly vulnerable Australians, such as children, victims of assault, including sexual assault, or people who are less able to help themselves because of a mental health condition.
What is a consular case?
Assistance provided by Australian officials to an Australian who has encountered difficulties overseas – for example if they have been in an accident, have been a victim of crime, or have been arrested – is called consular assistance.
When consular officials provide assistance to an Australian experiencing difficulty, they open a case in DFAT's Consular Information System. The statistics in this State of Play record the number of cases we were managing over the 2016–17 financial year. Every case is different – some can be sorted out quite quickly, whereas others may take weeks, months or even years to resolve.
Travellers by destination 2016–17 data
- New Zealand: 1,316,000
- Indonesia: 1,248,000
- USA: 1,053,000
- UK: 588,000
- Thailand: 529,000
- China: 451,000
- Singapore: 377,000
- Japan: 363,000
- Fiji: 345,000
Travellers by age 2016 data (% of total)
- 0-9: 8%
- 10-19: 8%
- 20-29: 15%
- 30-39: 18%
- 40-49: 17%
- 50-59: 17%
- 60-69: 12%
- 70+: 5%
Our advice to travelling Australians is "be informed, be prepared" – and the Smartraveller website is an important stop in the journey.
In 2016–17, we published up-to-date travel advisories for 174 countries, two more than in 2015–16. We issued 823 updates to travel advice and travel bulletins. We had 19,077,180 total page views on our Smartraveller website in 2016–17.
We provide a wide range of travel information at smartraveller.gov.au to help Australians prepare for overseas travel. Our travel advice draws on information from a wide range of sources and assesses the level of risk at a particular destination so that travellers can make informed decisions about where and when to travel overseas.
We keep the information under close review and update advisories at least every few months. Where there are significant developments affecting travellers, such as a natural disaster, terrorist event, civil unrest, credible intelligence reporting, or major change in local immigration laws we update the advisory immediately.
Our most visited country pages in 2016–17
- Thailand: 389,583 views
- Indonesia: 388,970 views
- USA: 353,967 views
- Vietnam: 293,872 views
- France: 236,743 views
Travel advice is not a news service. Not all issues and security incidents are included – if an incident does not change the risk of travel for Australians, we will not change the travel advice. While overseas, travellers should follow local and international media to keep themselves informed of developments that may affect safety and security.
Australians should go to smartraveller.gov.au to subscribe for travel updates and should follow Smartraveller on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest advice.
We also recommend Australians register their travel and contact details on Smartraveller before going overseas so DFAT can contact them in case of an emergency.
In 2016–17 the Smartraveller Facebook site had 144,148 followers, up 31% from 2016. The Smartraveller Twitter account increased its followership, up 42% to 19,602 from 2016.
Sorting out comprehensive travel insurance should be one of the first tasks on a traveller's pre-departure check-list.
There is a handy travel insurance guide on the Smartraveller website which provides guidance on getting the right insurance for what travellers plan to do. DFAT has teamed up with independent consumer advocate CHOICE to provide two simple travel insurance guides for you, the Aussie traveller, to help get the right insurance.
When purchasing travel insurance, it is important to ensure that the insurance will cover:
- all the places to be visited;
- all the activities planned; and
- any pre-existing medical conditions and current medical treatments.
Travellers without insurance, or with insurance that does not cover them for their activities or pre-existing conditions, could pay potentially very expensive costs for emergency treatment and medical evacuation.
We cannot pay for a traveller's medical or psychiatric services or medications.
Fortunately, the most recent Survey of Australian Travel Insurance Behaviour (2017) suggests that take up of travel insurance remains very high (over 90%). Travellers visiting family, friends or a familiar country have lower rates of travel insurance, but still well over 80% are insured.
There remain, however, significant misunderstandings about travel insurance coverage. The survey found:
- 87% of travellers were uncertain about what countries their travel insurance covered
- some insurers cover travel to Bali under their Asia Pacific policy, but not the rest of Indonesia – insurance may not cover countries if there is a travel warning
- 87% of travellers were uncertain about coverage while riding a motorcycle overseas
- most policies will not cover you if you don't have a valid motorcycle licence, or are not wearing a helmet – some mopeds can also be considered motorcycles (depending on the engine size)
- 82% of travellers were uncertain about coverage of mental health conditions
- many insurance policies exclude mental health conditions
- 70% of travellers were uncertain about claims for an incident in which alcohol or drug-use was involved
- insurers simply won't pay for costs arising from incidents where the traveller was under the influence of alcohol or a drug (except where taken on the advice of a doctor).
