DFAT's trouble hotspots: The top reasons why Australians get into trouble overseas

Where are Australians most likely to run into trouble overseas? Most likely to require hospital treatment? Most likely to lose their passport - and most likely to end up in prison?

All this and more is laid bare in Consular State of Play 2016-17, published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This 20-page document is a wrap-up of the reasons Australian travellers turn to DFAT for assistance, based on information collected from Australia's overseas diplomatic missions, and it's a lively read.

In 2016-17 Australia's embassies, consulates, high commissions, honorary consuls and the Canadian missions with whom Australia shares some consular services provided assistance to 12,454 Australians overseas. That's slightly more than one case for every 1000 Australian international travellers.

The most common reason for assistance was "welfare", which accounted for almost a quarter of all cases. According to a DFAT spokesperson, "Welfare cases are those which include, but are not limited to, Australians seeking assistance on legal matters/victims of scams, illness (including mental health concerns, and accidents not resulting in hospitalisation), and a variety of family matters."

The second most common reason for consular assistance was "whereabouts" enquiries. Out of a total of 2546 whereabouts enquiries, over 70 per cent were crisis cases, tracing the location of Australians potentially caught up in emergencies such as the attempted coup in Turkey and the terrorist attacks that took place in Nice in July 2016 and London in June 2017.

That total is only about half the number of whereabouts inquiries generated the previous year, resulting from five International emergencies including tropical cyclone Winston.

In third place, hospitalisation, with 1701 Australians requiring hospital treatment. The country where the greatest number of Australians required hospital treatment was Thailand, with 195 cases. Second was Indonesia with 155 hospitalisations. The USA recorded 117 but fourth place went to New Caledonia with 103, which is astonishing considering that only about 25,000 Australians travelled there in 2016-17.

These figures suggest that slightly more than one out of every 10,000 Australians who visited the USA required hospitalisation, while in New Caledonia the figure was more than 40 per 10,000. Too much pate de fois gras perhap? . Actually, according to DFAT it's the huge popularity in cruising that is to blame.

"The surge in cases in New Caledonia reflects the growing popularity of cruise tourism in the Pacific, with an older demographic more vulnerable to illness or accident", the report said.


Not everyone who ends up in hospital in a foreign country is going to come to the attention of DFAT.

The next most common reason for consular assistance was answering the cry of help from those who found themselves behind bars, the floor-to-ceiling kind rather than the double-scotch version. Australia's overseas missions assisted 1641 Australians who were fell foul of the law while overseas, a jump of 6 per cent over the previous year. About a quarter of those were immigration-related – Australians who were denied entry or who breached their visa conditions. Those offenders were not likely to serve a lengthy prison sentence but that was an increase of 14 per cent over the previous year.

Most of the arrest and detention cases occurred in the USA, where Australians notched up 116 immigration-related offences and 169 other legal infringements, a bump of 11 per cent on the year before. In second place on the legal-problem ladder was the United Arab Emirates, where there were 28 immigration-related cases, up by 27 per cent on 2015-16, and 76 law enforcement cases.

That's out of proportion when measured against the number of Australians visiting the UAE, but not when you consider that some of the more extreme strictures that apply. Even installing a satellite dish on your dwelling without permission, keeping alcohol at home or using a SIM card that enables you to make cheap international calls can land you in the clink.

Overall, the number of Australians who received DFAT assistance for a prison sentence was far less than those who required assistance for non-custodial cases. The country where the greatest number of Australians ended up in the slammer was the USA, with a total of 52. Not too terrible when you consider the USA is the third most popular destination for Australians travelling overseas, but almost half those cases were for sex offences.

The USA also recorded the highest number of Australians arrested for drug-related offences, a total of 16, followed by Thailand and the UAE with 13 each and China and the Philippines each with 12.

Of the 50 Australians imprisoned in China, a high proportion were there for fraud offences. A total of 34 Australians ended up in jail in Vietnam, and that's a high number considering that Vietnam sees only about a quarter of the number of Aussies who visit the USA. Just 25 Australians were jailed in New Zealand, for sex assault, drugs and theft, a modest total considering that NZ is our number one destination, with more than 1.3million visits from Australian residents in 2016-17.

A total of 2108 Australians reported having their passport stolen overseas. That happened most frequently in Italy, followed by the USA, Indonesia and France.

Smartraveller is the website where the Australian Government posts country-by-country travel advice and in 2016-17 the website recorded closer to 20 million page views. The data for each country indicates where travellers might have security concerns, and in number one spot was Thailand with 389,000 page views, closely followed by Indonesia with the USA and Vietnam trailing. In fifth spot was France, a reflection of the fear engendered by the country's ongoing terrorist attacks.

See also: If you said you were coming here years ago, you'd be called crazy

See also: Three amazing countries tourists won't visit

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