Consular State of Play 2017–18
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What is the state of play?
Each year our Consular State of Play report provides statistics on the consular assistance cases we managed during the previous 12 months.
This report covers cases that were open in 2017–18. While most cases happened during the year, some may have remained open from a previous year.
As well as the location and type of consular assistance provided, this report also includes information on travel destinations, age groups, travel insurance and general travel advice.
What is consular assistance?
Many Australians travel or live overseas trouble-free. If a problem does come up, most don't need consular assistance because they have travel insurance, travel agents, employers, family or friends to help.
But around one in 1,000 Australians who are overseas at any one time do need help from the Australian Government. This might be because of a major crisis or emergency, or an accident, illness or crime.
When this happens, Australians can seek help from our global diplomatic network. We give priority to cases involving vulnerable Australians, such as children and 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?
When consular officials assist Australians overseas, they open a case in DFAT's Consular Information System.
Every case is different. Some are resolved quickly, for example when consular staff provide information and advice to allow the traveller to sort out an immediate problem themselves. Some cases take longer. Assistance related to a natural disaster or terrorist attack may take weeks, months or even years to resolve.
Our case file stays open until the matter is resolved.
Our Consular Service Charter describes what we can do to help Australians overseas.
It also explains situations where assistance may be limited and what we ask of travellers. This includes taking personal responsibility for choices and safety, following our travel advice at smartraveller.gov.au, and taking out appropriate travel insurance.
What assistance do we provide?
We provide assistance related to:
- welfare checks
- whereabouts enquiries for crisis response and missing persons
- arrests, detentions and imprisonment
- victims of crime
- emergency financial assistance in limited circumstances.
However, assistance may be limited for:
- illegal, deliberate, reckless or negligent actions, or actions that put people at risk
- repeated patterns of behaviour
- dual nationals in the country of other nationality.
How many locations offer assistance?
As part of our role to promote and protect Australia's interests internationally, we manage a network of overseas posts.
At 30 June 2018, Australians could receive consular assistance from 187 locations.
Australians in needs of consular assistance, or their families and friends, can call the nearest Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. If they can't reach their nearest location, for example if it's after hours, they can call the Consular Emergency Centre for urgent assistance.
- 112 Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates, Consulates-General, Representative Offices in 83 countries
- 55 Honorary Consuls in 49 countries
- 13 Canadian Missions (provide some consular services to Australian citizens) in 15 countries
We give priority to vulnerable Australians and people who are less able to help themselves
We encourage Australians travelling or living overseas to be informed and prepared.
The Smartraveller website is the place to start. It contains well-informed, local advice and information for 176 destinations. This advice represents an objective assessment of the risks Australians may face overseas. This includes the current level of risk and how to minimise exposure to threats. It helps Australians decide where and when to travel.
Smartraveller website use
In 2017–18 the Smartraveller website was viewed more than 20 million times, averaging nearly 16,000 unique visitors a day.
We published 742 updates to travel advisories for different destinations, as well as 18 special event bulletins, such as for the FIFA World Cup and Anzac Day.
Social media engagement continued to increase, with followers for Smartraveller's Facebook site up 19% and Twitter account up 21.5%.
A surge of interest in Vietnam (55% increase in views) and Indonesia (36% increase in views) saw those two country pages move up to first and second in the top five during the year. Thailand page views fell 34%, moving from the most viewed to the fourth most viewed page. Japan made the top five this year replacing France and moving up from number 10 last year.
Top five country webpages viewed
- Indonesia 528,439 views
- Vietnam 456,175 views
- United States 357,095 views
- Thailand 257,499 views
- Japan 224,655 views
We advise Australians to make informed decisions about where and when to travel, and to ensure they have the right travel insurance for where they're going and what they're planning to do.
Australians need to cover their own emergency-related costs if they travel without insurance, or with insurance that does not cover all their planned destinations, activities and pre-existing medical conditions. Medical treatment overseas or evacuation to Australia or another country can be very expensive.
If you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel. Smartraveller: Travel insurance
Attitudes to insurance
A recent survey of traveller behaviour in South East Asia [PDF] revealed some insights about attitudes to travel insurance.
