How safe is the area you’re travelling to?

Travelling to new places can be exciting but it’s always a good idea to check how safe the area is before you sign on the dotted line. Even if you’ve been somewhere before it’s still important to check as the political situation, entry requirements or health guidelines may have changed.

The best place to look is on the Foreign & Commonwealth (FCO) website which offers foreign travel advice on more than 220 countries and territories around the world.

You simply go to the site, click on the country you’re travelling to and it will tell you some general information on the country as well as if the area is safe to travel to and what to watch out for.

The advice

The FCO website includes advice on:

  • Safety and security including crime levels, travel safety and the political situation in the country.
  • Terrorism – if this is a threat and any recent incidences.
  • Local laws and customs you need to be aware of such as attitudes to minority groups, how to behave in public and documents to keep with you at all times.
  • Entry requirements such as if you need a visa.
  • Health such as any vaccinations you may need, if there are health issues in the country and how to get medical assistance if you fall ill while you’re away.
  • Natural disasters such as if the area is prone to earthquakes or flooding.
  • Money – what the local currency is and if or where credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted.
  • Travel advice help and support – where to get help while you’re away or if you have to cancel your holiday.

You can also find details of the British embassy, high commission or consulate in the area you’re travelling to so that you know where to go in an emergency.

What the advice means

The FCO’s travel advice is based on a number of sources including local knowledge from our embassies abroad and the intelligence services. For some parts of the world it can offer very detailed advice and for others less so.

While the FCO website can provide objective information on the country you’re travelling to the final decision on whether to travel is your personal responsibility.

When the FCO advises against foreign travel

The FCO sometimes advises against all travel or all but essential travel to a particular place.

In the case of non-terrorist threats like coups, civil unrest or natural disasters it will only advise against all travel when it considers the risk to British nationals to be unacceptably high.

In the case of terrorism it will only advise against travel in situations of extreme and imminent danger where it regards the risk to British nationals as severe. This means it does not advise against travelling to every country where there is a risk of terrorists operating, only those where it thinks the threat to British nationals is severe.

If the FCO says only essential travel is advised then it is up to you to decide how essential your travel is. When deciding it’s worth considering how well you know an area and how well you blend in with the locals. The FCO points out that some people may be at greater risk in some places because of their gender, ethnic background or sexuality.

Whatever your circumstances, it’s good to get as much information and advice about the area you plan to visit as you will be personally responsible for your safety.

How travel and airline firms use the FCO advice

Travel companies and airlines often take the FCO advice into account but any decisions on whether to cancel or reschedule flights or holidays are for the travel company and you to decide. The same goes for any refunds which need to be sorted out between you and the airline or travel company.

If you’ve booked a package holiday your travel company must comply with the Package Travel Regulations. Part of this law says you are entitled to a refund or alternative holiday if there has been a significant change since you booked your holiday.

Travel insurance

If you decide to travel to a country where the FCO advises against all, or all but essential travel, check if your travel insurance will cover you as many policies won’t.

If you decide to cancel your trip as a result of FCO advice, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance. Some policies accept claims where you have cancelled your trip because the FCO travel advice on where you’re planning to go has changed since you booked your flight or holiday.

For more on personal safety and how to report a crime, see our guides.