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Photo: extranoise

Flavor Flav may think that 911 is a joke, but you’re unlikely to be laughing if you need emergency services in a foreign country.

Perhaps it’s the “it’ll never happen to me” syndrome why many of us travelers aren’t as prepared as we should be. If you’re in Thailand, Spain, or Bolivia, would you know what number to dial to get some emergency service?

Some history

In 1937, London became the first city to introduce a system where callers could dial a short 3-digit number to get immediate help. They chose 999 as it was difficult to accidentally dial on the old pulse-dial phones. Calling 999 alerted a switch-board operator by sounding a buzzer and flashing a red light.

The first 911 system in North America was set up in Winnipeg, Canada in 1959 and, nine years later, Alabama and Alaska followed suit to bring it to the US. It wasn’t until the 1980s that 911 became a standard under the North American Numbering Plan.

There were many obstacles to overcome such as being routed to the wrong jurisdiction, but with switching technological advances, almost every single location in North America has an accurate 911 service today.

Emergency service on your mobile phone

Maybe the most useful thing to have in any country during an emergency is a mobile telephone. The GSM network uses 112 as a world-wide emergency number. When 112 is dialed from a GSM phone, the network will automatically redirect you to the local emergency dispatch, if it’s available.

In addition, many countries allow emergency calls to be made from phones without a SIM card (Latin America, however, requires one). Those who can’t function particularly well in an emergency might feel more at ease knowing this: dialing an emergency number from most mobile phones doesn’t require the keypad to be unlocked.

Since 80% of the global mobile market uses GSM technology, it’s well worth the few bucks to get your hands on one when traveling, if your current mobile isn’t GSM.

Local emergency numbers around the world

Even if you’re traveling with a mobile phone, and definitely if you aren’t, you need to know the local “911″ number of your destination. Write it down, memorize it, stamp it on your forehead. Hopefully you won’t need it.

* indicates number for Medical service only – do NOT press * when dialling.

North America:

USA and Canada – 911
Mexico – 066, 060, or 080 (some areas direct 911 to local services)


China – 999 in most large cities. Elsewhere, 120*
Hong Kong – 999
India – 102
Indonesia – 118/119*. Search and Rescue – 115. Natural disaster – 129
Iran – 110 (112 from mobile)
Israel - 101* (112 from mobile)
Japan and Korea – 119*
Malaysia – 999
Mongolia – 103
Philippines – 117 (112 and 911 redirect to 117)
Saudi Arabia – 997*. Rescue emergency – 911, 112, or 08
Singapore - 995
Thailand – 1669*. “Tourist” police (English speaking) – 1155
UAE - 998* or 999*
Vietnam – 115*


Egypt - 123*. Tourist police – 126
Ghana – 999
Morocco – 15*
Nigeria – 199
South Africa – 10177*. Police and Fire – 10111 (112 from mobile)
Zambia – 991* (112 from mobile)
Zimbabwe – 999


United Kingdom – 999 or 112
European Union and many other European nations – 112


Australia – 000
New Zealand – 111
Fiji – 911
Vanuatu – 112

Central America and Caribbean:

Guatemala – 120*
Barbados - 511*
Jamaica – 110*
Nicaragua – 118*
Honduras – 199*

South America:

Argentina – 107* (911 will work in certain areas as emergency dispatch)
Bolivia – 118*
Brazil – 192*
Chile – 131*
Colombia – 112 or 123
Paraguay and Uruguay – 911
Suriname – 115
Venezuela – 171

Source: Wikipedia



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Trudy

    Wow. Very helpful information for travelers. :)

  • Julie


    Super useful article that any traveler should print out and keep alongside his or her passport. I wasn’t expecting the history to be so fascinating, though, and as much as I travel, I had NO CLUE about 112 as a virtually universal emergency code. Thanks for this really helpful piece!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks Julie,

      Much of it was news to me too. I learned a lot researching it. I was very surprised to learn 911 in NA was first done in Winnipeg!

  • Sherry Ott

    Great info! I live in Vietnam and never knew they had an emergency number. I wonder what the odds are that anyone would speak english!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Where are you living Sherry?

      It’s probably not a bad idea to have a short list of emergency phrases as a companion!

  • Austin Chu

    I’ll probably still screw it up with this list. There needs to be a number for “mom.”

  • Nik

    Very useful list.
    Just as a bit of extra information; When you dial 995 in Singapore, you will get the fire department and Ambulance service, if its cops you need, dial 999.

  • Pingback: Emergency Numbers When Abroad | Health Insurance Broker

  • Writerman

    Please do not take this the wrong way. Your post is extremely helpful and may save lives. You are to be congratulated and thanked BUT I have a big but sorry. Yes it is 911, but I do not live in a “foriegn country”. I live at home in Australia. I think it is wise in our multicultural world for even Americans to remember that there are many other peoples inhabiting our planet. Not only that, Matador is on the WORLD WIDE WEB. Which I have always assumed belongs to the world, Please, stop this “American centric” take on the world. Travellers should know better.
    I know this is strong, so please forgive any offence. I just think it’s way past time to take a global view. Excellent blog by the way

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hi Paul – appreciate you sharing your thoughts. While Matador is a web-based medium, it is also based out of the US and the majority of our readership is from the US. Simply for the practical purposes of defining what is “home” and what is “abroad,” we tend to consider North America as “home” and everywhere else as “abroad.” The use of “foreign” isn’t meant to be done in a derogatory or negative way, but as a reference point. The dictionary definition is “dealing with or relating to other countries,” meaning that for everyone what is considered “foreign” or not will depend on his or her background and citizenship.

      Since this part of the network, Abroad, is focused on work, study and life abroad, we can’t operate without a definition of what actually is “abroad.” We would run a story about “Studying Abroad in Australia,” but we wouldn’t run one on on “Studying Abroad in the US” or “How to Get a Work Visa to the US.” We tend to run US-focused stories on Matador Life rather than on Matador Abroad.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Hi Paul. Exactly what Heather said. And thanks for your comment. To make matters even more interesting, I’m Canadian and lived in Australia (Melbourne) for two years.

  • António

    Just to let you know that I have an AT&T cellphone and I’m in Portugal.
    I thought:
    “I’m going to dial 911 as if I were back in the States to see what happens.”
    I dialed and I was redirected to the National Emergency Authority, pretty cool!

  • Bill Jahsman

    thanks, dave. I’ve committed all these to memory.

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