- 11% had no travel insurance
- Uninsured travellers were significantly more likely to be men and under 30 years
- 13% of men travelled without insurance
- 18% of those aged 18–29 travelled without insurance
- 13% of those without insurance expected the Australian Government would contribute to medical expenses (it does not)
- 82% of under-30s undertook a risky behaviour like water sports, riding motorcycles and excessive consumption of alcohol
- 19% of people with pre-existing medical conditions did not check if their insurance covered it
- This research also shows that 44% who did have travel insurance took part in one or more risky activities not covered by their insurance.
- Misunderstanding what is covered can lead to insurance claims being declined. For example, an insurance claim may be declined for the following reasons:
- excessive use of alcohol
- use of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription drugs
- not declaring a pre-existing medical or mental health condition/s
- behaviour considered risky by the insurer without the appropriate cover, such as adventure sports or use of a motorcycle, scooter or moped
- travelling to countries that have a current DFAT 'do not travel' warning
- not possessing a valid licence to drive a vehicle or ride a motorbike
- not wearing the appropriate clothing or equipment such as helmets.
Source: www.understandinsurance.com.au and DFAT, Traveller Behaviour in South East Asia Report, July 2018.
There were more than 10.7 million overseas trips from Australia in 2017–18. This number has steadily increased and is up 13% from 9.5 million five years ago.
Context for the statistics
Australians are great travellers, but official statistics do not show the full extent of travel by Australians while they are overseas. For example, statistics previously collected on incoming passenger cards ask people where they spent the most time while overseas, rather than every country visited when Australians travel to multiple countries. Also, we do not know everything about countries visited by Australian who are living overseas.
The top ten destinations for 2017–18 were in the same order and with similar numbers as last year. However, there was an increase in trips to the United Kingdom and China, and Japan has taken over from Singapore in 7th place while India has taken over from Fiji in 9th place.
Top ten destinations for overseas trips
- New Zealand 1,419,600
- Indonesia 1,209,600
- United States 1,082,300
- United Kingdom 644,600
- Thailand 580,200
- China 572,000
- Japan 438,200
- Singapore 407,400
- India 384,200
- Fiji 339,700
Source: Department of Home Affairs
Age of travellers
There was an increase in all age groups apart from those aged 15–24. The largest group of travellers remains those aged between 25 and 55 years.
Trips by age (% of total)
- 0–4 3.9%
- 5–14 7.6%
- 15–24 10.0%
- 25–34 17.4%
- 35–44 16.9%
- 45–54 17.7%
- 55–64 15.2%
- 65 and over 11.3%
Source: Department of Home Affairs. Note these figures are rounded and are from the 2017 calendar year.
The number of Australians taking cruise trips outside Australia has steadily increased from 684,821 in 2013 to 889,000 in 2017.
The overall number of Australians taking cruises worldwide in 2017 was 1.34 million.
Source: Cruise Lines International Association. Note these figures are from the 2017 calendar year.
Australians living overseas
A total of 1 million Australian citizens are estimated to be living overseas at any given time.
Consular assistance cases
During the year there were 11,880 open consular assistance cases. On any one day there were around 1,500 active cases.
This is down from 12,454 cases in 2016–17 and 15,740 cases in 2015–16. However, the drop is less significant when crisis cases are excluded, with an average of around 10,400 cases a year.
When considered in context of the increasing number of departures for overseas trips, this indicates many travellers are doing the right thing: being informed and prepared.
In 2017–18 the top five countries for consular assistance cases were the same countries, in the same order, as 2016–17.
Australians in trouble overseas can contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate
Types of assistance cases
- 3,062 Welfare
- 2,510 Whereabouts
- 2,001 crisis
- 509 routine
- 1,671 Death
- 1,585 Hospitalisation
- 1,540 Arrest
- 533 Theft
- 386 Imprisonment
- 269 Assault
- 280 Other assistance
Top five countries for assistance cases
- 967 Thailand up 8%
- 750 United States down12%
- 610 Indonesia down 15%
- 590 Philippines up 13%
- 391 China (Mainland) down 1%
The Consular Emergency Centre supports our network of Embassies and Consulates overseas by ensuring 24/7 availability of urgent assistance to Australians on consular or passport matters.
