Consular State of Play 2018–19
Assisting Australians overseas
Each year the Australian Government provides consular services and assistance to thousands of Australians overseas.
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 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 consular 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.
Reporting on cases
When consular officials assist Australians overseas, they open a case in DFAT's Consular Information System. Some cases are resolved quickly, for example when consular staff provide information and advice so the traveller can sort out the problem themselves. However, assistance related to a terrorist attack or complex legal case may take weeks, months or even years to resolve. Our case files stay open until matters are resolved.
We publish annual statistics of consular assistance cases. This Consular State of Play report covers cases we managed in 2018–19. While most cases arose during that 12-month period, some may have remained open from a previous year. This report also includes information on travel destinations, age groups, travel insurance and general travel advice.
Consular Service Charter
Our Consular Service Charter describes what we can do to help Australians overseas.
It also explains when assistance may be limited and what we ask of travellers. This includes taking personal responsibility for choices and safety, following travel advice at smartraveller.gov.au, and having appropriate travel insurance.
We aim to empower Australians to help themselves overseas, we prepare for and manage overseas crises and we deliver consular services to Australians.
Types of assistance provided
We provide assistance related to:
- welfare checks
- whereabouts enquiries for crisis response and missing persons
- arrests, detentions and imprisonment
- victims of crime
- limited emergency financial assistance in exceptional circumstances.
However, assistance may be limited for:
- illegal, deliberate, reckless or negligent actions, or actions that put other people at risk
- repeated patterns of behaviour
- dual nationals in the country of other nationality.
Locations offering assistance
As part of our role to promote and protect Australia's interests internationally, we manage a network of overseas posts.
At 30 June 2019, Australians could receive consular assistance from 178 locations.
Australians in need 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 after hours, they can call the Consular Emergency Centre for urgent assistance.
We give priority to vulnerable Australians and people who are less able to help themselves
- 116 Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates, Consulates-General, Representative Offices in 84 countries
- 49 Honorary Consuls in 44 countries
- 13 Canadian Missions (provide some consular services to Australian citizens) in 15 countries
In 2018–19 the Australian Government opened new diplomatic posts in Tuvalu, India and China. Also during the year, DFAT's first 'pop-up Embassy' operated as a virtual post in Estonia, with an Ambassador who lived outside the country.
We advise 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 177 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.
In 2018–19 Sri Lanka became the fourth-most visited country page, nudging Japan out of the top five pages. The other four top country pages were the same as the previous year, with increased views for Indonesia (up 17%), the United States (up 14%) and Thailand (up 8%), but a decrease in Vietnam page views (down 10%).
Most-visited country pages in 2018–19
- Indonesia 618,721
- Vietnam 408,671
- United States 406,384
- Sri Lanka 374,157
- Thailand 279,046
Website and social media engagement
In 2018–19 our Smartraveller website and all social media platforms experienced increased activity.
There were more than 25.5 million views of the Smartraveller website, averaging nearly 13,600 unique visitors a day. While the average number of unique visitors a day was lower than last year, the quality of engagement increased as people stayed on the website longer and viewed more pages in a session.
We published 475 updates to travel advisories for different destinations, as well as 10 special event bulletins, such as for Anzac Day and the Pacific cyclone season.
- Smartraveller unique visitors per day down 15%
- Smartraveller subscribers up 10%
- Smartraveller Facebook fans up 8%
- Smartraveller Twitter followers up 7%
We recommend Australians subscribe to travel advice updates or follow our social media smartraveller.gov.au
We encourage Australians to make informed decisions about where and when to travel, and to ensure they have the right travel insurance for where they are going and what they plan to do.
Australians need to cover their own emergency-related costs if they travel overseas without insurance, or if their insurance doesn't cover their planned destinations, activities or pre-existing medical conditions. Medical treatment overseas or evacuation back to Australia or another country is often very expensive.
If you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel smartraveller.gov.au/insurance
Attitudes to insurance
A recent survey of Australians who travelled overseas in 2018–19 revealed their understanding of Smartraveller advice.
