Some of the latest figures released today from the Foreign Office British Behaviour Abroad Report make for encouraging reading. Over the last year arrest cases have decreased by over 10% and drug arrests have fallen by almost 20%. This is a positive step in the right direction.
However, we can't be complacent. In the last year alone (1 April 2010 - 31 March 2011) there were still 5700 arrests of British nationals overseas, which is clearly a cause for concern.
In many cases people simply fail to consider the local laws and customs of the country they are visiting. For example, findings from a consumer survey also launched today by the Foreign Office show that over two thirds (69%) of people in Britain don't find out about the laws of the country they are visiting before they go abroad - putting themselves at risk of unknowingly breaking the law. More worryingly nearly a third (32%) of people are not aware that they will always be prosecuted under local law if they break the law abroad - with 6% of people thinking they will be prosecuted under UK law, 22% thinking it depends on the country they are in and 4% admitted to not knowing at all!
The Foreign Office works hard to remind people of local laws and customs as often they can be very different to British law. For example, many people may not be aware that it is illegal to chew gum in Singapore or that it is an offence to blow your nose in public when you're in Japan. We work hard to warn British nationals about the laws and customs of other countries as it is lack of awareness that often means people get caught out.
Prison conditions in some parts of the world can be very poor, overcrowded and, in some cases, dangerous and sentences can be much tougher than in the UK. It is vital that people are aware of what the Foreign Office can and can't do. People are mistaken if they think the Foreign Office can get you out of jail. We can't, but we will work hard to try and ensure your safety, and that you get a fair trial.
Aside from arrests, the report also shows that there was an increase in the number of Brits hospitalised abroad (3,752 cases), despite fewer people from the UK travelling abroad last year. This is a worry as medical treatment abroad can be very expensive and to avoid being faced with large bills if taken ill or after having an accident, it is vital that people take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy before they go away this summer.
The report also reveals some very interesting country specific information. For example, Spain continues to be the country where most Britons require assistance (4,971 cases) but when you take visitor and resident numbers into account, you are most likely to need consular assistance in the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan. The highest number of hospitalisation cases took place in Spain (1,024), followed by Greece. However, proportionally Brits are most likely to be hospitalised in Thailand.
In total Foreign Office staff handled 19,228 serious consular cases last year. For details on how the Foreign Office can help if you get into trouble abroad, please visit www.fco.gov.uk/travel. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds ensure people can access travel advice on the go and I'd urge people to sign up to make sure they stay fully up to date: www.facebook.com/fcotravel or twitter.com/fcotravel.