In 2017–18 the Consular Emergency Centre responded to 62,345 calls, down by 6% from the previous year. Most calls do not require us to open an official consular case file.
We provide details of local doctors and hospitals in a medical emergency.
Consular assistance may also include liaison with local hospitals and local authorities, and helping to communicate with family members or nominated contacts.
In 2017–18 we helped in 1,585 cases of Australians hospitalised overseas.
This was a 7% decrease on 2016–17, but still much higher (19%) than five years ago.
Most cases occurred in Thailand, followed by Indonesia. This is due, in part, to the higher age of Australians living and travelling in Thailand compared with other countries.
New Caledonia remained in the top five this year, reflecting the continued popularity of cruises in the Pacific, with an older demographic more vulnerable to illness or accident.
The Smartraveller website has guidance for Australians on taking care of their health while travelling
Top five countries for hospitalisation cases
- 204 Thailand up 5%
- 143 Indonesia down 8%
- 101 New Caledonia down 2%
- 99 United States down 15%
- 69 Philippines down 3%
We provide advice and support to families in cases where an Australian has died overseas. This may include liaison with local authorities to assist with funeral arrangements and repatriation of remains.
In 2017–18 we supported families in 1,671 cases of deaths of Australians overseas.
While this is similar to 2016–17, there has been an overall increase of 36% over the past five years.
Most deaths are a result of an illness or natural causes, possibly due to an ageing population travelling more and retiring overseas.
This year there was an increase in the number of death cases in the Philippines and Thailand. This corresponds with an increasing number of older Australians travelling to or retiring in these countries.
Not all the cases represent deaths that happened in 2017–18. Some death cases may remain open for months or even years, particularly if there are lengthy legal processes or local investigations.
Top five countries for death cases
- 238 Thailand up 17%
- 153 Philippines up 21%
- 117 Indonesia up 9%
- 98 United States down 1%
- 85 Vietnam down 2%
Top three causes of death
- 518 Illness up 15%
- 317 Natural causes down 7%
- 207 Accidents down 2%
Note: Cause of death is determined by local authorities.
Phil was half way through his retirement holiday in Europe when a persistent cough and fever saw him hospitalised with pneumonia. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated and he died in hospital. As a fit 68-year-old, Phil hadn't anticipated becoming seriously ill on his long-planned trip, but he had wisely taken out comprehensive travel insurance. Phil's family in Australia received consular assistance including a list of in-country funeral directors, and help to navigate local administrative processes. Phil's insurance company helped his next of kin appoint their preferred funeral director. The insurance company also organised and covered the cost of repatriating Phil's remains, so his ashes could be flown home for his family to hold a memorial service.
Unexpectedly losing contact with a family member or friend travelling or living overseas can be distressing. We provide assistance in crisis response cases and missing persons cases.
If family and friends have tried to contact someone by all possible means and cannot find them, the Australian Government does what it can to provide advice and support.
In 2017–18 we provided assistance in 509 missing persons cases.
This is a 27% decrease on 2016–17.
As expected, there is a correlation between the location of these cases and popular destinations for overseas trips, with the Philippines the only country not in the top 10 destinations last year.
Top five countries for missing persons cases
- 63 Thailand down 15%
- 33 United States down 46%
- 28 Philippines up 4%
- 24 China (Mainland) down 23%
- 22 Indonesia down 49%
Australians overseas can alleviate concerns by keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues, especially if they are near a major incident
Crisis response cases
Some international crises and emergencies require an exceptional response to help Australians in need. This includes incidents such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks or pandemics.
In such cases, we may deploy expert teams to assist affected Australians, liaise with families, work with local authorities, support Australians trying to leave the area, and provide crisis updates and travel advice.
In 2017–18 we provided assistance in 2,001 cases to trace the whereabouts of Australians potentially caught up in international emergencies.
This is an 8% increase from 2016–17. However, it is down significantly on the three years before that, representing an overall 58% decrease since 2013–14.
Fortunately there were fewer large-scale incidents overseas affecting Australians in 2017–18. Events during the year that generated whereabouts checks were the Las Vegas shooting (October 2017), the earthquake in Mexico (September 2017) and the Barcelona terrorist attack (August 2017).