- 87% were attracted to destinations with risk factors, such as places that feel adventurous or 'off the beaten track'
- 51% aspired to travel to a country with a Smartraveller Level 2, 3 or 4 warning
- 10% were uninsured the last time they travelled overseas
- 22% of men under 30 travelled without insurance
- 74% of those who travelled without insurance did so because they 'expected to be safe'
- Those travelling to countries where they held nationality widely believed it exempted them from needing insurance
- 53% were not aware that travel insurance policies may not cover Level 3 or 4 destinations
- The most common reason for not taking out travel insurance when booking a trip was needing time to research the right policy – highlighting the need for clear, easy-to-use advice
- 83% were aware of Smartraveller, which was the most widely consulted source of advice on overseas travel risks and how to stay safe while overseas
Source: 2019 Quantum Market Research survey conducted on behalf of DFAT and understandinsurance.com.au
Smartraveller advice levels
- Level 1 Exercise normal safety precautions
- Level 2 Exercise a high degree of caution
- Level 3 Reconsider your need to travel
- Level 4 Do not travel
There were more than 11.2 million overseas trips from Australia in 2018–19. This is up 5% from 10.7 million last year and up 20.4% from 9.3 million five years ago.
Statistics only tell part of the story
Australians are great travellers, but the statistics do not show the full extent of travel while they are overseas. For example, data previously collected from incoming passenger cards covered where people spent the most time while overseas.
The top 10 destinations for 2018–19 were in a similar order with similar numbers as last year. However, there was an increase in trips to New Zealand, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, China and India, while trips to the United States and Thailand decreased.
Australians living overseas
A total of one million Australian citizens are estimated to be living overseas at any given time.
Top 10 destinations for overseas trips
- New Zealand 1,444,200
- Indonesia 1,310,800
- United States 1,078,800
- United Kingdom 667,800
- China 610,900
- Thailand 565,300
- Japan 483,600
- India 416,300
- Singapore 405,400
- Fiji 345,300
Source: Department of Home Affairs
Age of travellers
There was an increase in travel* by all age groups. The largest group of travellers remained those aged between 25 and 55 years.
Trips by age (% of total)
Source: Department of Home Affairs. Note these figures are rounded and are for the 2019 calendar year.
The number of Australians taking cruise trips outside Australia has slightly decreased from 889,000 in 2017 to 883,000 in 2018.
1.35 million - The overall number of Australians taking cruises worldwide in 2018.
Source: Cruise Lines International Association. Note these figures are for the 2018 calendar year.
Assistance cases during 2018–19
Number of cases
During the year there were 13,715 open consular assistance cases. On any one day there were around 1,400 active cases.
This is up from 11,880 cases in 2017–18 and 12,454 cases in 2016–17.
However, the increase is less significant when crisis cases are excluded, with 9,122 for the 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 2018–19 the top five countries for consular assistance cases were the same countries in the same order as in 2017–18, except that the Philippines recorded more assistance cases than Indonesia this year. In all five countries but the Philippines, there was a decrease in the number of assistance cases.
Top 5 countries for assistance cases
- 895 Thailand, down 7%
- 666 United States, down 11%
- 647 Philippines, up 10%
- 563 Indonesia, down 8%
- 390 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 2018–19 the Consular Emergency Centre responded to 48,000 calls, down by 23% from the previous 12-month period. Most calls do not require us to open an official consular case file.
Australians in trouble overseas can contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate
Types of assistance
- 23 Repatriation
- 2,804 Welfare
- 4,957 Whereabouts
- 4,593 crisis
- 364 routine
- 1,695 Death
- 1,506 Hospitalisation
- 1,572 Arrest
- 257 Theft
- 379 Imprisonment
- 268 Assault
- 254 Other assistance
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 2018–19 we helped in 1,506 cases of Australians hospitalised overseas.
This was a 5% decrease on 2017–18, but still higher (4%) than five years ago.
Once again, the highest number of 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 again 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.
Vietnam replaced the Philippines in fifth place this year.
The Smartraveller website has guidance for Australians on taking care of their health while travelling
Top 5 countries for hospitalisation cases
- 85 United States, down 14%
- 178 Thailand, down 13%
- 68 Vietnam, no % change
- 141 Indonesia, down 1%
- 88 New Caledonia, down 13%
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 2018–19 we supported families in 1,695 cases of deaths of Australians overseas.