In many cases when Australians in difficulty overseas seek assistance, it is enough for consular staff to provide advice and information, to allow the traveller to sort out the problem themselves.
The following pages look at instances that required more assistance and resulted in our opening a consular case.
Although we are proud of the level of assistance we can offer, there is no legal right to consular assistance and no-one should assume that assistance will be provided.
We may limit our assistance if we consider the circumstances warrant, for example, where the person's actions were illegal, or has put themselves or others at risk through deliberate or repeated reckless or negligent acts, or the person has a pattern of behaviour that has required multiple instances of consular assistance previously.
To find more details on the consular services and assistance that DFAT provides, and what we can and cannot do, see the Consular Services Charter.
* The Consular Information System introduced in June 2015 has improved data and categorisation of case types, which has resulted in apparent increases in some case types and the lower number of cases categorised as "other".
** In 2016–17, we provided assistance in 1,851 cases to trace the whereabouts of Australians potentially caught up in international emergencies. These emergencies included the attempted coup in Turkey, deterioration of security situation in South Sudan and the terrorist attack in Nice, all in July 2016, and the terrorist attack in London in June 2017. This number of cases represented a steep decline from 2015–16, when five international emergencies (including the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016) generated 5,003 whereabouts cases.
|Total cases of assistance||12,454||15,740||15,824||14,558||11,927|
Our consular staff posted around the world and in our 24/7 consular emergency centre in Canberra provide consular assistance in person, over the phone and online to Australians.
Australians – or their family and friends – can call the Consular Emergency Centre from anywhere in the world for advice or assistance.
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- 1300 555 135 from within Australia
- +61 421 269 080 SMS
In 2016–17, the Consular Emergency Centre responded to 66,060 calls.
In 2017, Australians could receive consular assistance from 187 locations in 134 countries.
Where did cases happen?
- Thailand: 893 - up 7% from 836
- USA: 855 - up 11% from 770
- Indonesia: 717 - up 4% from 688
- Philippines: 520 - down 2% from 530
- China (mainland): 395 - down 4% from 411
Australia's consular presence overseas
- 112 Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates and Representative Offices located in 83 Countries
- 57 Honorary Consuls in 51 Countries - including 34 countries where the Honorary Consuls are our only official presence.
- 18 Canadian Missions - Canada and Australia have an agreement to share some consular services abroad.
Australians can find addresses and phone numbers of Australian missions at dfat.gov.au/missions or in local phone directories, hotels, tourist offices or police stations.
In 2016–17, we helped in 1,701 cases of Australians hospitalised overseas, a slight increase on 2015–16 (2%) but much higher than five years ago (24%). Most cases occurred in Thailand.
The surge in cases in New Caledonia reflects the growing popularity of cruise tourism in the Pacific, with an older demographic more vulnerable to illness or accident.
Top five countries for hospitalisations:
- Thailand: 195 - up 11%
- Indonesia: 155 - up 1%
- USA: 117 - down 4%
- New Caledonia: 103 - up 37%
- Vietnam: 71 - down 1%
Carol was excited about embarking on her round-the-world cruise. As part of her pre-departure preparations, she organised basic travel insurance. While at sea, and after suffering from a severe shortage of breath, Carol was diagnosed as having pulmonary emphysema, requiring oxygen until the next port. On arrival, Carol was taken to the nearest local hospital and later required a medivac to a better-equipped hospital. Carol's basic travel insurance did not cover pre-existing medical conditions. She paid $90,000 for the medivac and her hospitalisation. Carol had to borrow money from her children to help repay these expenses.
The Smartraveller website provides useful guidance for Australians on taking care of their health while travelling.
Travellers should ensure they have up to date vaccinations required for all destinations they plan to visit.
Travellers who are aware they have a pre-existing medical condition should:
- talk to their doctor or other healthcare providers before heading overseas to make sure they are prepared; and
- when purchasing travel insurance, check the policy to understand how those pre-existing conditions may affect their coverage.
People who will need to take medication while travelling should:
- make sure that those medications are not illegal in any country being visited;
- take supplies of the right medications in their original packaging; and
- ensure they take with them all necessary paperwork, such as a doctor's letter, a prescription, as well as any necessary import authorisation.
When an Australian is seriously sick and in need of medical care overseas, they or a family member should:
- in the first instance, seek medical assistance from local doctors or hospitals or via their hotel or tour manager
- call the nearest Australian mission; or
- call the Consular Emergency Centre.
