Overseas emergency assistance for Australians

Emergency Helicopter in FlightFind out what help is available if you require emergency assistance overseas

Australians involved in emergencies while overseas – whether they’re a victim of robbery or other crime, natural disasters, terrorism, may be eligible for emergency assistance.

Help may be provided by the Australian government and through the emergency cover on your travel insurance policy. This guide explains what kind of government assistance you can access while overseas, and what you should also look for in a travel insurance policy.

What resources are offered by the Australian government?

There are three main types of help you can get from the Australian government while overseas:

  • Consular and embassy assistance
  • Disaster recovery support payments
  • Compensation for victims of terrorism overseas

It is worth familiarising yourself with the assistance that is available from consulate and embassy services before leaving for your trip.

The disaster recovery and terrorism compensation programs provide specific assistance in collaboration with local emergency services and authorities.

Consular and embassy assistance

The map below shows the locations of Australian embassies throughout the world. Embassies can provide assistance in a range of circumstances you may face overseas. If there is no Australian embassy in the country you are travelling in, there will usually be an alternative embassy to provide assistance. For example, there is no Australian embassy in Cuba so the Canadian embassy provides support to travelling Australians.

When can assistance be provided?

  • Issue replacement passports and travel documents
  • Provide details of local doctors and hospitals
  • Provide details of local lawyers and interpreters
  • Visit or contact you if you have been arrested to check on your welfare and see that you are being treated fairly in accordance with local law
  • Provide advice and support in the event of overseas deaths, kidnappings or missing persons cases
  • Make special arrangements in the event of terrorism, civil disturbances or natural disasters
  • Enable you to vote in Australian federal, and some state, elections while overseas
  • Provide witnessing and notarial services, and administer oaths and affirmations
  • Provide small emergency loans in exceptional situations

When can assistance not be provided?

  • Interfere in court proceedings or legal matters
  • Get you out of prison
  • Prevent you from being deported
  • Intervene in immigration or customs matters
  • Post bail or pay fines or legal expenses
  • Give you legal advice, although they may point you to someone who can
  • Carry out searches for missing people
  • Investigate crimes or deaths overseas
  • Pay for medications or psychiatric services
  • Pay your pension or social security benefits
  • Arrange visas, licences, work or residency permits for other countries

In some situations, such as when someone is an Australian resident but not a citizen, or was behaving unreasonably despite not actually violating local laws, the help available may be further limited.

Disaster recovery support payments

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) program can pay benefits to eligible Australian residents who have been adversely affected by a major disaster, whether natural or not, either in Australia or overseas.

The minister for justice must first classify an event as a major disaster, based on the number of individuals affected and how unusual it was. Eligible Australians who have been affected by it may then claim benefits, typically as a one-off, but also in instalments in some cases. Eligible Australians are those who:

  • Have personally been detrimentally affected by the disaster, to an extent determined by the Australian government’s Minister for Justice at the time
  • Are 16 or older and currently receiving a social security payment
  • Are either an Australian resident or the holder of an approved visa, or are otherwise approved

Compensation for victims of terrorism overseas

Eligible Australians affected by major terrorist acts overseas may be eligible for lump-sum compensation payments of up to $75,000, depending on whether they personally suffered loss in the attack or if someone close to them did. Basic eligibility requirements are:

  • You must have been a permanent Australian resident on the day of the attack
  • You were both in close proximity and an immediate eyewitness to the event as it happened
  • You or a partner, child, legal guardian or sibling were harmed (including psychologically) or died as a result of the attack
  • You and your close family members were not involved in the commission or carrying out of the attack

You will also need proof of identity and relevant medical and other documentation to support your claim.

  • Compensation claims by primary victims (those who were personally harmed) must be made within two years of the day the attack was declared by the prime minister.
  • Claims by secondary victims, who had a close family member harmed, must be made within 12 months.

Emergency assistance offered by travel insurance brands

For access to more practical and immediate help while overseas you may need to get in touch with your travel insurance provider instead of the Australian embassy.

All travel insurers should offer a 24-hour, 7-day worldwide helpline.

The main forms of help offered by travel insurance can be found in the policy. Basic travel insurance policies can offer an unlimited level of cover for emergency medical expenses while overseas, including medical repatriation and evacuation, additional expenses including surgery and operating theatre fees, and other costs.

The Australian government specifically advises all travellers to choose travel insurance that includes cover for medical expenses and ideally personal liability as well, because they will not otherwise be covered.

Many travel insurance brands operate emergency assistance programs to help travellers in other ways. It can be a good idea to confirm that your insurer is able to offer key benefits, including:

  • Multilingual customer service teams
  • Help locating your nearest medical facilities
  • Evacuation assistance
  • Help locating the nearest embassy or consulate and understanding the services offered
  • Help staying in touch with your employer or family in the event of an emergency
  • Pre-travel assistance, including vaccinations and understanding other requirements

Typically, you must contact your travel insurance assistance team if you need hospital treatments or know you’ll be making a substantial claim.


When do I need to contact the government or my insurer for assistance?

You should get in touch with the Australian government through an Australian embassy or consulate if you require any of the services they provide, or are otherwise unsure of where to turn.

You should contact your insurer in the event of any claim, but make a point of contacting them as soon as you are able in the event of:

  • Any hospitalisation
  • Expensive medical claims
  • Theft or robbery claims
  • Expensive lost item claims
  • Other high-value claims, complex situations or if you’re unsure of your obligations in line with the insurance policy

What other emergency services might I need to contact?

This will depend on the nature of the emergency.

  • If it’s an emergency you should generally contact the local authorities first
  • Contact local police and obtain a police report in the event of theft
  • Contact your airline or other travel provider in the event of missing luggage, delays or similar
  • If you booked with a travel agent then it might be advisable to contact them regarding delays and rescheduling issues

When you’re not sure where else to turn, the Australian government Help Me tool could assist in directing what your next steps should be.

If you have any insurance claim-related questions, or are unsure of what your next steps are, contact your travel insurance provider’s helpline.

Picture: Shutterstock

William Eve

Will is a personal finance writer for finder.com.au specialising in content on insurance. While he cannot give personal advice to clients, Will enjoys explaining the intricacies of different types of protective cover to help individuals and businesses find affordable cover that won't leave them underinsured.

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