While this is just slightly higher than 2017–18, there has been an overall increase of 32% 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.
Again 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 2018–19. Some death cases may remain open for months or even years, particularly if there are lengthy legal processes or local investigations.
Top 5 countries for death cases
- 247 Thailand, up 4%
- 177 Philippines, up 16%
- 104 Indonesia, down 11%
- 89 United States, down 10%
- 78 Vietnam down, 9%
Top 3 causes of death
- 536 Illness, up 3%
- 333 Natural causes, up 5%
- 158 Accidents, down 24%
Note: Cause of death is determined by local authorities.
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 2018–19 we provided assistance in 364 missing persons cases. This is a 33% decrease on 2017–18.
Japan and Cambodia replaced the Philippines and China (mainland) in the top five countries for missing persons this year.
As expected, there is a correlation between the location of these cases and popular destinations for overseas trips, with Cambodia the only country not in the top ten destinations last year.
Australians overseas can alleviate concerns by keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues, especially if they are near a major incident
Top 5 countries for missing persons cases
- 41 Thailand, down 42%
- 29 United States, down 12%
- 23 Indonesia, up 4%
- 19 Japan, no % change
- 17 Cambodia, up 13%
Crisis response cases
Some international crises and emergencies require an exceptional response to help Australians in need. These include incidents such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and 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 2018–19 we provided assistance in 4,593 cases to trace the whereabouts of Australians potentially caught up in international emergencies.
This is a 129.5% increase from 2017–18. It is also a significant increase on the two years before that, but less than 2015–16 when there were 5,003 cases.
The incidents that generated whereabouts checks in 2018–19 included the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings and the 2019 New Zealand mosque terrorist shootings. Such major incidents result in a surge of inquiries from people trying to locate Australians overseas. For Sri Lanka especially, with the ban on social media following the attacks, people turned to us to check on the safety of their loved ones.
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 child abduction cases.
In 2018–19 we provided assistance in 2,804 welfare cases, down 8% on 2017–18.
This represents an overall decrease of 8% over the past five years.
Top 5 countries for welfare cases
- 266 Philippines, up 6%
- 215 Thailand, down 24%
- 174 Indonesia, down 11%
- 149 United States, down 16%
- 107 China (mainland), up 15%
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 2018–19 we provided assistance in 1,572 arrest and immigration detention cases. This is a 2% increase on 2017–18 and an overall increase of 25% over the past five years.
Immigration detention, where Australians are denied entry to a country or have breached visa conditions, accounted for 401 of these cases, a 4% increase on last year. The number of such cases in Thailand increased by 30% from the previous year, as the immigration policy was tightened, particularly with 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, with the Philippines and Indonesia replacing the United Arab Emirates and Japan in the top five countries for arrest and detention cases.
Australians need to know and obey local laws. Relevant advice is on smartraveller.gov.au
Top 5 countries for arrest and detention cases
- 229 United States, down 5%, 111 criminal-related, 118 immigration-related
- 158 Thailand, up 30%, 107 criminal-related, 51 immigration-related
- 123 China, (mainland) up 9%, 116 criminal-related, 7 immigration-related
- 88 Philippines, up 44%, 69 criminal-related, 19 immigration-related
- 67 Indonesia, up 1.5%, 41 criminal-related, 26 immigration-related
The Smartraveller website has detailed guidance for Australians arrested or in prison overseas. smartraveller.gov.au/detained
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 Thailand in 2018–19. This reflects the vigilance of Thai police and immigration officials, and underlines the importance of ensuring travellers check their medication is legal in Thailand.
Top 5 countries for drug-related arrest cases
- 36 Thailand, up 125%
- 22 Japan, up 16%
- 15 China (mainland), down 21%
- 12 Vietnam, down 8%
- 9 Philippines, up 29%
Never carry or consume illegal drugs overseas smartraveller.gov.au/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 2018–19 we managed 379 active imprisonment cases. While this is a slight decrease of 2% on 2017–18, it represents a slight increase of 2% over the past five years.
Fraud and drugs cases accounted for most of these imprisonments.
