In the US, we’re used to dialing 911 during an emergency to get police, fire, or ambulance support anywhere in the country. However, a common question for international travelers is “does calling 911 work around the world? If not, is there an equivalent emergency number?”
The quick answer to this question is “yes”, there is one! If you’re on a GSM-based network, which covers most of the world with some notable exceptions (and we’ll cover those in the second), you can dial 112. The call will automatically route to the local emergency service.
The world of GSM
GSM stands for “Global System for Mobile”, and is the mobile phone technology standard that is used in most of the world. I say “most” instead of “all” since there are some big countries where GSM is not the defacto standard. This includes countries like the US, Canada, Japan, and Korea. These countries use a variety of standards and technology like CDMA.
For example, in the US, you’re on a GSM network if you use AT&T and T-Mobile. If you’re on Verizon and Sprint, you’re likely using a CDMA network. I say “likely” since some phones have both chipsets installed, allowing you to use both networks. This is also why in the US, it’s not always possible to switch carriers without getting a new phone.
Calling emergency services
Dialing 911 (and 999 in the UK) does work in some countries. There are many stories of people calling 911 in Europe and Australia and getting connected to emergency services. Though the official emergency number worldwide is 112.
Also, some locations will allow you to make a call without a SIM card in your mobile phone. If you’re not familiar with SIM cards, they are the small chips that are used in GSM phones to connect to carriers. I wouldn’t count on it working at all times. From what I’ve heard and read, it sounds like this is definitely an issue in places like Latin America. Other travelers have noted that many carriers require an active and paid SIM card to make an emergency call.
Have you had to make an emergency call while traveling? If so, please share your experience below in the comment section.