Consular assistance to Australians who are ill or hospitalised abroad may include provision of lists of medical providers, liaison with or visits to local hospitals, liaison with local authorities, and assistance communicating with family members or nominated contacts.
Consular staff cannot provide medical services or medications, pay for medical costs or query treatment regimens on behalf of Australians overseas.
Consular assistance following the death of an Australian overseas may include support and guidance to families and liaison with local and Australian authorities to assist with funeral arrangements or repatriation of remains.
Australian Embassies have no authority to intervene in local judicial matters, conduct local investigations, or pay for funeral or repatriation costs.
Deaths of Australians overseas
We supported families in 1,615 cases of Australians who had died overseas in 2016–17, an increase of 9% from the previous year. Most deaths are a result of an illness or natural causes – reasons for this could possibly include a combination of an ageing population travelling more and retiring overseas.
Active cases of death overseas
Cause of death:
- Illness: 446 - down 3 cases from 449 last year
- Natural causes: 340 - up 58 cases from 282 last year
- Accidents: 211 - down 5 cases from 216 last year
- Suicide: 68 - down 4 cases from 72 last year
- Murder: 49 - up 2 cases from 47 last year
- Thailand: 203 - down 1%
- Philippines: 126 - up 2%
- Indonesia: 107 - up 2%
- USA: 99 - up 25%
- Vietnam: 87 - up 13%
Note: Cause of death is determined by local authorities. Not all these deaths occurred during 2016–17. Some death cases stay open for months or even years – particularly if there are lengthy legal processes or local investigations.
Unexpectedly losing contact with a family member or friend who is travelling overseas can be very distressing. This is particularly the case when there is a crisis where the person is thought to be living or travelling, such as a natural or manmade disaster, political unrest or terrorist attack.
The Australian Government does what it can to help families and friends contact their loved ones. However, we can only provide this assistance where there is a well-founded concern for the individual's welfare or in the context of an international crisis. There are also legal and practical limits to what we can do.
In a crisis
In 2016–17, we provided assistance in 1,851 cases to trace the whereabouts of Australians potentially caught up in international emergencies. These emergencies included the attempted coup in Turkey, deterioration of security situation in South Sudan and the terrorist attack in Nice, all in July 2016, and the terrorist attack in London in June 2017.
This number of cases represented a steep decline from 2015–16, when five international emergencies (including the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016) generated 5,003 whereabouts cases.
Where there is a large-scale crisis and emergency involving Australians overseas – for example, terrorist attacks, major accidents, or natural disasters – we will help Australians in need.
Our crisis response could include:
- deploying expert teams to support affected Australians
- liaising with the families of any Australians killed or injured
- working with local authorities to support affected Australians
- supporting Australians trying to leave the area and put them in contact with their families and
- providing travel advice and crisis updates.
In return, we ask Australians affected by crises or emergencies to:
- read and follow our travel advice and follow Smartraveller on social media
- contact family and friends; and
- if you need assistance – contact the local Australian mission, or the Consular Emergency Centre
In contrast, we experienced a significant increase of routine whereabouts inquiries in 2016–17 (695, a 20% increase on 2015–16, with 579 inquiries). As one would expect, there is a strong correlation between location for such inquiries and the most popular destinations for Australian travellers.
Which countries had the most missing persons cases?
- Thailand: 74 - up 76% from 42 - 5th most popular destination
- USA: 59 - up 26% from 47 - 3rd most popular destination
- Indonesia: 43 - up 8% from 40 - 2nd most popular destination
- China (mainland): 31 - up 35% from 23 - 6th most popular destination
- Philippines: 28 - down 18% from 34 - 14th most popular destination
Australians travelling or living abroad can do much to alleviate the concerns of their friends, family and colleagues at home by keeping in touch, especially if they are in the proximity of a major international incident.
Our advice to travellers is to leave a copy of their itinerary, passport, contact and insurance details with their support network at home – and maintain regular contact, by phone, sms, email or social media.
Our advice to any person concerned about the whereabouts or welfare of their family member or friend overseas, or who need to get in contact with them urgently, is to attempt contact by all possible means (phone, email, social media and their last address), including other family members and friends, banks, travel agents, airlines/tour companies or employers.
If this is not successful, and there are reasons for concern, they should call the Consular Emergency Centre or their local police to report a missing person.
We may be able to provide advice and support in the case of a missing person, but we cannot carry out searches for missing people: that is the responsibility of local authorities.