We provide assistance related to the welfare of Australians in a range of situations, including cases involving mental health, when someone is sick but not hospitalised, when someone has an appearance in Court, and kidnapping and parental child abduction cases.
In 2017–18 we provided assistance in 3,062 welfare cases.
While this is about the same as 2016–17, it represents an overall decrease of 29% over the past five years.
Top five countries for welfare cases
- 274 Thailand up 11%
- 250 Philippines up 17%
- 194 Indonesia down 17%
- 175 United States up 8%
- 117 Vietnam up 39%
Arrest and detention cases
We do what we can to ensure Australians arrested or detained overseas are treated fairly under the laws of the country where they were arrested. This may include providing details of local lawyers, checking on the person's wellbeing, liaising with local authorities and helping to communicate with family members or nominated contacts. However, we cannot provide legal advice, get Australians better treatment than local prisoners, get them out of prison or detention, or stop them being deported.
In 2017–18 we provided assistance in 1,540 arrests and detention cases. This is a 6% decrease on 2016–17 but represents an overall increase of 28% over the past five years.
Immigration detention, where Australians are denied entry to a country or breached visa conditions, accounted for 385 of these cases, a 4% drop on last year. There was a significant increase (72%) in these cases in Thailand, where the immigration policy was tightened during the year, particularly visa overstays.
While the United States again accounted for the most arrests and detentions, the order of the other countries in the top five changed this year, and Japan replaced the Philippines at number five.
This is the first year Japan has been in the top five countries for arrest and detention cases.
The Smartraveller website has detailed guidance for Australians arrested or in prison overseas.
Top five countries for arrest and detention cases
- 241 United States down 15%
- 127 criminal-related
- 114 immigration-related
- 122 Thailand up 22%
- 91 criminal-related
- 31 immigration-related
- 113 China (Mainland) up 12%
- 102 criminal-related
- 11 immigration-related
- 95 United Arab Emirates down 9%
- 73 criminal-related
- 22 immigration-related
- 71 Japan up 20%
- 60 criminal-related
- 11 immigration-related
Australians need to know and obey local laws.Relevant advice is on smartraveller.gov.au
Drug-related arrest cases
Penalties for drug-related offences in many countries are severe and can include life imprisonment or the death penalty. These laws are strictly enforced and even small quantities of 'soft drugs' can attract heavy fines or jail sentences in prisons that might be much harsher than in Australia.
Travellers should always be aware of what is in their bags, especially when crossing international borders. They should not carry anything for someone else while travelling.
Australians who need to take medication on a trip should check if it is legal in countries they are visiting and make sure they have paperwork, such as a doctor's letter or prescription.
There was a significant increase in drug-related arrests in Japan in 2017–18. This reflects Japan's increasing popularity as an affordable travel destination and also its strict law enforcement.
Top five countries for drug-related arrest cases
- 19 China (Mainland) up 58%
- 19 Japan up 171%
- 16 Thailand up 23%
- 13 United Arab Emirates no % change
- 13 Vietnam up 18%
Don't ever carry or consume illegal drugs overseas Smartraveller: Carrying or using drugs
We visit or contact Australians who have been arrested or detained overseas to check on their welfare. We will raise any welfare concerns with prison authorities.
In 2017–18 we managed 386 active imprisonment cases. This is a slight increase of 4% on 2016–17, reflecting the overall upward trend, with a 15% increase over the past five years.
Fraud and drugs cases accounted for most of these imprisonments.
Top five countries for imprisonment cases
- 50 China (Mainland) no % change – Most were fraud or drug related
- 45 United States down 13% – Almost half were sex offences
- 40 Vietnam up 18% – Almost all were drug related
- 31 New Zealand up 24% – Most were assault, sexual assault or drug related
- 30 Indonesia up 30% – Almost all were drug related
Victims of crime cases
We provide appropriate help, including details of local lawyers and interpreters, for Australians who are victims of crime or serious assault overseas.
In 2017–18 we assisted in 802 victims of crime cases. This included 533 theft cases and 269 assault cases.
