Overseas emergencies

An erupting volcano against a backdrop of smoggy skies.

Emergencies can happen when you are travelling or living overseas. Some natural hazard events are more likely to occur abroad than in the UK. It is important to know what to do in emergencies that might be different from the ones you might expect to face at home. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions.

Safety advice when travelling abroad

  • Check the FCDO country specific advice for travelling abroad, including the latest information on travel warnings, safety and security, health and entry requirements. You can also check this while you are away for any updates. Travel advice is kept under constant review to ensure it reflects the latest assessment of risks to British nationals overseas and how to get help in an emergency.
  • Sign up for FCDO email alerts for updates to any country specific pages before and during trips and follow FCDO Travel social media channels. 
  • Make a note of the emergency phone number(s) in your destination (the equivalent of 999 in the UK). Check the ‘Getting help’ sections on the FCDO country specific pages for this information. 
  • Make note of how to contact the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. If you need to  contact the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) urgently, you can call 24 hours a day on 020 7008 5000.
  • Read about how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can help you if you are affected by a crisis abroad such as a terrorist attack, a natural hazard event such as an earthquake or tsunami, or political unrest.
  • Ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for yourself and those you are travelling with. Make a note of the insurance company’s contact details and your policy number. 
  • Check the healthcare advice for the countries you are visiting, and check what vaccinations you may need at least 8 weeks in advance. 
  • Check the overseas crisis guidance issued by the FCDO for advice on how to prepare for potential crises abroad and how to contact FCDO if you are caught up in an emergency.

Natural hazard events that are more likely to occur abroad


In the event of an earthquake, you should drop to the ground, cover your head and hold on. This can look different depending on where you are:

  • If you are inside a building, stay where you are. Do not go outside or change location. Avoid sheltering under door frames where possible. For example, if you are in bed: turn to your front, cover your head and neck with a pillow. 
  • If you are outside, stay outside and try to stay away from buildings, powerlines and trees. If you are near the ocean, move to higher ground. 
  • If you are driving, pull over and stop where it is safe to do so (ideally away from buildings, powerlines and trees). Do not leave the vehicle.

Smaller earthquakes often follow larger earthquakes in the same or surrounding areas. These are aftershocks. They may be felt for weeks or months after an initial earthquake. Follow local advice regarding evacuation or sheltering in place after an initial earthquake. In the event of an aftershock, carry out the same actions as before: drop, cover, hold.

What is an earthquake?

An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the ground caused by the shifting of rocks deep underneath the earth’s surface. Earthquakes can cause buildings to collapse, fires, tsunamis, landslides or avalanches. They can happen anywhere without warning but some parts of the world are more at risk of earthquakes.

Tropical Cyclones

In the event of a tropical cyclone, follow local advice listening to emergency alerts and information issued by the local authorities.

  • If you are asked to evacuate, do so as soon as possible and take key documents (for example, passport) and necessary supplies (for example, medication) with you. Make your way to emergency shelters if these are available.
  • If you are not told to evacuate but are in an affected area, you should shelter in place. Take refuge where needed in emergency shelters – ensuring that you have your key documents and important belongings such as prescribed medications. If your place of shelter becomes flooded, get as high up as you can in the building but do not climb into attic space where you might get stuck.
  • If you go outside, do not drive or wade through flood waters. If you become trapped, shout for help or use a mobile phone to call for assistance from the emergency services.
What is a tropical cyclone?

Tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones). Tropical cyclones feed on heat that is released when moist air rises. So ‘hurricane season’ happens in the months in which an area of sea is at its warmest. Different countries experience hurricanes and tropical cyclones at different times of the year. You can expect high winds, storm surges (temporary rise in sea level causing flooding) and very heavy rainfall.


  • In the event of a tsunami, you should get to high ground or inland as soon as possible. 
  • You may be alerted through a public announcement or emergency alert sent to your mobile phone.
  •  Follow any instructions immediately. In countries prone to tsunamis, there may be signposted evacuation routes. Follow these routes where available and possible.
  • Wait on higher ground or inland until you are told it is safe to return.

Identifying a tsunami: 

Sometimes you may not get advance warning of a tsunami. If you are travelling to a coastal region, you should know the signs of an incoming tsunami. Always respond as if a tsunami is coming (see above) if you experience any of the following in countries which are are risk of tsunamis:

  • A sudden rise or fall in sea level.
  • A sudden loud or strange noise from the sea.
  • You feel a strong earthquake or earthquake tremors near the sea that make it hard to stand up in. 
What is a tsunami?

Tsunamis are a series of very large ocean waves caused by earthquakes. They can kill or injure people and damage or destroy buildings as waves come in and go out.

Volcanic Eruptions

In the event of a volcanic eruption, follow any guidance and instructions shared to you by local authorities:

  • If you are asked to evacuate, do so as soon as possible and take your key documents (for example, passport) and necessary supplies (for example, medication) with you.
  • If you are not told to evacuate but are in an affected area, you should shelter in place. Close any windows and turn off air conditioning or HVAC systems. Ensure that you have enough basic supplies (including food, necessary medication and bottled water) given power may be affected and water supplies may be contaminated. If you cannot get basic supplies to shelter in place, you may need to evacuate.
  • If you go outside, cover your skin and wear a mask or other face covering, as volcanic ash could irritate your skin and airways.
  • If you are on board or waiting to board a plane, expect for flights to be rerouted or cancelled because volcanic ash is damaging to engines.
What is a volcanic eruption?

A volcano is an opening in the Earth’s crust that allows molten rock, gases and debris to escape to the surface. During a volcanic eruption, lava and other debris can move very fast, destroying everything in their path. Ash can travel long distances and can cause severe health problems.

Further information and resources

The FCDO Travel Aware campaign includes tips on safe travel abroad.