Missing overseas

Australians are travelling overseas in ever-increasing numbers. Each year, on average, 12,000 enquiries are made about Australians overseas who cannot be contacted by their family and/or friends.

Unexpectedly losing contact with a family member or friend who is travelling overseas can be very distressing. This page provides 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.

What can you do?

If you become concerned about a person’s welfare overseas, there are some initial steps you can take:

  • Attempt to phone, text, email or mail the person and their travelling companions.
  • Establish contact with family, friends and travelling companions to ascertain if others may have heard from or had contact with the person.
  • Check social media sites for information and recent updates.
  • Find out from the families of the travelling companions if they have heard from their loved ones.
  • Contact their financial institution(s) (if authorised) to check details of their latest credit/debit card transactions.
  • Contact their last known address or employer seeking information about their possible movements.
  • Contact their travel agent or airline (if authorised) to seek details of their travel arrangements.

There are some important things to remember when you begin trying to locate a person overseas.

  • Remain calm. Most Australians are found safe and well.
  • Gather as much information as possible from your enquiries.
  • Maintain a record of all the information you gather so you can provide comprehensive details, if required, to others assisting to locate the person.

Who can help you?

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:

  • Full name
  • Place and date of birth
  • Passport number (if known)
  • Details of any other citizenship or passports held (if known)
  • Photographs, preferably recent
  • Known travel details and plans, including itineraries
  • Contact details overseas (including the names and contact details of employers and people they have been travelling with)
  • Details about the last contact they made.

What happens next?

Once you’ve lodged a missing persons report, you should speak with your local state or territory police to determine if the report should be lodged with INTERPOL to initiate an investigation overseas. INTERPOL is the world’s largest international police organisation, with 188 member countries, and facilitates cross-border police cooperation.

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:

  • conduct enquiries using Australian embassies, high commissions and consulates to try to locate the whereabouts of the missing person
  • contact and provide information to you on any developments
  • respond to and liaise with media concerning the missing person’s case.

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.

Privacy of consular clients

Any person who receives assistance from Australian consular officials overseas has the right to privacy as an Australian citizen protected by the Privacy Act 1988.

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 but the person decides they don’t want anyone notified, the consular official cannot pass on personal information.

Who else can help you?

Depending on the circumstances, there are several other organisations that may be able to help you search for a missing person overseas.

National Missing Persons Coordination Centre

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).

Australian Red Cross

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.

The Salvation Army

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.

International Social Service

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.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance can significantly reduce the stress on relatives and friends if someone is missing overseas or has been injured, becomes ill, has been hospitalised or has died. Depending on the policy, insurance companies will generally provide advice on and take care of most of the arrangements and costs associated with the hospitalisation, medical evacuation or return of remains to Australia.

Unfortunately, many Australians are still travelling overseas without adequate insurance cover. We strongly recommend that all Australians travelling overseas take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover the costs of hospitalisation and medical treatment should they become ill overseas, as well as costs incurred as a result of death.

Getting help overseas

The Australian Government will do what it can to help Australians in difficulty overseas, but there are limits to what can be done.

Consular services

DFAT provides assistance to Australians who find themselves in trouble overseas. This support is referred to as consular services; 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.

Our 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.

Contact details for Australian missions overseas are available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and in our travel advisories.

Australia has an agreement with Canada to provide consular assistance to Australians in some countries.

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).

Contact your travel insurance provider

Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour assistance centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas or are involved in a medical emergency, you should contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you take your travel insurance policy information and contact numbers with you so you can easily contact your insurer from overseas.

Counselling services

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 counsellor.