Theft cases fell by 31% and assault cases fell by 15% compared with 2016–17. But while the five-year trend is for a significant decrease in theft cases (57%), there has been a 25% increase in assault cases over that time.
Sexual assault cases accounted for 48% of the total assault cases (128 cases, down from 142 in 2016–17). Despite this 10% decrease last year, sexual assault cases have increased in the longer-term, up by 75% over the past five years.
Top five countries for theft cases
- 200 Spain down 13%
- 94 Italy down 57%
- 55 Mexico down 21%
- 13 Thailand down 35%
- 11 Japan up 38%
Top five countries for assault cases
- 23 Indonesia down 26%
- 22 Thailand up 10%
- 14 United States down 22%
- 14 Italy up 17%
- 12 Fiji up 50%
We can't investigate crimes committed overseas – local authorities do this – but we do provide guidance for Australians assaulted or robbed overseas smartraveller.gov.au
Each year, the number of Australians holding passports increases.
In 2017–18 we issued 2,082,127 passports, similar to 2016–17. This brought the total number of Australians holding a valid passport to 14,234,420 as at 30 June 2018, or 57% of the population.
Passports are valuable identity documents. It's important to protect them from damage, especially the photo page. It's also important to make sure they are valid for long enough, which is often six months after leaving a country. Even travellers on cruises should take passports in case of unplanned stops for emergencies.
Despite the best intentions, with more and more Australians travelling each year, it is inevitable some passports will go astray.
In 2017–18 a total of 43,790 passports were reported lost or stolen.
Most of these were in Australia, but 4,743 passports were reported lost or stolen overseas. This is a similar number to last year.
Our pioneering use of face biometrics is helping keep Australian passports and identities secure. When someone applies for a passport, we check the photo against our database of more than 27 million facial images. From January 2019 passport photos cannot include glasses, to improve the accuracy of facial matching. passports.gov.au
The most common damage to passports is water damage, from spilt drinks or going through the wash, and torn papers
Passports lost or stolen overseas
- 2,471 passports reported lost
- 2,272 passports reported stolen
Top five overseas countries for lost passport cases
- 451 United States
- 289 United Kingdom
- 126 China (Mainland)
- 123 New Zealand
- 114 Italy
Top five overseas countries for stolen passport cases
- 323 Italy
- 281 United States
- 247 Spain
- 177 France
- 119 Greece
It is critical to report a lost or stolen Australian passport immediately so it cannot be misused. This can be done online at passports.gov.au
We can issue emergency replacement passports and travel documents for a fee. We can also cancel lost or stolen passports so they cannot be misused.
We may be able to issue an emergency passport to meet immediate travel needs. These are valid for a limited time (12 months maximum).
In 2017–18 we issued 8,431 emergency passports at overseas posts. This is a slight increase of 4% on 2016–17.
Top five embassies or consulates for emergency passport cases
- Los Angeles
- New York
Full validity passports
Embassies and consulates can also process full validity passports if travel is not urgent and the applicant has the required documentation.
In 2017–18 our overseas posts processed 109,743 applications for full validity passports.
Financial assistance cases
Sometimes emergency situations happen overseas, even for well-prepared travellers. This might include not being able to access money because their wallet or credit cards were stolen, lost or damaged. In most cases travel insurance, family or friends can help.
In exceptional cases, we can provide small emergency loans to tide people over until they can sort out the problem themselves, or perhaps to help them get home.
There are strict conditions around these loans. Recipients sign a legal agreement to repay the loan by a certain date or in line with a payment program agreed by DFAT.
In 2016–17 we issued travellers' emergency loans to 180 Australians, down from 211 in 2016–17.
This reflects the longer-term downward trend, with financial assistance cases decreasing by 25% over the past five years.
Summary of consular services 2013–14 to 2017–18
|Note: The Consular Information System introduced in June 2015 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'.|
|Total cases of assistance||11,880||12,454||15,740||15,824||14,558|
|Total cases of assistance excluding crisis whereabouts||9,879||10,603||10,737||-||-|
ISNN 2205-8842 (print) 2205-8842
ISBN 978-1-74322-417-5 (webpage) 978-1-74322-465-6
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Attribution CC BY
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 2018.
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, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Home Affairs.