The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has made us all think about how to travel safely and about the possibility of falling ill or experiencing some other type of emergency while abroad. The question of what to do and who to call can even become a matter of life and death in the most extreme of cases, and in all cases is always key to managing an emergency successfully, whether life-threatening or not. So, what should you do if you are outside Canada and you face an emergency?
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has made us all think about how to travel safely and about the possibility of falling ill or experiencing some other type of emergency while abroad. The question of what to do and who to call can even become a matter of life and death in the most extreme of cases, and in all cases is always key to managing an emergency successfully, whether life-threatening or not.
So, what should you do if you are outside Canada and you face an emergency?
Let’s go through the process, step by step, to give a basic guide on how to prepare before you travel, and then how to handle an emergency once you’re abroad.
Before you get on the plane to paradise
- Check the travel health notices here at the Canadian government’s web page on travelling abroad here. Aside from travel health notices, you will information on travel advice and advisories (which might deal with political or social unrest in certain destinations or information on natural disasters) to information on how to ensure children who travel are safe, to information on registration of Canadians abroad, along with other useful information.
- If you are going to be living abroad for any length of time, you should always register at the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate. Go here for more information on how to register when staying abroad. The Canadian government recommends registering even when you are only going on a vacation.
- Scroll down to the two green buttons and use the LHS button to register online and the RHS button to access your registration later on once you have already registered.
- You can also register in person while abroad by going directly to a Canadian government office nearest you. Go here for a list of embassies and consulates around the world.
- Having searched the list of Canadian embassies and consulates, you should now know the nearest embassy/consulate to where you will be staying, in case an emergency arises when you travel.
What services do consulates and/or embassies offer?
In the case of an emergency, like for example an arrest or your getting sick while abroad, you should either contact your nearest Canadian government office or contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
Remember, the Emergency Watch and Response Centre (EWRC) is meant for Canadians needing emergency consular assistance. It does NOT offer assistance with normal immigration matters and ONLY deals with providing assistance in emergency situations.
EWRC Contact information:
- The email for the EWRC is: [email protected].
- The emergency contact form can be found here. Fill in as much of the information fields as you can, including the required ones, and click on the Submit button at the bottom of the page.
- You can also call the following number from outside Canada: 1-613-996-8885.
- You can send a text message (SMS) to the following number (charges apply): 613-209-1233.
Remember that if you go to the nearest consulate/embassy for consular assistance, each case is assessed on its own merits and circumstances. There are limits to the assistance a consular officer can give you. Remember that if you wish to visit the nearest consulate/embassy they will have their hours of operation listed at their specific webpage. Go here to find the webpage of the nearest government of Canada office where you can find their hours of operation. If the consulate is closed for the day, you can phone or email or fill out a webform online at the ERWC as detailed above.
As well, you should realize that any assistance that can be provided is limited by the laws and regulations of the country you are staying in.
Here are services a Canadian consulate CAN provide:
- Provide a list of local doctors and hospitals in a medical emergency
- Provide advice and local contact information for police and medical services for victims of crimes like robbery, sexual assault or other violent crimes
- Provide assistance in cases of missing persons or child abduction
- Replace a lost, stolen, or damaged passport
- Contact friends or relatives so they can send you money or travel tickets
- Transfer funds in urgent situations where all other options have been tried
- Contact next of kin if you have been arrested or had an accident
- Provide assistance to repatriate remains of loved one back to Canada
- Help with funeral arrangements for a death abroad
- Request information in event of suspicious circumstances surrounding a death or crime (does NOT include interfering in the legal process abroad)
- Contact friends and family on your behalf (with prior authorization)
- Provide a list of local lawyers
- Provide sources of information on local laws and regulations.
Here are services a Canadian consulate CANNOT provide:
- Guarantee your safety and security when you’re abroad
- Post bail, pay your legal fees, cover your medical expenses
- Reimburse you for hotel costs or other unexpected expenses
- Provide legal advice or interfere in financial estate disputes
- Get you out of prison
- Intercede with foreign officials to allow to leave or enter a country
- Solve immigration related problems such as overstaying a travel visa
- Collect fingerprints or check criminal records
- Help you find work, accept mail on your behalf, store personal effects or search for lost items
- Perform investigations into crimes or deaths abroad which are instead handled by local authorities
- Ask local authorities to give you preferential treatment
- Take possession of a child abducted by a parent.
You are ultimately responsible for your health and safety
As you can see from the above list of services provided and services NOT available, you cannot expect a consulate to behave like a scene from a film where they provide shelter for you in case of a health emergency like the coronavirus COVID-19, for example. They can provide with a list of doctors and/or hospitals you can use, for example. But it is vital to understand that you as a traveller have a responsibility to take precautions before and during your trip. Here’s what Canadian authorities recommend you do:
- Get Travel Insurance before you go on any trip abroad. Your travel insurance should include:
- Health insurance
- Life insurance
- Disability insurance
- Medical evacuation provisions
- Understand you are responsible for making safe choices when you travel, including ensuring you have sufficient funds – or have access to them – for any unplanned event like a health emergency.
- Try to solve problems yourself before going to the consulate which in these times of a pandemic may be overwhelmed with demands for their services.
- Go here to check on travel advice and advisories for the country(s) you will be visiting.
- Go here to get the Travel Smart app for your cellphone.
- Try to keep contact information on your person when travelling so next of kin or other contacts can be notified in event of an emergency.
- As we’ve mentioned before, go here to find the nearest embassy/consulate in the country(s) you are going to visit.
Finally, we’ve put together a table with some of the countries most affected by COVID-19 coronavirus. Please note that this is a rapidly changing situation and in the near to immediate future more countries may be added to this list. We are sharing what the government of Canada is currently advising travellers to do in these countries, but you should always do your own research before travelling abroad given the current global situation.
|Italy||Avoid non-essential travel||Widespread quarantine in place with travel restrictions due to coronavirus outbreak in the country.|
|South Korea||Exercise high degree of caution||Regional advisories: Avoid non-essential travel to the cities of Daegu & Cheongdo due to coronavirus outbreaks in those places.|
|United States||Exercise normal security precautions||While emergencies have been declared in at least 9 states in the USA so far, the total number of cases is still very low and the fatalities so far are a very small percentage compared to fatalities from auto accidents, for example. The situation could change in the near future, of course.|
|China||Avoid non-essential travel||Avoid ALL travel to the province of Hubei due to travel restrictions currently in place to deal with coronavirus.|
|Japan||Exercise a high degree of caution||Japan has experienced a relatively high number of coronavirus cases and travelers should take this into consideration, avoiding large crowds or close contact with other people as well as using personal hygiene (like carefully washing your hands).|
|Hong Kong||Exercise a high degree of caution||The high degree of caution is due to political protests. As far as the coronavirus risk is concerned, the travel advisory is to practice the usual precautions.|
|Singapore||Exercise normal security precautions||Singapore has so far managed to handle the crisis well, but again this may change at any time.|
|Iran||Avoid ALL travel||Due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak, you may have problems leaving the country and be stuck there for some time.|
Once again, this information is constantly being updated and the list of countries that you should avoid essential or even all travel to is likely to grow over the coming days and weeks. Make sure you check back with us, or with government of Canada travel websites to plan any trip you may have.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.