Our help for New Zealanders overseas
On any given day, more than 100,000 New Zealanders are out of the country on holidays, business travel or other short-term trips. That number is growing rapidly. In 2017, New Zealand residents took a record 2.9 million trips overseas, which was 9.3 percent more than in 2016.
More than a million of those trips were to Australia. The next most popular destinations for travelling New Zealanders in 2018-18 were the United States, Fiji, China and the United Kingdom.
There is also a large New Zealand dispora. While estimates vary, as many as one million New Zealanders are believed to live overseas.
Most New Zealanders encounter few serious problems travelling or living overseas. However, things can - and do - go wrong.
In the 2017/18 year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's offshore posts (Embassies, High Commissions, and Consulates) received 34, 842 inquiries from travelling New Zealanders, and opened 2,253 new consular cases. We open a consular case when Ministry staff provide consular assistance to a New Zealander.
Ministry staff also responded to 34 offshore emergencies in 2017/18, ranging from natural disasters (such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean, Tropical Cyclone Gita in the Pacific, earthquakes in Mexico and Indonesia, and volcanoes in Hawaii, Vanuatu and the Philippines), to terrorist or mass casualty incidents (including those in Barcelona, Las Vegas, Toronto, and London).
What is consular assistance?
Consular assistance is help provided by the New Zealand government to a New Zealander travelling or living overseas. It can range from helping people who have been victims of crime, to assisting people in detention, to providing advice to families of New Zealanders who have died in another country.
The Ministry's staff provide consular assistance to New Zealand citizens who are travelling on a New Zealand passport.
The New Zealand government does not usually provide consular assistance to:
- New Zealanders who are also citizens of another country ("dual nationals"), and who are travelling on a foreign passport
- New Zealanders who are also citizens of another country, and who ask for help while living in or visiting that other country
- People who are permanent residents of New Zealand, but who are not New Zealand citizens. Permanent residents are assisted by consular officials from their country of citizenship
Consular cases vary greatly in their complexity and how long they take to resolve. Some are resolved in 20 minutes, while others can last months or years.
The statistics in this snapshot reflect the consular cases managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018.
Check our travel advice
Take out travel insurance
Register with SafeTravel
Check our travel advice
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade produces the New Zealand government's official travel advice which is published on our SafeTravel website.
In the 2017/18 year we published advisories for 128 destinations around the world. We also issued 60 new features, providing information about developing events (such as cyclones brewing) or global issues (like communicable diseases).
Our advice covers security and safety concerns in many destinations. It is based on information from a number of sources. It reflects potential risks, and our assessment of what these might mean for New Zealanders. Our assessment may also take into account actions of local authorities, and our ability to provide New Zealanders with assistance.
The advice is designed to help New Zealanders make informed decisions about travel destinations. We cannot tell New Zealanders what to do, but their travel insurance may be affected by a strong travel warning or the level of our travel advice (particularly if we advice against all travel to a destination). We do not provide advice on all destinations. We focus on those about which we have reliable information on security and safety concerns that may affect New Zealanders.
The SafeTravel website had 1.4 million views in 2017/18. Our most frequently visited page provided information on the Zika virus. We also regularly share updates on our Facebook page, which has around 10,000 followers.
SafeTravel has a wide range of tips to help ensure safety when travelling in foreign countries, what to do if things go wrong, and how the New Zealand government can help if you are in trouble.
Take out travel insurance
We strongly advise New Zealanders to get comprehensive travel insurance before heading away. Insurance is essential for every trip, wherever people are going. Travellers need to make sure that it covers everywhere they are going, everything they plan to do, and any pre-existing medical conditions.
“If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”.
People sometimes think they don’t need insurance because they are just hopping across the Tasman, or they're going on a cruise and they assume the cruise company will look after them. Or they might think they won’t bother with insurance because they are just heading to the Pacific Islands for a week. But all it takes is a scooter accident, or for a coral cut to turn bad, and they can find themselves having to be flown back to New Zealand at a cost of many of thousands of dollars.
In one recent case, an uninsured Kiwi cruise ship passenger became critically ill and ultimately had to pay $60,000 in bills, including the cost of a medical escort to accompany him on the flight home. There are many other recent cases of whānau and friends setting up Givealittle pages to fund the medical or medevac costs of people who are uninsured, or who are not covered due to an exclusion in the insurance policy.
New Zealanders who do not have travel insurance have to pay any overseas medical costs themselves, including the potentially high costs involved in returning to New Zealand.
MFAT and Consumer magazine recently produced a travel insurance guide which helps people navigate travel insurance issues. This provides information on policy types, insurance coverage, personal liability and how to make a successful claim if you get into difficulty while travelling.
Register your details on SafeTravel
New Zealanders heading overseas are encouraged to register their travel details on the SafeTravel website. Registering means we can immediately contact people and check on their well-being if there is a major incident overseas.
We can provide updates about emergencies, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks. We can also use information to contact people if they need consular assistance. SafeTravel registration is voluntary and all information provided remains confidential.
Our response to the Lombok earthquake of 5 August 2018 is a good example of how we use SafeTravel information. At the time of the earthquake, 447 New Zealanders were registered as being in Indonesia, with nine registered as being in Lombok. New Zealand consular staff immediately tracked down those nine people and contacted them about the situation.
