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Top reasons for Kiwi travellers requesting help from New Zealand embassies

Losing a wallet, credit card or passport while overseas was the most common reason for New Zealanders to seek consular assistance in 2018.

But those finding themselves behind bars in a foreign country were the most time-consuming cases for consular officials.

Figures released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) show in the year to June 2018 there were 2500 requests for assistance across New Zealand's network of 58 embassies and consular posts around the world.

The most common requests for assistance were for lost property (564), local immigration difficulties (249), law infringement (234), medical (225), being victim of crime (214), death (182), expired/invalid passport (169) and financial distress (111).

Scams, adoption, surrogacy, terrorist attacks, threat warnings and witnessing marriages each generated a handful of requests.

Most requests for help came from travellers in Australia (360), the United States (281), United Kingdom (158), Thailand (124) and China (122).

It's estimated at any one time there are about 100,000 overseas on short term trips or holidays and about a million New Zealanders living overseas permanently, of which around 650,000 live in Australia.

Who provides the help?

MFAT manager Carl Reaich heads the ministry's 14-person consular division.

He said one of the most common misconceptions about consular staff was they were all New Zealanders who hailed from Wellington. In fact, most were locally employed people.

"There is a really large fabulous team of hardworking people across the entire network who are proficient in the local language. They're really well connected with the local authorities and they do by far the bulk of the work in assisting Kiwis who are travelling overseas.

"People often think they should be talking to a New Zealand voice when the majority of times the people who actually know how to get things done will be locally employed staff."

Travel insurance

Mr Reaich said there had been a number of tragic cases in which New Zealanders had travelled overseas either without comprehensive travel insurance or with exclusions on policies which meant they hadn't been covered.

In some cases they had found themselves in life threatening conditions without insurance.

"Do take out comprehensive travel insurance," he said. "If you can't afford travel insurance then unfortunately our view is that you can't afford to travel."

Terrorism

Only a small number of New Zealanders had been directly affected by terrorism and natural disasters, the risk was always there.

The ministry's Safetravel website contained travel 135 travel advisories with assessment about the security in that country. The ministry worked hard to make them as "relevant and useful as they could," he said.

His advice is to check out the travel advisories on the Ministry's Safetravel website, and register with the site as well, so consular staff can get in contact in an emergency.

"Normal advice would be to stay indoors, whether you're in an Airbnb, or a hotel or staying with friends to stay home. And also to try and follow local media in terms of what's happening where things are happening and to follow the advice of the local authorities," he said.

Law infringement

The ministry does not record what people are detained for, but Mr Reaich said most cases that come to their attention related to immigration status, either overstaying their visas or not complying with the terms of their visa.

If people were detained, consular staff would ensure the person had a lawyer, if needed, and was treated fairly and reasonably.

Mr Reaich said MFAT'S response depended on where the New Zealander was being detained. If the country had prison standards similar to New Zealand, and unless the individual asks them to become more closely involved, the process would take its course.

If conditions were known to be worse than New Zealand MFAT staff will typically visit the individual, periodically, if they wanted to be visited.

"We expect that New Zealanders will not be treated worse than local people. Equally, we don't expect that New Zealanders will necessarily be treated better than local people, so we wouldn't insist that they get a nicer cell or better meals than local people. Our concern would be if they're being treated worse," he said.

Mr Reaich said from time to time they did perceive a New Zealander was being unfairly treated. In that case they raised it first with the prison. If that wasn't successful they would raise it with the foreign ministry of that country or through the embassy in New Zealand, although he said such cases were rare.

Financial distress

Mr Reaich said there was a common misconception that there was a large pot of money to help cash-strapped New Zealanders overseas.

Unfortunately that wasn't the case.

"New Zealanders overseas don't have a right or entitlement to government money, simply due to the fact that they are New Zealanders.

Mr Reaich says consular staff would put a person in contact with support networks, friends or whanau in New Zealand to help facilitate bank transfers. They could also provide information for support groups or networks in the country, such as Gamblers Anonymous or budgeting services.

Bereavement

On average, the ministry dealt with about 180 cases of New Zealanders dying overseas each year.

The ministry provides information to bereaved families about the repatriating remains.

That can vary depending on where someone died and local customs, Mr Reaich said. For example, in Islamic countries, bodies are traditionally interred very quickly.

He said it was possible to bring ashes or a body back on a commercial flight, but it was important to have the right documentation.

Mr Reaich said the ministry had an excellent relationship with the Association of Funeral Directors, which could provide advice.

rnz.co.nz

Young woman taking selfie in front of Coliseum, Rome, Italy (file picture).
Young woman taking selfie in front of Coliseum, Rome, Italy (file picture). Source: istock.com