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fitfortravel

Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Personal Safety

Travellers are encouraged to research their intended destinations before travel. This should include gathering knowledge of local laws and customs, the current political situation, availability of medical treatment/facilities and any existing travel warnings.

Knowledge of the destination being visited may increase a traveller's awareness of potential risks. This should allow them to prepare in advance of travel, with the aim of reducing risk to their personal safety.

General Risk Management

Travellers should take the following precautionary measures to help stay safe abroad:

  • Check Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for travel safety warnings, details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate and information on local laws and customs.
  • Try to find out as much as possible about the availability and standard of medical treatment/facilities in intended areas of travel.
  • Ensure travel insurance includes cover for accidents, emergency medical treatment and repatriation. Always declare any underlying medical conditions that you may have and any medications (including over-the-counter) that you take, to your travel insurer. For further information on travel insurance please refer to the Travel Insurance advice sheet.
  • Take a photocopy of passport and/or other important documents such as travel tickets and consider storing details online using a secure data storage site.
  • Tell a trusted person your intended itinerary; give them your contact details and insurance policy details.
  • Carry next of kin details.

Personal Safety (Mugging, Theft, Assault)

Criminals may view travellers as wealthy, easy targets who are unfamiliar with local culture and unsure about seeking help. If travellers are aware of the risk of mugging, thefts and assault, it may change behaviour and lead to overall harm reduction.

  • Low and middle-income countries have the highest rates of violent assault; if possible avoid travelling alone, avoid travelling at night, limit alcohol consumption and avoid illicit drug use. This may reduce your risk of assault. 
  • Trust your instincts; leave if you feel threatened by another person's mood or behaviour, and avoid verbal arguments that could lead to violence. 
  • Wearing culturally appropriate clothing may help avoid unwanted attention. As a general rule tight or skimpy clothing is inappropriate for most countries outside of Europe and North America. Ideally clothing should be conservative and presentable, cover arms and legs when visiting places of worship or national monuments. In some countries it may be appropriate for women to cover hair with a headscarf.
  • Never leave your belongings unattended.
  • If confronted, travellers should give up valuables. Resistance may prove futile and could result in injury. 
  • Remain vigilant to the possibility of muggings during the day as well as at night. 
  • Where possible report incidents of mugging, theft and violence to the police as soon as you can after the event. Insurance companies are likely to require an official incident report before paying out for associated claims.
  • If you choose to report to the police, where possible take a trusted person with you, many people find it is helpful not to be alone. 
  • Be aware of vehicle hijacking; be particularly alert when waiting at traffic lights, make no attempt to resist and keep hands where your attackers can see them.
  • Inspect accommodation before agreeing to stay and where possible, avoid staying on the ground floor. Inspect the quality of locks on all windows and doors. Thieves are less likely to target upper floors of buildings. 

Sexual Assault and Rape

Over the past five years the FCO has observed increasing numbers of travellers seeking consular assistance following sexual assault and rape. Spain had the highest number of reported sexual assaults. Sexual assaults and rapes are known to be underreported; as such the FCO figures may not reflect the true extent of the problem.

Freedom from usual social restraints and increased alcohol/drug use may lead travellers to dropping their usual guard and leave them more vulnerable to sexual assault and rape. Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has produced information about alcohol-related risk behaviours in young holidaymakers.

Travellers should be aware of the risk of sexual assault and rape; precautionary behaviour may help reduce the risk.

  • Find out the location of the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate, they can provide help in the event that you are sexually assaulted or raped. 
  • Remain vigilant; be aware of your surroundings at all times. Knowing where you are and who is around may help you find your way out of a risky situation.
  • Plan how you will get home in advance, enquire about reputable taxi firms and do not accept lifts from people you do not know or trust.
  • If travelling with friends or in a group look out for each other; arriving together, checking-up on each other and leaving together may help keep you safe.
  • If travelling alone avoid situations that may leave you isolated with someone you do not know or trust, tell a trusted person your intended itinerary and arrange a time to check- in with them.
  • Drink responsibly, alcohol impairs judgement and makes you more vulnerable to assault.
  • Reduce the risk of your food and drink being spiked with drugs by avoiding leaving them unattended. Do not accept drinks from people you do not know or trust. If you think you have been spiked consider seeking medical attention, if possible tell a trusted person and ask them to take you to a safe place.
  • Follow your instincts and seek help if you feel uncomfortable, scared or pressured by someone's behaviour.

If you are Sexually Assaulted or Raped Abroad:

Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone, of any age and background; it may be extremely traumatic and could be even more difficult to deal with if it occurs abroad. Issues such as language barriers and/or lack of awareness about where to get help may leave victims more vulnerable.

  • Get to a safe place as soon as you are able, if possible somewhere there is people that you trust. 
  • Tell someone about the attack, if possible try to speak to someone you can trust. Sexual assault can leave you feeling powerless, it is important to feel in control and feel empowered to make decisions that are right for you. 
  • Seek assistance from the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate; all of their offices operate an answer phone service which gives an emergency contact number. The British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate can help you contact family and/or friends, provide a list of medical facilities with English speaking doctors (if available) and help you report the crime to the local police should you choose to do so. 
  • If you require medical treatment you may need to provide details of your travel insurance policy, and if in Europe your European Health Insurance Card.
  • Cultural attitudes towards sexual assault and rape may vary greatly in different countries and this could affect how a case is dealt with, this may impact your decision to report the crime to the local police. 
  • If you choose to report to the police, where possible take a trusted person with you, many people find it is helpful not to be alone. 
  • The British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate will provide assistance regardless of whether you decide to report to the police or not. 
  • In many countries, the crime must be reported prior to leaving in order for a criminal investigation to be opened, if you wait until your return to the UK an investigation may not be opened. Your travel insurance may require a crime reference number.
  • If you decide to report to the police try to do so as soon as possible, if you can avoid washing and changing clothes, this may help preserve forensic evidence. 
  • The trauma of sexual assault and rape affects people in different ways and you may experience a range of emotions such as fear, anger, guilt or shame. Emotional responses may be experienced soon after the assault or they may develop later, both are normal reactions to trauma and you should consider seeking help from a counsellor and/or support group if you need this. 

Further Information

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