By Sarah Mills, ninemsn Money
International travel can be an incredibly rewarding experience but it is also fraught with potential problems. While the 25,000 Australians who experience difficulties overseas each year represent just 0.6 percent of the travelling population, mishaps can be extremely expensive.
Disasters range from losing travellers cheques and credit cards to being robbed, losing passports, missing flights, hospitalisation from accidents and illness and even arrests.
Following are a few tips for extricating yourself from difficult situations.
The first step is to document all information, such as:
- travellers cheque numbers and emergency phone numbers
- credit card numbers, expiry dates and emergency phone numbers
- travel insurance emergency phone numbers
- consular details
- flight numbers
- e-mail receipts
Put these in an e-mail, print a copy to take with you and e-mail a soft copy to yourself and a trusted family member before you leave. That way, if anything happens to your hard copy, you have a backup.
If you need to claim on travel insurance or lose your air ticket, you can retrieve the information from any Internet café. You will also need photo identification and your passport in most instances as proof of identity.
Travellers should also register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Travel before leaving Australia and provide contact numbers and addresses in the case of an emergency. This is particularly advisable when travelling in volatile countries.
Travel insurance is highly advisable and can be purchased online. It usually covers medical costs, lost luggage, flight cancellations, personal effects and personal liability. There are exclusions, so check the policy carefully.
Typically, insurers can be contacted by their emergency phone numbers and accept warranty cards, photographic evidence, manuals, receipts, bank or credit card statements as proof of payment/identity when you make a claim.
Lost or stolen credit cards
If your credit cards are lost or stolen, call the issuer immediately on the overseas travel line provided. The lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you lose your copy of the number and don't have a backup, it will be posted on the issuers' websites. If the card is stolen, contact the local police after calling the issuer.
Emergency card replacements are available from most credit card providers for a fee it is worth exploring fees and card policies before you leave. Mastercard and Visa issue emergency cards from their offices around the world and in some cases offer a cash advance. Photo identification is usually required. The standard replacement fee ranges from $50 to $200 (if you opt to receive a card via courier). Otherwise, the standard issue time is five working days.
Many cards have global security trackers and can detect if your card is being used in another country. It is worth contacting your bank beforehand and advising them of your travel plans if you want to avoid an unexpected cancellation and also to notify you in the event of unusual transactions.
Travellers cheques can be purchased from banks or standard issuers such as Thomas Cook or American Express. Each cheque will have its own number. Store these cheque numbers, along with the issuer's emergency telephone number, in a separate place to your cheques or on an e-mail.
If you lose your cheques, simply call the issuer and its representative will cancel the cheques immediately and direct you to the nearest cheque issuer where you will be required to provide passport identification before taking receipt of new cheques.
These days, passports can usually be replaced within 24 hours.
You are legally required to report a lost, stolen or damaged passport immediately. You can do this by either advising the government online at http://www.australia.gov.au/Australians_Overseas or by calling the 24-hour consular hotline on 61 2 6262 3305 or 61 1300 555 135. You will need your passport number and expiry date.
It will be cancelled permanently and you will not be able to travel with it should you find it. If you do find your passport after reporting it missing, do not use it. This is an offence and can incur a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of $110,000 or both.
One of the most expensive mishaps overseas is a medical emergency. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs website:
- Daily hospitalisation costs in south-east Asia exceed $800
- A stay in the general ward in Noumea's main hospital costs $1500 a night while a day in intensive care starts at $3000
- The return of a dead body from Europe can cost $10,000
- Medical evacuations from the US range between $75,000 and $90,000 and can hit $300,000
Travellers not covered by insurance are personally liable for any costs they incur and some have been bankrupted. Insurance usually covers medical expenses, medical evacuation, cancellation costs, funeral expenses, emergency dental treatment, luggage and personal affects and personal liability.
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In these instances you just show your passport or Medicare card to the hospital.
However, these agreements are not a substitute for travel insurance. If a problem occurs while travelling to or from one of these countries, the agreements are void. Nor will they cover you if a doctor recommends medical evacuation back to Australia.
In the event of hospitalisation, you would contact your insurer's emergency service immediately to notify them of the situation. If it is not an emergency, you would be expected to pay upfront and claim online.
Most insurers cover you if your flight is cancelled, you are denied boarding or if you experience delays of a certain duration or that result in missed connecting flights. Limits usually apply to the compensation, so check the policies before purchase.
If you choose not to take insurance, you still have an opportunity to recoup your losses if you are travelling in Europe or the US. European and US laws entitle travellers to compensation when the delay is within the company's control. Such instances include safety and maintenance issues, lack of flight crew or ''bumping'' resulting from oversold flights.
You are not entitled to compensation if the flight is delayed because of bad weather, terrorism or factors outside the airline's control.
It is important to know your rights because often the airlines in these countries will not be forthcoming with assistance. Should you encounter problems, quote the Rule 240 in the US and Passenger Rights Laws in Europe.
In terms of compensation, you are entitled to accommodation and meals and phone calls for extended delays. The airline should book you on the next available flight. If there is none available, they must book you on another carrier. If you opt not to fly, you should receive a refund for the unused portion of your ticket.
Try and confirm your itinerary 24 hours before departure, particularly if you are catching a connecting flight with a separate airline, as it can be more difficult to recoup your losses in these circumstances.
Carry flight timetables with you wherever possible. If an airline does not have another flight leaving soon, they are required to book you on a competing airline that does offer a flight. With timetables at the ready, you are armed with the information you need to secure a seat.
Timetables also come in handy when trying to avoid the long queues of those trying to rebook a flight manually. Find an Internet café and book online or call your airline, travel agent or friend and ask them to rebook for you it will be done in a jiffy, ensuring you get the first seats available while keeping out of the queues.
Being arrested overseas, wrongfully or otherwise, can be a traveller's worst nightmare. About 750 Australians are arrested overseas each year and if this happens to you, contact the local Australian embassy, consulate or High Commission.
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