When trouble raises its head while abroad, Finnish embassies help and guide. One thing you should take into account: They will not give you money or pay your bills. Responsibility for those lies in each traveller individually. The tax payers will not cover your hotel bill.
Only a couple of mouse clicks is needed and the summer holiday is booked. Flights and hotels are compared and considered, but usually travel insurance is only a fleeting afterthought. All the previous travels have gone by without a hitch, but what if...
Matti loses his wallet and passport in a restaurant in Phuket. He asks the embassy for money and a new passport. Passport is soon renewed, but money is something the embassy cannot give. Matti will receive instructions on how his relatives and friends can send him money from home.
Maija falls ill all of a sudden in Tenerife and she needs to be flown back on an emergency evacuation flight. Maija does not have insurance and her daughter cannot afford the costs either. Embassy cannot pay for the flight, but can assist on different payment methods and help with the arrangements for the flight.
Ville gets arrested in Dar es Salaam. His friend asks the embassy for assistance to free Ville. Embassy representative visits Ville, but the embassy cannot get him free, nor can it act as his solicitor. Embassy advices Ville’s friend how to transfer money for the bail and helps secure, not pay, a local solicitor and a translator.
All previous events are fictional, but very realistic and likely to happen sooner or later. Why doesn’t the embassy pay travellers’ expenses or free Finns from trouble even when the need is great? Let us look at what kind of help the embassies can offer. Legation counsellor Teemu Turunen answers to this. He is the leader of the crisis assistance team in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and is the one who makes sure, that if crises occur Finns will be ok.
Expectations are high for the government to step up if the traveller is in a bind. Legally, however, the government is not mandated to pay the traveller’s hotel, hospital or any other bills. Responsibility for those is the traveller’s alone. “It is not fair that Finnish tax payers would have to pay the expenses of those people who do not have travel insurance,” Turunen exclaims. Finnish embassies are tasked with helping and assisting Finns in trouble, not to lend money or pay for hotel.
Travellers have to live by the local laws when abroad. Being a foreigner does not give you special freedoms, and therefore the Finnish government cannot free those arrested abroad.
According to Turunen it is extremely advisable to turn to the embassy in an emergency situation. They know the country and how things work there. They can also provide accurate information on how to operate in an emergency situation. In practice embassies can help with money transfers and contact the next of kin, employer and the insurance company. They can grant passports for the flight home. They can also communicate with the local officials and assist with finding legal representation and translation services.
Finns make 6.5 million holiday trips every year and in the past decade in the embassies consul tasks have doubled. One third of the trips are done without any kind of insurance. According to Turunen that is just silly. Things can happen. Statistically every day one Finn abroad dies, one is hospitalised and five are victims of a crime. “Travellers’ plight might be very taxing both mentally and financially if there is no insurance. Relatives might have to take large loans to help the traveller.” That is why Turunen emphasises the importance of travel insurance. Travellers should also read the travel announcement prepared by the Ministry and notify the local embassy about their holiday.
Since the tsunami in Southeast Asia the Ministry has made significant improvements in their preparations for crisis situations. Today the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has a round the clock duty and an emergency team ready to depart at a moment’s notice. In embassies procedures for potential crisis situations are trained regularly.
Also cooperation between EU countries has improved. “If Finland does not have an embassy in the country, then in an emergency a Finn can seek help from an embassy of any of the Nordic countries or EU countries,” Turunen adds.