U.S. Consuls Help Americans Abroad
There are U.S. embassies in more than 160 capital cities of the
world. Each embassy has a consular section. Consular officers
in consular sections of embassies do two things:
-- they issue visas to foreigners;
-- they help U.S. citizens abroad.
There are also consular officers at about 60 U.S. consulates
general and 20 U.S. consulates around the world. (Consulates general
and consulates are regional offices of embassies.)
U.S. consuls usually are assisted by local employees who are
citizens of the host country. Because of the growing number of
Americans traveling abroad, and the relatively small number of
consuls, the expertise of local employees is invaluable.
In this pamphlet, we highlight ways in which consular officers
can assist you while you are traveling or residing abroad.
To help us help you while you are abroad, register with the
nearest U.S. embassy or consular. This makes it easier for consular
officers to reach you in an emergency or to replace a lost passport.
Consular officers provide a range of services -- some emergency,
Replace a Passport - If you lose your passport,
a consul can issue you a replacement, often within 24 hours. If
you believe your passport has been stolen, first report the theft
to the local police and get a police declaration.
Help Find Medical Assistance - If you get sick,
you can contact a consular officer for a list of local doctors,
dentists, and medical specialists, along with other medical information.
If you are injured or become seriously ill, a consul will help
you find medical assistance and, at your request, inform your
family or friends. (Consider getting private medical insurance
before you travel, to cover the high cost of getting you back
to the U.S. for hospital care in the event of a medical emergency.)
Help Get Funds - Should you lose all your money
and other financial resources, consular officers can help you
contact your family, bank, or employer to arrange for them to
send you funds. In some cases, these funds can be wired to you
through the Department of State.
Help In An Emergency - Your family may need to
reach you because of an emergency at home or because they are
worried about your welfare. They should call the State Department's
Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. The State Department
will relay the message to the consular officers in the country
in which you are traveling. Consular officers will attempt to
locate you, pass on urgent messages, and, consistent with the
Privacy Act, report back to your family.
Visit In Jail - If you are arrested, you should
ask the authorities to notify a U.S. consul. Consuls cannot get
you out of jail (when you are in a foreign country you are subject
to its laws). However, they can work to protect your legitimate
interests and ensure you are not discriminated against. They can
provide a list of local attorneys, visit you, inform you generally
about local laws, and contact your family and friends. Consular
officers can transfer money, food, and clothing to the prison
authorities from your family or friends. They can try to get relief
if you are held under inhumane or unhealthful conditions.
Make Arrangements After The Death Of An American
- When an American dies abroad, a consular officer notifies the
Americans family and informs them about options and costs for
disposition of remains. Costs for preparing and returning a body
to the U.S. may be high and must be paid by the family. Often,
local laws and procedures make returning a body to the U.S. for
burial a lengthy process. A consul prepares a Report of Death
based on the local death certificate; this is forwarded to the
next of kin for use in estate and insurance matters.
Help In A Disaster/Evacuation - If you are caught
up in a natural disaster or civil disturbance, you should let
your relatives know as soon as possible that you are safe, or
contact a U.S. consul who will pass that message to your family
through the State Department. Be resourceful. U.S. officials will
do everything they can to contact you and advise you. However,
they must give priority to helping Americans who have been hurt
or are in immediate danger. In a disaster, consuls face the same
constraints you do - lack of electricity or fuel, interrupted
phone lines, closed airports.
Issue A Consular Report Of Birth - A child born
abroad to U.S. citizens parents usually acquires U.S. citizenship
at birth. The parents should contact the nearest U.S. embassy
or consulate to have a "Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen"
prepared. This is proof of citizenship for all purposes.
Issue A Passport - Consuls issue approximately
200,000 passports abroad each year. Many of these are issued to
persons whose current passports have expired.
Distribute Federal Benefits Payments - Over a
half-million people living overseas receive monthly federal benefit
payments. In many countries, the checks are mailed to the U.S.
embassy or consulate and distributed through the local postal
Assist In Child Custody Disputes - In an international
custody dispute, a consul can try to locate the child abroad,
monitor the child's welfare, and provide general information to
the American parent about laws and procedures which may be used
to effect the child's return to the United States. Consuls may
not take custody of a child, or help a parent regain custody of
a child illegally or by force or deception.
Help In Other Ways - Consuls handle personal estates
of deceased U.S. citizens, assist with absentee voting and Selective
Service registration, notarize documents, advise on property claims,
and provide U.S. tax forms. They also perform such functions as
adjudicating U.S. citizenship claims and assisting U.S. courts
in legal matters.
WHAT CONSULAR OFFICERS CANNOT DO
In addition to the qualifications noted above, consular officers
cannot act as travel agents, banks, lawyers, investigators, or
law enforcement officers. Please do not expect them to find you
employment, get you residence or driving permits, act as interpreters,
search for missing luggage, or settle disputes with hotel managers.
They can, however, tell you how to get help on these and other
If you need to pick up mail or messages while traveling, some
banks and international credit card companies handle mail for
customers at their overseas branches. General Delivery (Poste
Restante) services at post offices in most countries will hold
mail for you.
The provisions of the Privacy Act are designed to protect the
privacy rights of Americans. Occasionally they complicate a consul's
efforts to assist Americans. As a general rule, consular officers
may not reveal information regarding an individual American's
location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including
the family members and Congressional representatives, without
the expressed consent of that individual. Although sympathetic
to the distress this can cause concerned families, consular officers
must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act.
For more information, contact: Overseas Citizens Services, Department
of State, Room 4811, Washington, D.C. 20520.