Travelling abroad? Don’t forget to Travel Smart

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Planning your next trip abroad? Then you might want to know more about the laws of the country you are visiting as well as other necessary information just in case of an emergency.  

This is because falling sick, becoming a victim of crime or facing an emergency can be traumatic, especially when you are in a foreign country.

The “Travel Smart” campaign by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Consular Service will be your guide in this regard.

“Travel Smart” is aimed at encouraging South Africans to research their destinations and the laws of the countries they seek to visit or apply for work.

It will also ensure that in the event of an emergency, South African travellers can be offered urgent advice such as that in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergencies, by a South African embassy or consulate officials.

“This campaign will go a long way in improving the general understanding of the Consular Services we provide to our own populace here at home and abroad. The thematic focus which is ‘Travel Smart: How DIRCO Consular Services can assist you when travelling abroad’ is therefore fitting - considering our commitment to the provision of services with excellence,” DIRCO Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said on Tuesday when she was unveiling the campaign.

“Most South Africans face the reality of being destitute in foreign countries and under these circumstances they seek our assistance without prior knowledge of what services we are mandated to provide. This situation must be changed and I believe that the Consular Service campaign we are launching today will enable us to do so,” said Mhaule.

Stephen McGown

The person who knows this well is Stephen McGown, who was kidnapped by Islamist militants in Mali for more than five years and eight months.

McGown, who was kidnapped in November 2011 while touring in Timbuktu together with Swedish national Johan Gustaffsson, returned home in July 2017.

He acknowledged the role that consular services played in securing his freedom.

“When you are kidnapped you are vulnerable. There are so many unknowns and questions you cannot answer. But when Dirco got involved …it gave me a line of communication with my family,” he said, assuring others that the South African government would be willing to help those in distress.

51 young South Africans

Another group which can tell better the realities of being stuck in a foreign country is the 51 young South Africans who were enticed by an agent to travel to China on a study visa while planning to work as English teachers.

The promise was that they would get their work visas upon arrival in China, which never materialised.

While in China on study visas, they started working, which was in contravention of the immigration laws of China. 

Liaising with Chinese authorities last week, Dirco helped the stranded citizens, who are victims of a visa scam.

About 49 of the 51 have returned home safely and the remaining two have been informed remain in custody as they served as recruiters.

Before boarding a plane

Before boarding an aeroplane, Mhuale advised South Africans to take time to learn about the financial, political, cultural and economic environment of their intended destination, as well as few key phrases in the host country's language.

South Africans are encouraged to have the contact details of the nearest South African Representative office and to carry contact details of their next of kin at all times.

Provincial Roadshows

This launch will be followed by the planned “travel smart” Provincial Roadshows which will be undertaken during the course of the year to further enhance public comprehension of what Dirco can offer in this regard.

What can the Dirco Consular Services do for you?

According to the head of Consular Services at Dirco, Chris Chetty, they will offer only non-financial assistance such as issuing of emergency travel documents against the payment of prescribed fees, non-financial help if you suffered assault of or you are victim of crime or providing you with interpreters, doctors and funeral parlours without assuming their costs.

However, Chetty said they cannot get one out of prison or prevent local authorities from deporting you. They cannot help you enter a country if you do not have valid travel documents nor give legal advice, pay bills or make business arrangements on your behalf.

Those planning to travel can familiarise themselves with the information that is readily available on the Dirco website, to read more on what is needed when travelling and also on where the nearest South African Representative office is based at your intended destination. –