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Understanding FCO Advice

From the MD's Desk...

We often talk about “FCO advice” – most recently we’ve had advice against all travel to Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands due to damage caused by Hurricane Dorian (still in place) and following terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka advice against travel was issued. This has since been lifted.

It is important to bear in mind that the FCO will only change travel advice if they believe that UK nationals are a target - that’s not just being unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There have been many terrorist attacks (Paris, Nice, Brussels airport to name a few) where advice has not been changed to “all but essential travel” or “do not travel” and instead the advice has been to follow instructions of the local authorities. You can imagine the diplomatic fall-out of the UK saying don’t travel to Paris…which also explains why it takes a number of days for advice to change: 11 days after the attack in Sousse, 5 days for Sharm el Sheik, 4 days for Sri Lanka, etc.

What would happen if you had already booked to visit one of those destinations when advice against travel was issued? And did you know that this advice can affect not only your travel plans but your travel insurance too? Let’s take a closer look at how it all works.

 

About the FCO

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is one of 25 Ministerial Departments and promotes the UK’s interests overseas, supporting UK nationals and  businesses around the globe.

A core function of the FCO is to provide consular services around the world, this includes assisting UK nationals when they travel or live abroad. This can include helping someone to get in touch with family back home, make contact with their travel insurance provider in an emergency, or assisting with lost passports and other documents.

 

Travel Advice

In the travel insurance industry, we encounter the FCO frequently as this is the department responsible for providing international travel advice.

This involves in-depth research and results in some of the best travel information available, with regular advice and updates on safety around the world. The information relates to terrorism, hazardous weather, political situations, and anything else that could pose a risk or be important information that you need to be aware of before you travel to a country. You can check our blog for regular summaries of FCO notifications that may affect popular destinations. 

Each country or territory is allocated a terrorism threat level, which provides additional guidance. Threat levels may increase immediately after an attack has taken place but can also be affected by other events or information.

Using all information available, the FCO will sometimes issue advice against travel, or advice against all but essential travel, to a country, city, or region.

 

Why advice against travel is so important

Advice against travel (or all but essential travel) is not given lightly, and it means that the FCO believes there’s a serious risk involved in going to that location. You really should not ignore this advice, ever.

  • If you ignore advice against all travel or against all but essential travel, and go anyway, most travel insurance policies will become invalid.
  • If there’s advice against travel to an area and you run into trouble, the British Government may not be able to assist, or assistance could take a long time.
  • In such cases, it may be difficult for you to find medical or other assistance.

Advice can be issued for an entire country or for specific areas only, so check carefully whether your destination is in fact affected. For example, some areas of Turkey have advice against travel – such as the zone close to the Syrian border – but this does not affect Istanbul or most holiday resort areas.

If advice against travel is issued for an airport but not for the surrounding area, you can still visit that area using other means of transportation. In Egypt, advice against all but essential travel is in place for air travel to or from Sharm el Sheikh, but it is ok to get there by road, rail or sea.

 

How FCO advice can affect your travel plans

The objective of FCO advice is to keep you safe. Even if you desperately wanted to go somewhere, it simply isn’t worth ignoring that advice, and there’s a good chance you wouldn’t have a very pleasant trip anyway.

  1. If you want to go somewhere but haven’t booked yet when advice against travel is issued:

Find another destination – simple as that. Most travel agents and tour operators won’t book a trip if this is the case, and transport will be extremely limited or unavailable.

  1. If advice against travel is issued for your destination after you have booked a trip:

Package trip providers and airlines in the EU are governed by EU Package Travel Regulations. If advice against travel is issued for your destination, the provider must change your trip to an equivalent alternative, or give you a refund.

Other non-package travel providers based outside the EU are not subject to these regulations, and it’s up to them to decide whether or not to provide an alternative or a refund. An example being if you book an internal flight within the USA directly with a USA provider.

  1. If you’re already at your destination and there’s an act of terrorism or another incident which causes the FCO to issue advice against travel:

You’ll need to leave the area as soon as possible. Again, package travel suppliers must help with this and provide a refund or alternative for the unused part of your trip, but other providers can decide what to offer.

Does your travel insurance policy cover things like natural catastrophes or terrorism, and would it get you home if you were already travelling? This cover is often limited or excluded so check your policy wording carefully. We have some great standard cover for cruise insurance and optional “extra peace of mind” for general travel insurance policies*.

 

Please remember, it’s not the FCO’s job to get you home if you’re in an area affected by terrorism or other risks. They can help you make contact with your travel insurance provider or someone back home through their consular services, and help you to make arrangements to get home.

The FCO advises ALL travellers to ensure that they have appropriate travel insurance for every trip. Please heed their advice, make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance for yourself and your destination, and enjoy peace of mind wherever and whenever you travel.

For more information about the FCO and to view foreign travel advice, please visit their website

 

*OneStop4: cruise insurance policies automatically include Catastrophe cover of up to £1,500.

You can also add Extra Peace Of Mind* to our non-cruise policies.

This adds a range of benefits, including cover for up to £1,500 for Catastrophe; (cancellation or curtailment in case of fire, flood, earthquake, explosion, tsunami, volcanic eruption, landslide, avalanche, hurricane, cyclone or storm); on top of your elected cancellation/curtailment limit and it also covers cancellation if there’s an act of terrorism within 40 miles of your destination, up to 6 weeks before you depart, thus allowing you to be “disinclined to travel”.

Please read your policy wording for full details, Ts+Cs and exclusions.