Monday 29th August 2011

A tsunami in Japan, hurricanes in the United States, earthquakes in New Zealand and devastating fires in Australia, if there’s one thing that expats should have learned over the past year, it’s that you should always be prepared for the fact that a disaster could strike at any time, in any place. Here’s our guide to ensuring that you are ready and prepared for any emergency situations that occur without warning while you are living overseas.

Picture by The 621st Contingency Response Wing

Photograph by The 621st Contingency Response Wing, Flickr

1) Make your whereabouts known

This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many expatriates fail to register details of their residency with their local embassy and any databases in their home country. The UK foreign commonwealth office, for example, ask all British expatriates to provide full information about their location and contact details on an online database called Locate. By doing this you ensure that the right authorities have a record of where you are and how you can be contacted. Aid agencies will be able to contact people who are caught up in the emergency and give them advice on what action to take and the information that you have provided can also be help any friends and relatives who are trying to get in touch with you.

2) Make sure you have the right insurance

As an expatriate you should always ensure that you have access to full medical and health insurance. If you feel that you are living in an area of the world that may be at risk of a disaster then you should also ensure that your policy gives you access to emergency rescue service and evacuation.

3) Ensure you have access to your medication

If you or any members of your family need regular medication that is crucial to your health and wellbeing, make sure you have at least two weeks of extra medication in supply at all times.

4) Have a full disaster plan in place

It may sound over the top but you really should plan ahead for how you will protect your family before, during and after an emergency. Consider the types of emergencies that are feasible in your host location and plan accordingly for how you would deal with those. Familiarize yourself with the disaster procedures that are available in your country and within the place that you live and ensure that all members of your family are aware of them. Produce a list of contact numbers that you may need and keep a couple of copies in safe places. Ensure that everyone in your family is aware of all emergency contact numbers.

5) Protect your personal documents

Ideally you should always keep your personal documents in a waterproof container in a fireproof safe so that they are protected. You should also create an electronic copy of all your vital documents, such as passports and bank details, and email them to a remote database or file storage site as well as creating a local copy on your mobile phone or other portable device. This will come in handy if you are unable to access your passport or any other documents that you need in an emergency situation.

6) Ensure you have access to money

Regardless of whether you think a disaster is probable in your host country or not, you should always ensure that you have sufficient funds to purchase return tickets home for yourself and all family members. Don’t assume that your home government will foot the bill; make sure you have enough money to get home and to temporarily support all your family members.

7) Ensure you have an up to date will

Having a will is even more important when you’re living overseas than it is when you’re at home. Ensure that your wishes are fully outlined in a formal, legal document and that this document meets the legal requirements of both your host and your home countries. If you live in a country that uses a different language than your home country ensure your will is translated into both languages. Don’t limit your will to your cash and assets; also fully outline what should happen to your children in the event that the worse occurs.

Have you lived through a disaster abroad? Is there anything we have missed? Leave a comment and share your experiences with our community.

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