Your Rights and your Limitations when Travelling Abroad

When travelling abroad, your rights and limitations are governed by the laws of the country in which you are travelling. As a traveler, you are a guest in another country. Even if an action would be legal at home, the laws of your own country do not apply outside its borders.

Health care

Your health insurance may not fully cover you when you are outside the country. Even where it does, there may be a critical delay between when you need the funds and when your provider reimburses you. There are often special insurance rules for when you reach your 18th or 26th birthday, which may also affect your coverage abroad.

If you have a health emergency and need to see a doctor, he may not speak English. You do not have the right to insist on seeing a doctor who can speak English. However, you can ask in advance at your hotel for a list of doctors who speak English.

The price and quality of medical treatment may vary from country to country. Each country sets its own standards for medical qualification. They may not be up to the standards you are used to. Medical travelers, beware.

The price and even quality of prescription medicine may also vary wildly from country to country. You are safest to bring your own prescription medicine with you, in its own original packaging, along with a copy and translation of the original prescription.

In countries where there is both a public and private health care system, some doctors may not be affiliated with the public health care system. Other doctors may automatically treat you as a private payer. You may be required to pay in advance. Know your options in advance, and make sure they have been communicated correctly and are being processed correctly.

Check the fine print before leaving. If in doubt, take out a travel health insurance policy for while you are out of the country, starting from the day you leave and ending on the day you return.

Embassy help

You do have the right to seek assistance from your country’s embassy or local consulate. The Foreign Service provides assistance to thousands of travelers every year. However, embassies are guests in other countries. They do not have the right to overrule the local law, although they can help you find legal help if you need it. They will also try to ensure fair treatment under the host country’s laws.

Specific information for U.S. citizens
Specific information for UK citizens
Specific information for Canadian citizens
Specific information for Australian citizens

If your passport is lost or stolen, you can get it replaced at your country’s embassy. However, you will need some way to identify yourself. Always carry at least some of your identification separately from your passport. Make photocopies before you leave home, which can be sent to you by a family member in case of emergency.

Embassies can provide help in a medical emergency. They will usually have a list of local doctors and hospitals, and can assist with translation where necessary. For a serious medical emergency where the appropriate facilities are not available, they can arrange for medical evacuation. In most cases, you will still be expected to pay the costs.

It is wise to register your local contact information with your country’s embassy upon arrival in a foreign country. This information is used to contact you or a family member in your home country, as appropriate, in case of an emergency. That way, if family members are trying to reach you to make sure you are all right, they can do so through the local embassy. Alternately, if local unrest is turning into something more serious, the embassy cannot contact you to evacuate you if they do not know you are in the country.

Not all countries recognize dual citizenship. These countries often do not permit the home embassy to assist travelers with dual citizenship, especially in case of detention or other emergency. You may have little recourse in this case. If you have dual citizenship, check the rules before you leave. Your subsequent travel may be at your own risk.

When there is no embassy

Not all countries share diplomatic relations. Even in these countries, you may not be completely stranded, but your situation could be more difficult.

In the easiest case, your country has a diplomatic agreement with another country which does have an embassy where you are traveling. You can contact this embassy for assistance in the same way you would contact your own country’s embassy.

In several cases, you may be required to contact your country’s embassy in a different country. This is sometimes the case in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. However, your country has probably set up an international telephone number for you to contact the Foreign Service in case of emergencies. These numbers usually permit collect calls.

Your situation may be complicated by the rules of your visa concerning borders. Some countries do not allow you to re-enter that country after you have left it.This used to be very common during the Cold War.

For example, in neighboring countries which have not signed a peace agreement, such as Israel with many of its neighbors, many borders are closed to casual travelers, or only allow passage 1-way. This means that in some cases, you may not be able to take most direct route to your nearest embassy. Although you will probably be able to sort out your immediate needs at your embassy, your inability to return may put a sudden end to your holiday.