Travel can be adventurous and wonderful, but it also carries its own dangers anywhere in the world—even in London. In case the worst should ever happen, it’s good to be prepared and know where you can find help. Such help can come in many forms from London’s own Emergency Services to the US Embassy. Whether you’ve had your wallet stolen or you need medical attention, we’ve got a few helpful tips and places to go if you need help for any reason while traveling in London. Feel free to offer your own advice for travelers in the comments.
Arguably, the best way not to need help is to take every caution beforehand to decrease the risk. The first thing to do when traveling is making sure that someone knows where you’re going to be, what your itinerary is, and has contact information for you. This should include not only your cell phone number or email but also the address and phone number of where you’re staying. The Metropolitan Police also recommends planning your routes in advance, having a fully-charged mobile phone with you, and carrying some spare cash in case cards are stolen.
As a tourist destination, London certainly has its share of pickpockets. Security firms, such as Churchill Security Ltd. observes that most pickpockets keep to highly trafficked areas and modes of transportation. Places where Londoners and tourists alike are likely to have their wallets snatched include the Tube, the City of Westminster, and stations including King’s Cross St. Pancras, Oxford Circus, Victoria, Liverpool Street, and Stratford see the most thefts. As the Met suggests, in these places, you want to make sure that you stay vigilant and maybe even carry a little extra cash somewhere else on your person in case you find yourself a victim.
If you do find yourself a victim of a crime or in need of medical attention, it’s good to know who to call. Regardless of whatever it is you need, if it’s an emergency, the main number to remember isn’t 911. Despite what you may have picked up from watching The IT Crowd, the real emergency services number is—999. This will put you in touch with a call center, much like in the US, that will then direct the appropriate service to you, whether it’s police, ambulance, or fire brigade. Another useful number to remember is 112. This will also connect you to the emergency services call center, but a notable feature is that this number will work anywhere in the world and immediately put you in touch with the local emergency services. Lastly, if your situation is not an emergency, but you still need to reach the police, the number to call is 101.
Another thing to consider is that while the National Health Service is free for UK residents, the same cannot be said for tourists—except in emergency situations. If you require emergency medical care, that may be covered, but it’s not guaranteed. If you’ve got a bad case of food poisoning from that new fusion restaurant you just had to try, there are plenty of Urgent Care Walk-in Clinics run by HCA and NHS in the city. In either event, be sure to have travelers insurance with you in case your care is not covered. Visit London suggests that travelers insurance is a good idea even if your visit would normally be treatable by NHS, as it offers flexibility over where and how you’re treated and may cover care that the NHS does not. The Department of Health website can provide even more information.
For our last bit of advice in this brief, the US Embassy is available in London to help all American citizens. If you have been here before, you should note that the embassy did move this year to its new home at 33 Nine Elms Lane. The Embassy provides a number of services to citizens such as legal and medical services as well as helping you contact family members, acquiring a new passport, or explain how to transfer funds. If you’re not sure how to access any of the help you may need, the Embassy has trained professionals that can help you navigate the criminal justice system and healthcare organizations in London. God forbid a family member should be kidnapped; the Embassy can also work with local agencies to ensure their safe return. The Embassy also provides other, non-emergency services as well, so be sure to look into those and see if you need their assistance for notary, citizenship, voting, or other matters while you’re away.
Of course, these pieces of advice are only a small number of the resources available to travelers. Feel free to consult their websites for more information or ask your travel guide. Remember that in any safety situation, the only stupid question is the one that goes unasked.