Consular Emergency Centre
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- 1300 555 135 from within Australia
- +61 421 269 080 SMS
Arrest and detention
In 2016–17, we provided assistance in 1,641 cases of Australians arrested or detained overseas. This is an increase of almost 6% on the previous year. Immigration detention – where Australians have been denied entry to a country or breached visa conditions – accounted for 404 of these cases, an increase of over 14% from 2015–16.
- USA: 285 - up 9% - 116 were immigration-related (up 5%) and 169 were law enforcement-related (up 11%)
- China (mainland): 101 - up 10% - Mostly law enforcement-related (92, up 19%)
- UAE: 104 - up 4% - In relation to immigration detention (28 immigration cases, up 27%). 76 law enforcement arrests (down by 3%).
- Thailand: 100 - down 7% - 18 immigration-related (down by 5%) and 82 law enforcement cases (down by 7%)
- Philippines: 68 - down 9% - Mostly law-enforcement related (62, down 2%)
In 2016–17, we managed 370 cases involving Australians serving a sentence of imprisonment. This is a slight decrease from the previous year (down 5.4%, or 21 fewer cases) but over the longer term (5 years) represents a slight increase (up 8% or 27 more cases).
The highest concentration of Australians imprisoned abroad were in the following countries:
- USA: 52 - Down 1 from 2015–16. Almost half of the cases were sex-offences.
- China (mainland): 50 - Down 11 from 2015–16. Most of the cases were fraud or drug-related.
- Vietnam: 34 - No change from 2015–16. Almost all cases were drug-related.
- Thailand: 26 - Up 1 from 2015–16. Most of the cases were drug-related.
- New Zealand: 25 - No change from 2015–16. Cases included sex assault, drug-related and theft.
If an Australian is arrested overseas, they should contact the nearest Australian mission, or phone the Consular Emergency Centre.
There are limits to what consular staff can do.
Consular assistance may include provision of lists of local lawyers and interpreters if required, visits to prisons to monitor welfare, liaison with local authorities regarding the Australian's well-being, as well as assistance communicating with family members or nominated contacts. We do what we can to ensure treatment is in accordance with local laws and process and will raise any welfare concerns with prison authorities.
But the Australian Government cannot get Australians out of prison or detention overseas, or prevent an Australian from being deported. Consular assistance cannot override local law, even when local laws may appear harsh by Australian standards. Consular staff cannot provide legal advice, intervene in legal cases or investigate the grounds for arrest or detention. And, while we may raise welfare concerns with local authorities, we cannot get Australians better treatment in prison than local prisoners.
The Smartraveller website has detailed guidance for Australians arrested or in prison overseas: https://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/when-things-go-wrong/Pages/arrested-or-in-prison.aspx
Drug related arrests
DFAT advice to Australians travelling or resident overseas highlights that penalties for drug-related offences overseas, including a number of destinations popular with Australian travellers, are severe and can include life imprisonment or the death penalty. These laws are strictly enforced. Even small quantities of "soft drugs" can attract heavy fines or jail sentences in prison environments that might be much harsher than in Australia.
Where are Australians being arrested on drug related charges?
- USA: 16 active cases
- Thailand: 13 active cases
- UAE: 13 active cases
- China (mainland): 12 active cases
- Philippines: 12 active cases
Travellers should be aware of the contents of all of their bags, particularly when crossing international borders. They should not carry anything for someone else while travelling.
If a traveller intends to take their own medication with them on the trip, they should find out whether those medicines are legal in the countries they are visiting and make sure they have the right paperwork, such as a doctor's letter or prescription.
The advice to travellers is simple: Don't carry or consume illegal drugs overseas. Ever. https://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/laws/Pages/carrying-or-using-drugs.aspx
Victims of crime
The number of cases involving assistance to Australian victims of assault overseas increased marginally year-on-year (from 315 to 317, or 0.6%). Over a five-year period, however, the increase in such cases is significant (39% more cases in 2016–17 than in 2012–13).
Cases involving sexual assault comprised 45% of the total (142 cases, up from 136 in 2015–16). No one destination stands out as more likely for sexual assault to occur.
The help we can provide victims of a serious assault or other crime include providing details of local doctors, lawyers, counsellors and interpreters.
Australian victims of sexual assault or other serious crime overseas should call the nearest Australian mission to provide direct assistance.
For more information, go to: smartraveller.gov.au/sexual-assault
Emergency financial assistance
Sometimes emergency situations arise and even the most organised, resourceful and experienced travellers can run into unexpected problems.
