Scanning the headlines of your morning newspaper probably gives you a good idea of the countries or regions you should avoid. But even events that don’t make the front page could have negative effects on your stay abroad.

Today’s smart travellers know that Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is their best trip advisor. “Foreign Affairs and its Consular services work to ensure that Canadian travellers receive timely information before they travel and provide assistance while they’re abroad,” says Marie-Christine Lilkoff, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

Regardless of your next destination, their services will help with a wide range of emergencies, such as:

  • Evacuating an area because of a natural disaster, civil unrest or disease outbreak.
  • Assisting you if you’re a victim of a robbery.
  • Replacing your lost, stolen, damaged or expired passport.
  • Provide a list of attorneys if you’re in need of legal assistance or to notarize documents.

“Just remember that you are subject to local laws,” advises Ms. Lilkoff. “A serious violation may lead to a jail sentence.”

Travellers must also realize that since circumstances can change so quickly these days, so must their travel preparations. While it’s comforting to know that you’re being taken care of while you’re away, what you do before you go is of extreme importance.

Be informed: Valuable information for essential and non-essential travel

“Through our detailed travel information program, Foreign Affairs promotes safety and security for all Canadians travelling overseas,” Ms. Lilkoff says.

General information. The department produces numerous publications for travellers (including their must-read Bon Voyage, But… Information for the Canadian Traveller 2008/09), cruise-ship vacationers, adventure enthusiasts and people travelling with children. They also provide country-specific booklets and hurricane season travel tips.

Up-to-date advisories. Their most current — and often most vital — information is offered in three ways:

  • Country Travel Reports offer official travel-safe information on safety and security conditions in foreign countries, entry requirements, local laws, and health issues for more than 200 destinations worldwide so that you can better plan for your trip.
  • Travel Warnings (including emailed Daily Travel Updates) provide formal advice about travel risks including advice on avoiding or postponing travel to a particular area. “Reasons could include threat of terrorism, civil unrest, war, rebellion, natural disasters, political instability and health emergencies,” she clarifies.
  • Current Issues cover event-driven information under specific headings such as natural disasters, health (like outbreaks of SARS or Avian Influenza), changes to travel documentation requirements and security.

ROCA: Register before you go

The Department’s Registration of Canadians Abroad Service (ROCA) can go a long way in giving you and your family peace of mind. “By registering before you leave, local embassies will know how to reach you in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster and civil unrest, or will be able to inform you of a family emergency at home,” says Ms. Lilkoff. “This service is completely voluntary and can be done online or via mail.”

It’s highly recommended that you register if you are:

  • going abroad for three or more months;
  • visiting a country or area for which a Travel Warning has been issued;
  • visiting a country without a resident Canadian government office; or
  • travelling to a hurricane-prone region during hurricane season (June 1 to November 30).

If you don’t meet these requirements, Foreign Affairs recommends that you leave a detailed travel itinerary and the Emergency Operation Centre’s number with family or friends and be sure to take a contact list of Canadian government offices with you.