Unexpectedly losing contact with a family member or friend who is travelling overseas can be very distressing. This information is designed to provide information about the process to follow if you're concerned about the welfare of a family member or friend overseas or need to get in contact with them urgently.
When Australians travel abroad, they leave behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. The Australian Government will do what it can to help families and friends to contact their loved ones. However, we can only provide this assistance where there is a well-founded concern. There are also legal and practical limits to what can be done and you should have realistic expectations about this.
If you become concerned about a person's welfare overseas, there are some initial steps you can take:
There are some important things to remember when you begin trying to locate a person overseas.
If, after making initial enquiries, you're still unable to locate your loved one or friend and have serious concerns for their safety or welfare, contact your local police station.
You can submit a missing persons report at your local state or territory police station. Depending on the information you provide, your local police will determine if it's necessary to lodge a missing persons report with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra.
For the police to prepare a report, you'll need to provide the following in relation to the missing person:
DFAT will only pursue enquiries that are based on a serious concern for the welfare of an Australian overseas and a belief that the person concerned needs consular assistance. If we assess that the missing person overseas needs consular assistance, we will:
Privacy provisions operating in foreign countries can severely restrict the information provided to consular staff overseas by local law enforcement agencies.
If your missing loved one contacts you after you have commenced formal enquiries, please inform DFAT and the local police immediately.
Personal information provided to DFAT is protected by law, including the Privacy Act 1988. We may collect, use and disclose personal information, including to overseas recipients where we reasonably believe it is necessary, to provide consular assistance. Important information about the privacy of personal information is contained in our Consular Privacy Collection Statement.
Unless consular officials receive the person's consent, they are unable to disclose personal information about them, even to their family or friends, unless this is required by the police, Australian law or a judgment is made that the life or health of the person or another person is being threatened.
Family members should be aware that if a missing person is located by a consular official and they have exercised their free choice to disassociate themselves from friends and family for legitimate reasons, including removing themselves from harmful environments, the consular official cannot pass on personal information.
Depending on the circumstances, there are several other organisations that may be able to help you search for a missing person overseas.
The National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) is located with the Australian Federal Police in Canberra. The centre works with state and territory police services and government and non-government organisations to provide a coordinated approach to locating missing people in Australia and overseas. The centre's role is to facilitate the dissemination and distribution of information to the public via the NMPCC website. Only cases of missing persons that have a signed authority from the next of kin for the use of images and information are provided by state and territory police to the NMPCC. Further information is available from the NMPCC website or by calling 1800 000 634 (toll free).
The International Red Cross/Red Crescent global tracing network reaches out to more than 185 countries to re-establish contact between relatives separated as a result of war, internal conflict or natural disaster. The service is provided free of charge to the public. You can contact the Australian Red Cross Tracing Service on 03 9345 1800. Further information and contact details are available on the Australian Red Cross website.
If you've lost contact with a family member, the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service may be able to help you locate them through their networks in more than 100 countries. A donation is usually accepted for this work. Further information and contact details are available on the Salvation Army website.
The International Social Service traces immediate family members in conjunction with its social work across 150 countries. It requests a contribution towards costs for this work. Further information and contact details are available on the International Social Service website.
DFAT provides assistance to Australians who find themselves in trouble overseas. This support is referred to as consular assistance; however, there are legal and practical limits to what can be done to assist travellers in other countries.
Consular services are provided through our headquarters in Canberra and through Australian embassies, high commissions and consulates.
The Consular Services Charter sets out the standards of service all Australians can expect to receive from consular staff, including what they can and cannot do.
Australia has an agreement with Canada to provide consular assistance to Australians in some countries. Contact details for Canadian missions providing consular assistance to Australians are also available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.
Not all countries have an Australian or Canadian diplomatic or consular post, but there is usually one in the region. Informal arrangements also exist with other consular services, which can lend assistance to Australians in need.
The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can also be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 (local call cost within Australia).
Australians overseas in need of counselling services can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone crisis supporter.