Top 5 countries for imprisonment cases
- 50 China (mainland), no % change, most were fraud or drug-related
- 45 United States, no % change, almost half were sex offences
- 42 Vietnam ,up 5%, almost all were drug-related
- 31 New Zealand, no % change, most were assault, sexual assault or drug-related
- 27 Indonesia, down 10%, 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 2018–19 we assisted in 525 victims of crime cases. This figure comprised 257 theft cases and 268 assault cases.
There was a 70% drop in theft cases overall, with Spain recording a significant 192% decrease on last year. In 2018–19 the United States and the United Arab Emirates replaced Mexico and Thailand in the top five countries for theft cases. The five-year trend is a significant decrease in theft cases (76%).
However, this drop is partly due to a change in reporting, as we now record passport thefts only when consular assistance is required.
Overall, assault cases remained at the same level as 2017–18. However, assault cases decreased by a quarter in Thailand and by more than half (55%) in Indonesia. This year China (mainland) and Jordan replaced Italy and Fiji in the top five countries for assault cases. Sexual assault cases accounted for 44% of all assault cases (118 cases, down from 128 in 2017–18). Sexual assault cases have increased over the longer term, up by 19% over the past five years.
Top 5 countries for theft cases
- 73 Italy, down 22%
- 16 Spain, down 192%
- 11 Japan, no % change
- 10 United States, no % change
- 10 United Arab Emirates, up 500%
Top 5 countries for assault cases
- 17 Thailand, down 23%
- 13 Indonesia, down 55%
- 12 United States, down 15%
- 12 China (mainland), up 50%
- 11 Jordan, up 267%
We can't investigate crimes committed overseas–local authorities are responsible for 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 2018–19 we issued 2,117,518 passports, which was 2% per cent more than in 2017–18. This brought the total number of Australians holding a valid passport to 14,597,927 as at 30 June 2019, or over 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 you plan to leave a country. Travellers on cruises should take passports, even if no port stops are scheduled, 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 2018–19 a total of 5,728 passports were reported lost or stolen overseas, an increase of 21% on 2017–18.
The most common damage to passports is water damage, from spilt drinks or going through the wash, and torn pages
Passports lost or stolen overseas
- 3,077 passports reported lost, up 25%
- 2,651 passports reported stolen, up 17%
Top 5 countries for lost and stolen passports
To meet immediate travel needs, we may be able to issue emergency replacement passports and travel documents. These are valid for a limited time (12 months maximum). A fee is payable.
In 2018–19 we issued 8,603 emergency passports at overseas posts. This is a slight increase of 2% on 2017–18.
We can also cancel lost or stolen passports so they cannot be misused.
Top 5 countries for emergency passport cases
- United States
- New Zealand
Since January 2019 passport photos have not included glasses, to improve the accuracy of facial matching. When someone applies for a passport, we use face biometrics to check the photo against our database of more than 27 million facial images. This helps keep Australian passports and identities secure.
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 2018–19 our overseas posts processed 112,672 applications for full validity passports. This is a slight increase of 3% on 2017–18.
It is critical to report a lost or stolen Australian passport immediately so it cannot be misused. This can be done online: passports.gov.au
Financial assistance cases
Sometimes emergency situations arise overseas, even for well-prepared travellers. This might include not being able to access money because wallets or credit cards are 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 2018–19 we issued travellers' emergency loans to 149 Australians, down from 180 in 2017–18.
This reflects the longer-term downward trend, with financial assistance cases decreasing by 9.5% over the past five years.
|Total cases of assistance||15,740||12,454||11,880||13,715|
|Total cases of assistance excluding crisis whereabouts||10,737||10,603||9,879||9,122|
ISNN 2205-8842 (print)
ISBN 978-1-74322-520-2 (webpage)
ISBN 978-1-74322-521-9 (pdf)
ISBN 978-1-74322-522-6 (booklet)
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 2018–19.
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 and the Department of Home Affairs.
Consular Emergency Centre (24/7)
+61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
1300 555 135 from within Australia
+61 421 269 080 for SMS
Australian embassies and consulates
Enquires about this publication
First Assistant Secretary
Consular and Crisis Management Division
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade