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‘No madam, we can’t find a chef to make you haggis’

The British High Commission in Nicosia

Can you recommend a Scottish chef in Brussels who can make haggis? How do I set my antennae to receive English TV channels in Italy? Can you find me cheap flights to New Zealand?

These were just some of the recent enquires the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently received from around the world, it said on Friday in an appeal to Brits abroad on the proper use of consular services.

Last year the FCO’s Contact Centres received more than 365,000 calls from British nationals.

“The vast majority were genuine calls from people who needed our help, but we still receive thousands of enquiries every year relating to issues we are unable to assist with. These enquiries can take valuable time away from those in genuine need of assistance,” the FCO said in a statement.

It said some of the more unusual calls received in 2014 included; a caller asking for help with setting up ‘British-style’ hanging baskets at a trade show because the professional gardener hired for the purpose had stage fright, a British woman asking the consulate in Albania how to find out if her son’s fiancée was already married and a caller asking for advice on how to treat a cat’s infected paw.

A man called requesting that staff at the Embassy in Mexico City go to the airport to check whether he had left his mobile phone on a plane, a woman in Italy called to enquire how she could synchronise her TV antenna to receive English channels and an event coordinator in Brussels asked for the name of a Scottish chef based in the country who could make Haggis for a Burns Night event

“Such enquiries stem from a lack of understanding of what FCO consular teams can do for British nationals overseas, so we are launching an awareness campaign to remind UK travellers and residents overseas of the services we provide, and what we can and cannot do,” the statement said.

The FCO said its priority was to protect the welfare of British nationals abroad but it was important for travellers to understand what services they provided before getting in touch.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister, David Lidington, said it was important for FCO consular staff to be able to focus on incidences such as victims of crime, those who have lost a loved one abroad or people who have been detained or hospitalised overseas.

“We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to what we can do, so it’s important for people to be aware of how we can help,” he said.

“We can issue an emergency travel document if your passport is lost or stolen, offer support if you become a victim of crime or visit you in hospital or prison, but we aren’t able to pay medical bills, give legal advice or get you out of jail, or indeed act as veterinary surgeons.”

Recent research revealed that the number of people who have knowledge of what embassies and consulates do has dropped to the lowest in three years among young British people (aged 16-24), from 62 per cent in 2011 to 55 per cent in 2014.


For more information on how the FCO can help British nationals overseas, please visit

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