This can include not being able to access money if their wallet or credit cards have been stolen or perhaps lost or damaged in an accident. In most cases, travellers can obtain assistance from their travel insurer, or family and friends can transfer money using a bank or a commercial financial service.
In exceptional cases, we can provide small emergency loans to tide them over until they can sort themselves out or perhaps to help them get home.
There are strict conditions around such loans. Recipients sign a legal undertaking to repay the loan by a certain date or in accordance with a payment program agreed by DFAT.
In 2016–17 we issued travellers' emergency loans to 211 Australians. Although this represents a small increase on the number of loans issued in 2015–16 (7%), it is 29% fewer than five years ago (298).
Personal information may be used by us to provide consular assistance. In accordance with Australian Privacy Principle 5, information about how we collect, use, disclose and store personal information related to consular cases is contained in our Consular Privacy Collection Statement. Copies of the Statement are available at dfat.gov.au/dept/consular/privacy.html or by requesting a copy from the department.
Each year, the number of Australians holding a passport grows. In the last financial year (2016–17), DFAT issued 2,015,491 passports, 2.7% more than in 2015–16 (1,961,666).
This brought the total number of valid Australian passports in circulation as at 30 June 2017 to 13,864,033.
Looked at another way, over 56% of Australians have a passport.
- 2,454 Australian passports were reported lost overseas
- 2,108 Australian passports were reported stolen overseas
Whether at home or overseas, it is critical that Australians report the loss or theft of their passport immediately. This can be done online at passports.gov.au.
We will cancel it to ensure it is not misused. A passport is a valuable identity document that criminals can use to carry out criminal activity in the name of the passport holder or travel illegally.
If an Australian needs to replace their passport while overseas, they should contact the nearest Australian mission for advice. We may be able to issue an emergency passport to meet immediate travel needs. This document is of limited validity (12 months maximum) and because it is not an ePassport, it will not enable visa-free travel to certain destinations, such as the USA.
Your passport is an important document
Well before travel, travellers should check that their passport will meet the minimum validity requirements of the countries they plan to visit or transit (often, this will be six months from the time of planned departure from the country concerned, not arrival).
Travellers should protect their passport. A passport with damage, especially to the photo page, may not be accepted at borders, leading to expense, inconvenience and a requirement to replace the passport during the trip. Even small tears can render a passport invalid.
Most common causes of passport damage:
- water damage – mainly from spilt drinks or passports being washed.
- torn pages.
Travellers should avoid carrying their passport in their back pocket (this also helps to prevent passports being accidentally washed), and should not leave their passport where children can draw on it or animals can chew on it.
For more information visit passports.gov.au
With more and more Australians travelling overseas, it is inevitable that passports will go astray.
2016-17: 8,075 - 65 fewer, down 0.8%.
Just over 17% of these were issued in the US, with our posts in New York and Los Angeles issuing the most of any post (5.2% and 5.1% respectively). Our posts in popular tourism centres in Europe round out the top 5: Paris (4.8%), Madrid (4.3%) and Rome (4.2%).If travel is not urgent and the applicant has the required documentation, they can apply for a full validity passport.
Full validity passports
In 2016–17, our posts overseas received 106,999 applications for a full validity passport. Just over 5% of total passport applications in that period and 7% more than in 2015–16.
The highest proportion of such applications were in the UK (17.3%) and the US (12.8%). In terms of posts, London received the greatest proportion (17.3%), followed by Hong Kong (9.1%), Singapore (3.8%), Auckland (3.2%) and New York (3.2%).
Australians can start a passport application online at passports.gov.au wherever they are in the world.
They must, however, lodge their passport application in person. Parents can lodge applications on behalf of children under 16, but applicants aged 16 and 17 years-old must attend with a lodging parent. This applies whether the applicant is in Australia or abroad and is to ensure the integrity of our travel documents.
Inquiries regarding the Consular State of Play are welcome and should be directed to:
First Assistant Secretary
Consular and Crisis Management Division
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R G Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221 Australia
ISNN 2205-8842 (print)
ISBN 978-1-74322-417-5 (webpage)
ISBN 978-1-74322-416-8 (pdf)
ISBN 978-1-74322-415-1 (booklet)
With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and where otherwise noted, such as copyrighted images, this publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/.
The publication should be attributed as the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Consular State of Play September 2017.
Use of the Coat of Arms
The terms under which the Coat of Arms can be used are detailed on the 'It's an Honour' website itsanhonour.gov.au/coat-arms/index.cfm.
The publication is based on data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Consular Information System and the Australian Bureau of Statistics