I was telling you last week about the newly launched mobile app by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dedicated to citizens traveling abroad. No doubt a very good step forward in the strategy to digitize public service – but how does Romania fit in amongst other countries which already offer this kind of service already?
We started to research existing MFA driven mobile apps and to our surprise couldn’t find that much information. The map below reunites the apps we were able to track down. We also included a brief description of each one so that we can see the type of information they provide and the feedback received from the users. As a general point, all of these apps offer, as they should, travel advice and alerts and contact details of embassies and consulates around the world.
MEAIndia is perhaps one of the most famous smartphone app launched by a Foreign Ministry. Announced in 2013 with a good awareness campaign which made waives even in Romania, MEAIndia is also the first mobile app to have been developed by the Indian government departments. Less than 24 hours after its launch, ‘MEAIndia’ app topped the charts of Apple Store. The app helps users find out the nearest Indian mission or post for emergency consular assistance, if required, and also find out how to undertake the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra and Haj Pilgrimage. The app is available in English and appears to have received very good reviews from users so far. It’s available from both Android and iOS systems.
MFA@SG is an app offered by the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Singapore. Apparently launched in 2012 with certain limitations (according to the feedback received by the users), the app now seems updated and improved, with over 10,000 downloads from Play Store. The app is also available on iOS and offers Singapore citizens the opportunity to register on-the-go when they are traveling abroad, to have access to contact details and maps of Singapore’s embassies and consulates around the world. One important aspect is that it also uses a Twitter feed to promote Consular tweets inside the app.
iPolak (iPole) is a mobile version of the handbook ‘Pole abroad’ which the Foreign Ministry has been issuing since 1996 originally in a book form and afterwards available also on-line. Now, information which can be necessary while travelling is available also in a mobile version. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has thus become the first state institution in Poland to create an application for mobile equipment—iPhone smartphones, iPods and iPads. The application can be downloaded for free from AppStore platform. iPolak facilitates reaching and contacting Polish embassies and consulates and shows travellers how to get to the closest one. iPolak also features the latest traveller warnings published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, safety and visa guidelines and recommendations for emergency travel situations.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry launched in 2012 a new mobile application called “Reisi targalt” (“Travel Smart”) which provides travel advisories for different countries and allows the user to register his or her own travels using a smartphone or tablet. The “Travel Smart” app is helpful to Estonian travelers both while planning a trip and while abroad. The app allows the user to receive travel advisories and register his or her own trip, which allows the Foreign Ministry to know when and where the user is traveling. In addition, the app also includes a travel tips section with practical advice, such as what to do if an accident occurs or a passport gets lost. The contact information for all of Estonia’s foreign representations is listed in the contacts section. The app, which is in Estonian, is suitable for smartphones running the Android or iOS platform. It can be downloaded from the App Store and Play Store.
Austria started offering mobile apps to citizens looking to travel abroad ever since 2011! With the most recent one the addresses and telephone numbers of all Austrian embassies and consulates are easily available. Another useful point is that the app allows Austrians to find the fastest route from their location to the nearest embassy or nearest consulate. The app provides useful information on approximately 200 countries, including entry requirements, Travel Tips or Health Tips. The app is available in German from all mobile devices (iOS, Android, Blackberry)
The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed and launched in May 2014 a smartphone app called “Travel Safely”, meant for Romanian citizens traveling abroad. The app can be downloaded from Google Play Store and App Store, is available in Romanian and offers travel advice, safety tips, contact details about embassies and consulates around the world, as well as travel alerts, consular support and help in case of emergencies. So far there have been over 5,000 downloads and the feedback seems to be positive.
The Netherlands offer since 2012 a mobile app for travelers. The app is accessible in Dutch from iOS and Android and offers information related to contact details of Dutch embassies and consulates around the world as well as travel advice.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers an app through which citizens can have access to official news as well as videos and pictures about the most important events in Israel and Middle East.
Canada offers a wide range of mobile apps dedicated mainly to those who intent to visit Canada. For instance they have lots of hitchhiking apps with very useful and interesting information about Canada’s main forests and parks. However, they also offer a dedicated app to their citizens who travel abroad. The app is called Travel Smart and offers travel advice, visa and consular tips and tricks, health alerts as well as contact details of all Canadian embassies and consulates around the world. The app also offers less conventional information – such as border wait times in certain countries or storing travel data for up to 5 countries without incurring roaming fees. The Travel Smart application also works offline, meaning that users can access information while they are on a plane to their destination. Users can also store travel advisory information for up to five countries, allowing them to access the information they need without incurring roaming data charges. The Travel Smart application is compatible with most modern mobile Web browsers.
The UK has an interesting perspective on creating mobile apps to support British citizens traveling abroad. In 2012 the British Government launched an intense program to digitize its public services. One of the key steps in this direction has been the launch of a digital communication strategy. Part of the program has been to modernize and upgrade the governmental websites by building a user friendly interface and a responsive layout so that users can access them from any terminal (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet etc) and quickly find the information they are looking for. Given the strategy, building native mobile apps is not justified, according to the official blog of the team managing the online presence of the British Government, GDS (Global Digital Service). Their strategy is to create web platforms easily accessible from any device and also develop APIs so that independent app developers can re-use the open governmental data to create their own apps.
eMarketer, one of the most important digital market research companies, estimates that 73.4 percent of Internet users in 2013 accessed the Web from a mobile device. This is predicted to rise to 79.1 percent in 2014 and reach 90.1 percent in 2017. That doesn’t mean they will all exclusively use mobile to access the Web (though plenty will be mobile only), nor does it mean they’re all heavy users (eMarketer counts anyone who uses a mobile browser or app to access the Web at least once a month).
Mobile Web penetration (as a proportion of total Internet usage) is highest in Middle East and Africa (MEA) at a whopping 92.7 percent in 2013, forecast to reach to 94 percent this year. Asia-Pacific is also very high with 83.9 percent, rising to 87.4 percent this year. Western Europe and North America are lower (because PC Web penetration is considerably higher than in MEA or Asia) with 57.2 percent and 57.9 percent in 2013, rising to 67.8 percent and 64.3 percent in 2014. Find out more about the results of eMarketer’s study on their website.
So as it seems, through their recently released app, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs joins a select yet limited group of countries which offer consular mobile apps to their citizens who travel abroad. It is, as we said, a good news and we hope more such initiatives to follow.
There may be other mobile apps out there developed by Foreign Ministries around the world – if you have any information about others which are not in the list above, please share it with us. We would like to build a repository and an updated map so that we have a better image of the reach and utility of such apps. Have you ever used apps like these when traveling?