Ministry for Foreign Affairs helps Finns in distress abroad
In 2022, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the missions abroad provided consular services to a total of approximately 256,000 customers. The demand for advisory services, in particular, continued to grow. During the year, the ministry’s 24/7 service received more than 8,000 contacts in total.
As in previous years, the number of assistance cases was highest in the countries to which Finns prefer to travel: Spain, Estonia, Germany, Thailand and Sweden. In 2022, the Unit for Consular Assistance of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was involved in managing 652 cases of death abroad. There were 171 victims of crime abroad, 303 needed assistance due to an illness and 184 were arrested or detained. The latter number does not include the Nordic countries, as such cases are handled through direct contact between the authorities of the Nordic countries. The numbers increased somewhat from 2021.
In 2022, Finnish missions around the world issued 23,297 new passports and 4,373 identity cards. Compared to the previous year, these figures also increased.
The biggest single consular crisis of the year arose when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and dozens of Finns were assisted in leaving the war zone. There were almost 100 natural or man-made crisis situations and emergencies that were significant from the perspective of the protection of Finnish travellers last year. Internal conflicts and unrest, for example in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Iran, were particularly prominent. In addition to these, natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions kept the Ministry for Foreign Affairs busy.
Travel advisories remain popular
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs publishes travel advisories for more than 150 countries, and they remain the most read content on the external ministry’s website. In 2022, readers of the travel advisories were most interested in the ones for Spain, Italy and Greece. The travel advisory for Ukraine was also of interest as the security situation deteriorated rapidly.
Last year, nearly 178,000 tourists submitted a travel notification to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs through the Matkustusilmoitus.fi service for a total of 203 countries or regions. Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey accounted for the highest number of notifications. “The travel notification enables the ministry to quickly contact the traveller in a crisis if the security situation in the country makes it necessary. It is also advisable to submit a travel notification when moving abroad permanently or temporarily,” says Outi Saarikoski, Director of the Unit for Consular Assistance.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs helps travellers abroad
The rebound of tourism has increased Finnish travellers’ problems and information needs abroad again. One of the most common reasons for contacting the 24/7 service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs last year was passport-related questions and concerns. The traveller’s passport had unexpectedly expired, been lost or left behind at home. The passport is a very important document for travellers – an essential one to bring along and keep up to date. It allows travellers to move from one country to another and to prove their identity.
“It is not always enough for the passport to be valid for the duration of the trip. In some countries, the authorities require that the passport remains valid for several months after the trip. If you have multiple citizenships, local authorities may also require you to present a passport from the other country, especially when leaving the country. Take good care of your passport and keep it in a safe place. Never leave your passport or other valuables unattended during your travels, for example in a rental car. It can easily get stolen there,” Saarikoski says.
In practice, obtaining a new passport or travel document abroad can mean a long journey from the holiday destination to the capital. A longer stay can easily result in additional hassle and costs, such as trips to the mission, accommodation costs, purchase of new return tickets and passport fees.
The consular services of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs recommend that you always take out travel insurance before travelling. This is especially vital in case something serious occurs. The European Health Insurance Card entitles persons covered by health insurance in Finland to medically necessary health care during a temporary stay in another EU or EEA country, Switzerland, the Great Britain or Northern Ireland. The patient will be charged a co-payment. However, the card does not cover medical transport to Finland. Hospital bills can quickly rise to thousands of euros. International air ambulance flights to Finland cost tens of thousands of euros.
“We cannot overstate the importance of travel insurance. It makes things much easier in problem situations. Where the European Health Insurance Card is not valid and the traveller does not have travel insurance, the costs are borne by the traveller or his or her family,” says Saarikoski.
Requests for assistance are sent to the missions, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the ministry’s 24/7 service (+358 9 160 55555, [email protected]). The 24/7 service is responsible for emergency consular services outside the office hours of all Finnish missions abroad. The primary duty of both the missions and the 24/7 service is to provide advice and help the customer to advance their case independently. When planning a trip abroad, or at the latest if something unfortunate happens during the trip, it is important to remember the services provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.