Travelling overseas can be exciting, rewarding and also stressful. The experience of different environments, unfamiliar customs, language barriers, social isolation, and general uncertainty can increase anxiety and has the potential to exacerbate existing mental health conditions or trigger new mental health concerns.
Drugs, alcohol, dehydration and infection can also radically affect behaviour and mental health.
When this occurs overseas it can be particularly traumatic for the person experiencing mental health issues and for their family and friends.
The Australian Government will do what it can to help families and friends who have a loved one experiencing mental health concerns overseas. However, there are legal and practical limits to what can be done and you should have realistic expectations about this. When Australians travel abroad, they leave behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. In addition, mental health facilities, attitudes and treatment approaches in foreign countries can be very different to those in Australia.
It is also important to understand that if you are subject to an Australian legal order such as a guardianship or mental health order, these have no legal standing in foreign jurisdictions.
Getting travel insurance
Organising travel insurance is an essential part of preparing for your overseas trip. You should be aware that not all insurance companies will provide cover for pre-existing conditions, including mental health conditions. If you are uninsured, or your insurance cover is denied for any reason, you (or your family) are personally responsible for covering any medical or other costs incurred in treating your illness overseas. The Australian Government will not fund your medical treatment overseas or medical evacuation to Australia or a third country.
For more information on travel insurance, including advice on finding an insurance provider that will cover pre-existing medical conditions, see our travel insurance page.
What you can do
- Research your destination, beginning with the travel advice. If there are particular safety and security threats, local customs or health risks at your destination that may trigger mental health concerns for you, you should consider another destination
- Make sure your medication is legal in the countries you are visiting by contacting that country's embassy or consulate
- Talk with your doctor about the implications of your planned travel on your health, and the possible interactions between your medication and other medications you need to take to prepare for your travel, such as anti-malarials
- Carry a letter from your doctor stating what your medication is, how much you will be carrying and that it is for your own personal use
- Take sufficient medication with you for the duration of your trip, including unexpected delays, and keep it in its original packaging. It should be clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions
- Find out whether your medication is available in the countries you are visiting in case you lose your medication or find you have insufficient dosages for your trip
- Ensure you continue to take your medication as prescribed while you're travelling
- Keep a supply in your hand luggage in case your check-in luggage goes missing
- Leave a copy of your medical documentation with a family member or friend in case of an emergency
- Always carry spare medication when going on excursions
- Be aware that alcohol, other drugs or traditional local substances (such as kava) may interact with your regular medication, which can be dangerous for your physical and mental health
- Make sure you have travel insurance that covers any pre-existing medical conditions and make sure it covers the length of your trip
What we may able to do
- Help you contact family or friends with your consent
- Help to connect local treating officials with your Australian doctors
- Provide a list of local mental health practitioners and facilities and, if appropriate, assist in arranging an appointment or voluntary admission
- Provide guidance on how you might access local prescribed medications
- Liaise with local officials to try to arrange local support
- Liaise with your insurance provider with your consent
- If you are hospitalised overseas, visit you in hospital in line with our usual procedures
- Raise any concerns about your treatment or welfare with the responsible authority (such as hospital or prison)
- Provide you with a small emergency loan for genuine emergency situations
What we cannot do
- Prevent you from travelling overseas because of your illness
- Force you to seek medical treatment or hospitalisation
- Force you to return to Australia
- Report you to the local authorities to facilitate your deportation
- Provide or pay for medical or psychiatric services or medications
- Arrange better treatment in hospital than those provided to local people
- Direct a hospital or psychiatric service to vary your treatment or change medical facility
- Pay for medical repatriations to Australia
- Provide translation or interpreter services
- Provide physical protection
- Accept responsibility for the custody of your belongings
- Contact your family, friends, next of kin or Australian physician without your consent
- Guarantee to be able to contact you, or find you, overseas if your family, friends or next of kin have concerns for your welfare
The Consular Services Charter outlines the consular services and assistance that are provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Concerns of suicide or self-harm
We take suicide and self-harm seriously. Our Australian High Commissions, Embassies and Consulates overseas maintain details of local resources that are available for Australian citizens in such circumstances.
In addition to local resources, the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) can transfer your call directly to the Lifeline Crisis Support Hotline or to one of the hotlines listed below. These numbers are generallly not directly available to overseas callers.
- Lifeline - 13 11 14
- Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
- Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800
- NSW - 1800 011 511- Mental Health Line
- VIC - 1300 651 251 - Suicide Help Line
- QLD - 13 43 25 84 - 13 HEALTH
- TAS - 1800 332 388 - Mental Health Services Helpline
- SA - 13 14 65 - Mental Health Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service
- WA - 1800 676 822 - Mental Health Emergency Response Line
- NT - 08 8999 4988 - Top End Mental Health Service
- ACT - 1800 629 354 - Mental Health Triage Service
You can call our Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) at any time on +61 2 6261 3305.
Where the CEC or one of the hotline operators considers there is an imminent risk to your life, health or safety or others, they may request we seek urgent intervention by local authorities overseas.
Getting help overseas
Contact details for Australian missions overseas are available in the 'Where to get help' section of our country travel advice.
Australia has an agreement with Canada to provide consular assistance to Australians in some countries. Contact details for Canadian missions providing consular assistance is also available in our country travel advice.
The 24 hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305.