Emergency Preparedness Abroad: A Comprehensive Guide (2023)

In an increasingly globalized world, international travel is a common and enriching experience. However, being prepared for emergencies abroad is crucial, as unforeseen circumstances can arise. Whether you're an expatriate, a student studying abroad, or a tourist exploring a new country, knowing how to handle emergencies is essential.

The Scary Reality of Lost Children

Imagine this scenario: you're a foreign au pair responsible for twin three-year-olds in a foreign country. One morning, you discover that one of the children is missing. Panic sets in, and you frantically search the apartment. This hypothetical situation turned real for me when I found myself stuck in a small European elevator with the twins for over an hour. This harrowing experience underscores the importance of being well-prepared for emergencies in a foreign land.

Dialing for Help: Understanding Emergency Numbers

The EU Emergency Number - 112

Knowing the local emergency number is paramount. In the European Union, it's 112, not 911. In times of crisis, this number can be a lifeline. It's not just a hypothetical scenario; it happened to me, and the swift response from emergency services was crucial.

Tips for Emergency Calls Abroad

When making an emergency call abroad, stay calm and provide accurate information. If you accidentally dial the emergency number, don't hang up; explain the situation to the dispatcher. Knowing your location is vital, especially when calling from a mobile phone without a SIM card. If language barriers exist, many countries offer translation services to assist you.

Navigating Language Barriers

Speaking the Local Language

In most EU countries, emergency dispatchers speak both the local language and English. For other nations, tourist emergency lines or translator services can bridge the communication gap. Learning basic phrases in the local language and having translation apps handy can be invaluable.

SOS Calls on Your Cell Phone

Emergency calls on your mobile are universally accessible. Dialing 112 works worldwide on GSM network phones. Smartphone features like Emergency SOS on iPhones can notify pre-set emergency contacts automatically.

Texting for Help: A Growing Trend

While texting emergency services is not universally available, some locations, like the UK, have adopted EmergencySMS. It's essential to be aware of local capabilities and always be prepared to make a voice call.

Global Emergency Numbers at Your Fingertips

North America

  • USA and Canada: 911
  • Mexico: 060 (police), 065 (ambulance), 068 (fire)


  • United Kingdom: 999, 112
  • European Union: 112
  • Various European nations: 112


  • China: 110 (police), 120 (ambulance), 119 (fire)
  • Japan: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance and fire)
  • India: 112


  • South Africa: 10111 (112 from cell)
  • Kenya: 999 (police), 997 (ambulance), 998 (fire)

Middle East

  • UAE: 999 (police), 997 (ambulance), 998 (fire)


  • Australia: 000
  • New Zealand: 111

Conclusion: Be Prepared, Stay Safe

In conclusion, being prepared for emergencies abroad is not just a theoretical exercise—it's a practical necessity. Understanding local emergency numbers, overcoming language barriers, and leveraging technology can make a significant difference in critical situations. This comprehensive guide aims to empower travelers with the knowledge they need to navigate unexpected challenges and ensure their safety in foreign lands. Stay informed, stay safe.

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