As is always the case with serious events, many more people registered on SafeTravel in the hours after the earthquake. We ultimately received enquiries about 70 affected New Zealanders. MFAT staff in Indonesia and Wellington worked hard to track them all down, and to liaise with their families back in New Zealand. We also deployed consular staff to the area to help with their departures from Indonesia.
Most travelling New Zealanders never have any need of consular assistance. Some choose not to contact New Zealand posts offshore even if they do get into difficulty.
The following tables summarise where New Zealanders have sought assistance and a consular case has been established.
Our consular staff posted around the world and in Wellington provide consular advice and assistance to New Zealanders at all times.
Many of New Zealand's Embassies and High Commissions are accredited to more than one country, which means consular staff will work across borders to help New Zealanders in difficulty. For example, our post in Bangkok looks after Cambodia and Laos, as well as Thailand.
Medical cases overseas
In 2017/18 we provided consular assistance to New Zealanders in need of medical help or their families in 209 cases. This was a 17 percent increase on the 2016/17 year.
For advice about how to be healthy when travelling see https://www.safetravel.govt.nz/health-and-travel
When a New Zealander dies overseas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade can help families by:
- providing local advice, including whether burial or cremation are possible in the country where the person has died, or how to go about the process of repatriation of remains or ashes to New Zealand
- advising on approximate costs of the options available
- providing contact details for local funeral directors who can manage the funeral or repatriation arrangements in consultation with the family
In 2017/18, we provided consular assistance in 182 new cases involving the deaths of New Zealanders overseas.
Whereabouts and missing persons
Every year, we hear from New Zealanders who are concerned about the whereabouts of loved ones overseas. Missing persons cases are primarily a matter for the police. New Zealanders travelling or living overseas can help to alleviate the concerns of their friends and family at home by keeping in touch, especially if they are in the vicinity of a major international incident.
Our advice to travellers is to leave a copy of their itinerary, passport, contact and insurance details with their family or friends at home – and to maintain contact with them by phone, email or social media.
New Zealanders concerned about the whereabouts or welfare of a family member or friends overseas should use all possible means (phone, text, email, social media, last known address, including other family members, and friends, banks, travel agents, tour companies or employers.)
If that is unsuccessful, they should contact their local police to report a missing person. We may be able to provide advice and support, but we do not carry out searches for missing people. That is a job for local authorities and police.
Arrests and detentions
New Zealanders overseas are subject to the local law of the country they are travelling in. Local laws in some places can seem harsh by New Zealand standards, but New Zealanders are not entitled to special treatment compared with local people. The New Zealand government cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country.
Travellers should not assume that behaviours that might be acceptable in New Zealand are equally acceptable overseas. For example, some countries have strong religious, social or cultural traditions about things ranging from alcohol use, modesty of dress, to sex and relationships. They sometimes also have strict laws about defamation, possession of any kind of drugs, using obscene language, making rude gestures, or behaving disrespectfully towards the government, the local culture or religion.
Our SafeTravel website has advice about what New Zealanders can do if they are arrested or imprisoned.
Our consular support can include:
- providing a list of local English-speaking lawyers for New Zealanders to select a legal representative and/or provide information about local legal aid
- informing next-of-kin or other relatives/friends of an arrest and seeking any financial assistance from them, if requested
- arranging for the transfer of funds from family or friends for payment of bail or other legal expenses
- depending on the location of the court, attending a final court hearing as an observer
New Zealand consular staff cannot:
- intervene in the judicial process of another country
- have New Zealanders released from detention or imprisonment, or transferred to a prison in New Zealand
- select or appoint a lawyer, provide legal advice or investigate an offence
- pay legal fees, fines or bail, or act as a guarantor for bail or parole
- resolve immigration issues, or make travel arrangements for a deportation, including arranging visas for transits or stopovers.
Number of law infringement consular cases
New Zealanders sometimes contact us after they lose money or credit cards overseas or get into other financial difficulties.
New Zealanders who run out of money overseas are not entitled to financial assistance from the New Zealand government.
We advise people who are in financial difficulties overseas to:
- Have friends, family, or employer transfer money to them overseas through a commercial agency such as Moneygram or Western Union
- Contact their issuing bank/agency to notify lost or stolen credit cards and travellers’ cheques. Most banks have advice, including international free phone numbers
- Ask their credit card company if they can advance funds temporarily
- Arrange a funds transfer through their bank Check their bank's website for international free calling numbers to report losses and to seek assistance
Number of financial consular cases
Lost, stolen or damaged passports
The loss or theft of a passport is a serious matter. The replacement of a passport may take some time while enquiries are made. Standard New Zealand passports are only available through the Department of Internal Affairs passport offices in New Zealand, Sydney and London.
If New Zealanders need to travel urgently, and they are not in New Zealand, Australia, or the United Kingdom, a New Zealand Embassy or High Commission may be able to issue an Emergency Travel Document. More information on Emergency Travel Documents is available on the Safe Travel website.
Where we helped with Emergency Travel Documents
Victims of crime
If New Zealanders are the victims of crime overseas, consular staff may be able to help them report the crime to the local police, find an English-speaking lawyer or locate appropriate medical care or counselling options.
For more information
A comprehensive set of MFAT's 2017/18 consular statistics is available here
We value the privacy of people we give consular advice and assistance to. Any personal information provided to MFAT is protected by law, including the Privacy Act 1993. Information we have received is only used for the provision of consular services. We do not share information with other government or private agencies unless it is necessary to provide consular services.