What you can do if someone goes missing abroad

Posted: 19/06/2019

19 June 2019 - RPS Partnership

The British Ministry of Foreign Affairs (FCO) has an interesting article with advice on what to do if a colleague or loved one goes missing abroad. We thought we would share this with you. It is as interesting to note what they will as well as won't do for you and your organisation. It is therefore vital to have good planning and preparation prior to travel, as well as robust policies and procedures for contingencies. We can assist you in writing these.

Please do contact us if you need any advice to travel abroad either as an organisation or as an individual; it's what we do! We can also run training to prepare you for travel overseas, so you can deal with most things that life and travel may throw at you. 

Contact us on [email protected]

This the advice from the British FCO (please contact your own governments if you hold a passport from another country). The link is here.

What you can do if someone goes missing abroad

  • Consider when you were expecting contact from them
  • Consider if their last communication might indicate where they are or why they have not contacted you
  • If they use social media, consider if it has any information that can help to locate or contact them
  • Contact anyone who may know their whereabouts, including friends or family of anyone travelling with them

If after doing this you are still concerned:

1. Report the missing person to the authorities in the country they went missing

Responsibility for searching in other countries rests with the local authorities where they went missing, usually the local police.

You should report the case to the authorities in that country. If you need advice on how to do this, you can contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 24/7 on 020 7008 1500.

In some countries, the process will be different to the UK, including the level of service. For example, they may not accept a missing person report until a certain amount of time has passed. In some countries, they will not accept a report in English so you may have to arrange and pay for a translation.

2. Report the missing person to the UK police

It can help if you file a missing person report with the local police in the UK as well as in the country they went missing. You can do this with the local police where you live, or where the missing person lives in the UK.

You should make a specific request that they inform the National Crime Agency’s Interpol bureau (or the SIRENE bureau if they went missing in the EU or EFTA), which can liaise with the police abroad.

UK police forces do not usually become involved in an investigation in another country. Even where they are ready to, they can only do this at the invitation of the authorities in that country.

3. Contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

You can contact the FCO by phone 24/7 for help or advice from anywhere in the world by calling 020 7008 1500, or by contacting your nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. You do not have to wait to report the person missing to the FCO.

Try to provide as much information as possible about the missing person, for example:

  • name, date of birth and place of birth
  • passport details, if known
  • the last place, date and time you or anybody else had contact with them
  • travel itinerary and who they are travelling with
  • whether they have a medical condition
  • mobile phone number, email address, social media account
  • insurance details, if known

How the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can help

The FCO can:

  • check its consular records to see if it has had any recent contact with your relative or friend.
  • give you information about the police or local authorities in the country they went missing so you can make a missing person report.
  • liaise with the authorities in the country they went missing and keep you informed of their progress and pass on any requests they make to UK authorities.
  • provide you with details of organisations specialising in missing persons, including the Lucie Blackman Trust, a UK charity that assists families whose relatives go missing in other countries. Please note, that as these are independent organisations, the FCO cannot be held responsible in any way for their advice and/or any decisions and outcomes that result from this.
  • If you decide to travel abroad to search for your relative or friend, staff at the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate can offer information on local conditions and help you arrange meetings with the local authorities and investigating agencies.

The FCO cannot:

  • search for the missing person.
  • use public funds to try to find people missing abroad.
  • offer legal advice or interfere in the legal proceedings of another country.
  • pay your bills, including legal fees, translation services, travel or accommodation costs.
  • control media coverage of the case.
  • pay for a body to be returned to the UK.
  • share information with you, if the person is found and does not give permission to share their information. You can see the FCO’s privacy notice for consular services on how it handles personal data.

The FCO publication Support for British nationals abroad: A guide highlights some of the main ways you can help yourself stay safe abroad and what help the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide if you do get into difficulty. It includes the FCO Consular Customer Charter.

Additional things to consider for those missing abroad

If the missing person is a child, some countries have an “amber alert” system. Check with the police in that country or the FCO.

The missing person’s bank, building society or internet service provider may be able to give you some information on when their account was last accessed. They may require official police intervention before agreeing to do this.

If you know the missing person’s mobile phone IMEI number (a unique 15 digit code associated with the phone handset), it can sometimes be used by police in other countries to block or locate the phone.

If you decide to travel to the region where your relative or friend went missing, have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve. Consider if language will be a problem, and if you will have to pay for a translator or interpreter.

Authorities in other countries may be reluctant to pass on information, or to treat your situation differently to that of other missing persons in their country. The FCO or UK police cannot insist that they do.

You might want to initiate a poster, leaflet or social media campaign in the country where they went missing. The FCO can provide information on organisations that have experience in tracing missing persons that can help you do this, and any local printing companies and locations where a poster can be placed.

Searches can sometimes be publicised through press conferences or TV appeals either in the UK or in the country where your relative or friend is missing. If you wish to do this abroad, the FCO may be able to advise you on how to do this.

In some countries, it is possible to offer rewards for information. It is important to consider the implications of offering a reward. You may want to discuss this with an organisation that has experience in tracing missing persons.

Some insurance policies will cover search and rescue costs. If you have details of your friend of relative’s insurance, you can contact their insurer to check if this is possible.

Contact us on [email protected] for more information, planning assistance and training.

Photo: RPS Partnership on the ground this week in Niamey, Niger.

Back to News List