Carl Reaich, MFAT Consular Division Manager gives his tips for having a happy, safe, healthy holiday.
What important preparations should Kiwis make before travelling overseas?
Apart from getting your tickets, the most important thing you can do before you head away is to get comprehensive travel insurance. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.
We also encourage people to register their travel and contact details on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's SafeTravel website, and to check the latest travel advice for the places you'll be going to. Other important preparations include:
•Check your passport will be valid throughout your trip. Some countries require passports to be valid 6 months beyond your visit. It's a good idea to take a photo of your passport information page and travel documents and email it to yourself, so you can access a copy.
•Check the website of the embassies or high commissions of the countries you are going to about their visa or entry requirements. For example, do you need a visa to get in? If so, can you get it on arrival or do you need to apply in advance?
•Talk with your travel agent or doctor about any health requirements for the destination – do you need to get any vaccinations or boosters? Also check whether your medication is legal in the places you are going to. Some countries can require people bringing in prescription medicines to have a medical certificate.
•Think about how to access money while you're away, and make sure you have enough to see you through your trip.
Kiwis who have a criminal record can sometimes be refused entry into other countries, regardless of how serious the crime was, or how long ago it was committed. People should contact the immigration authority or embassy of the country they are planning to travel to in order to find out what restrictions apply.
Travelling with children can involve additional preparations, as some countries require the written consent of both parents before children can leave the country. This can involve having a letter of consent from the non-travelling parent, and a copy of the birth certificate. You can find out what's required from the nearest embassy or consulate of the country your child will be travelling to.
What are your recommendations regarding travel insurance?
Travel insurance isn't an optional extra. Getting the right insurance is just as important as sorting your passport or buying your plane tickets. It's vital for every trip, wherever you are going. Make sure that it covers everywhere you are going, and everything you plan to do.
People sometimes think that they don't need insurance because they are just hopping across the Tasman, or they will be on a cruise and the cruise company will look after them. Or they might think that they won't bother with insurance because they are just heading up to the islands for a week. But all it takes is for a scooter accident, or a coral cut to turn bad, and you could find yourself having to be med-evaced back to New Zealand at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
In one case, we had an uninsured Kiwi cruise ship passenger who 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.
It's important to check out the different insurance policy options carefully, and to look at what kinds of activities are excluded. Some policies won't cover participation in sports events or activities such as rock climbing, diving, scooter riding or skiing. People also need to disclose any pre-existing conditions, and see how those conditions can be covered.
MFAT and Consumer magazine have a travel insurance guide which helps people navigate travel insurance issues (https://www.consumer.org.nz/topics/travel-insurance-guide). It provides information on policy types, insurance coverage, personal liability and how to make a successful claim if you get into difficulty while travelling.
Can you explain a little about the Safe Travel register and why it's important, plus examples of where it's proved essential for Kiwi travellers in the past?
People can register their travel details on the Ministry's SafeTravel website, which takes about 5-10 minutes. It means that if there is a major incident overseas we can contact people immediately and confirm their well-being. We can also provide updates about emergencies, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks. It's a voluntary service, and the information provided is kept confidential.
A good example of how we use SafeTravel registration was our response to the Lombok earthquake on 5 August. We had 447 New Zealanders registered as being in Indonesia on 5 August, 9 of whom were registered as being in Lombok. New Zealand consular officials immediately started to track down those 9 registrants, and called and messaged them about their situation.
We often see a spike in registrations when there is a major event, which is fine as people can register anytime, and from anywhere. We ended up receiving enquiries about 70 New Zealanders who were affected by the Lombok earthquakes and who were not initially accounted for. MFAT staff in Indonesia and Wellington worked hard to track them all down, and to liaise with their worried families back in New Zealand. We also deployed consular staff to help with their departure from Indonesia, and to be ready if more help was required.
Finding unregistered people in the aftermath of a major emergency is like finding a needle in a haystack – registering makes the process easier, and helps us to reassure whānau back in New Zealand a lot faster. Best of all is for people to phone home. Family and friends can get extremely worried if they don't hear from a loved one who could be affected by an emergency, so send them a text or a message and let them know you're okay.
Registering on SafeTravel sometimes saves lives. One recent example involved a New Zealander who had travelled overseas to meet an internet bride, who he had been emailing for many months. Unfortunately, he was the victim of a scam which resulted in him losing tens of thousands of dollars. The man was so upset about what had happened that he left a message for his family saying that he was going to take his own life. The family contacted MFAT and asked us to help. While they did not know the man's whereabouts, the man had entered his hotel details on SafeTravel which allowed us to immediately send a New Zealand diplomat and local emergency services to help him. They were able to get him to hospital, where he recovered before later returning to New Zealand.
What are some basic tips to ensure safety when travelling in foreign countries?
Start by doing some research about the places you are going. Find out about local laws, attitudes and customs by checking out what is available on line, talking with people who've been there, and taking a look at the Ministry's travel advisories. MFAT provides travel advice for 135 destinations, which includes up to date information about safety and security risks Kiwi travellers should be aware of. You can access the advisories on the SafeTravel website or on our Facebook page.
It sounds obvious but it's worth stressing that Kiwis overseas are subject to the local law of the country they are travelling in. Local laws in some places might seem harsh by New Zealand standards, but being a Kiwi does not entitle you to special treatment compared with local people. The New Zealand government can't interfere in the judicial process of another country, and flashing the silver fern passport won't get you out of trouble.
Don't 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. So what might be harmless fun in Takapuna could result in a lengthy jail term in Tehran. Mocking the local religion, or letting rip on social media about the limitations of the local authorities, can be an excellent way to broaden your travel experience to include a stay in the local prison.
If things do go wrong, what are the first steps Kiwis should take?
If things go wrong, the first thing to do is to try to get information about what's happened, what your options are, and let people at home know how you are doing. If it's an emergency such as a natural disaster or terrorist event, follow the advice of the local authorities. If you are insured, you should contact your insurer to see what they advise you should do next. They can often advise on things such as where to seek medical treatment, what to do about onward bookings, and how to claim for any lost property. Also find out where the nearest New Zealand embassy or consulate is, and contact them if you need help.
The Ministry's SafeTravel website contains a lot information about what to do when things go wrong, including what to do if you are arrested, if there is a death, if you are in financial difficulties, if you become sick or are injured, if you are the victim of a scam, if you lose property, or are a victim of crime. The website also spells out what the nearest New Zealand embassy or consulate can do to help.
In general, staff at New Zealand embassies can give advice, with the aim of helping you to help yourself. For example, they can help contact family members back in New Zealand; provide a list of English speaking lawyers; help with arrangements following a death; and provide help during crises such as a natural disaster or emergency. Embassy staff cannot pay your bills, provide legal advice, pay your airfare home, investigate crimes or free you from prison, provide a personal mail collection and delivery service, or arrange for Kiwis to get better conditions in prison or hospital than a local citizen would receive.
New Zealanders are intrepid travellers and turn up in some incredible locations. We also get into some difficult predicaments – whether there's been a crash, a coup or a cyclone, there'll usually be two Kiwis caught up in it somehow.
In the last year, New Zealand embassies, high commissions and consulates received 34,676 inquiries from travelling New Zealanders and managed 2,685 consular cases (which included replacing lost or stolen passports, helping victims of crime, assisting people in detention, dealing with deaths and injuries and so on). The Ministry also responded to 34 offshore emergencies, 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), as well as terrorist or mass casualty incidents in Barcelona, Las Vegas, Toronto, London and elsewhere.