U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
The Office of Overseas Citizens Services
When You Need Help...
Overseas Citizens Services
Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Department's Bureau
of Consular Affairs is responsible for the welfare and whereabouts
of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three
offices: American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, the
Office of Children's Issues and the Office of Policy Review and
AMERICAN CITIZENS SERVICES AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT (ACS)
American Citizens Services and Crisis Management corresponds
organizationally to American Citizens Services offices set up
at U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. ACS has
five geographical divisions with case officers who assist in all
matters involving protective services for Americans abroad, including
arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare
and whereabouts inquiries. The office also issues Travel Warnings,
Public Announcements and Consular Information Sheets and provides
guidance on nationality and citizenship determination, document
issuance, judicial and notarial services, estates and property
claims, third-country representation, and disaster assistance.
Over 2,500 Americans are arrested abroad annually. More than
30% of these arrests are drug related. Over 70% of drug related
arrests involve marijuana or cocaine.
The rights an American enjoys in this country do not travel
abroad. Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone
who enters regardless of nationality. The U.S. government cannot
get Americans released from foreign jails. However, a U.S. consul
will insist on prompt access to an arrested American, provide
a list of attorneys, and provide information on the host countrys
legal system, offer to contact the arrested Americans family or
friends, visit on a regular basis, protest mistreatment, monitor
jail conditions, provide dietary supplements, if needed, and keep
the State Department informed.
ACS is the point of contact in the U.S. for family members and
others who are concerned about a U.S. citizen arrested abroad.
Approximately 6,000 Americans die outside of the U.S. each year.
The majority of these are long-term residents of a foreign country.
ACS assists with the return of remains for approximately 2,000
When an American dies abroad, a consular officer notifies the
next of kin about options and costs for disposition of remains.
Costs for preparing and returning a body to the U.S. are high
and are the responsibility of the family. Often local laws and
procedures make returning a body to the U.S. for burial a lengthy
If destitute, Americans can turn to a U.S. consular officer
abroad for help. ACS will help by contacting the destitute person's
family, friends, or business associates to raise private funds.
It will help transmit these funds to destitute Americans.
ACS transfers approximately 3 million dollars a year in private
emergency funds. It can approve small government loans to destitute
Americans abroad until private funds arrive.
ACS also approves repatriation loans to pay for destitute Americans'
direct return to the U.S. Each year over $500,000 are loaned to
ACS works with U.S. consuls abroad to assist Americans who become
physically or mentally ill while traveling. ACS locates family
members, guardians, and friends in the U.S., assists in transmitting
private funds, and, when necessary, assists in arranging the return
of ill or injured Americans to the U.S. by commercial carrier.
Welfare and Whereabouts of U.S. Citizens
ACS receives approximately 12,000 inquiries a year concerning
the welfare or whereabouts of an American abroad. Many inquiries
are from worried relatives who have not heard from the traveler.
Others are attempts to notify the traveler about a family crisis
Most welfare/whereabouts inquiries are successfully resolved.
However, occasionally, a person is truly missing. It is the responsibility
of local authorities to investigate and U.S. consuls abroad will
work to ensure their continued interest in cases involving Americans.
Unfortunately, as in the U.S., sometimes missing persons are never
Consular Information Program
ACS issues fact sheets on every country in the world called
Consular Information Sheets (CIS). The CIS contains information
on entry requirements, crime and security conditions, areas of
instability and other details relevant to travel in a particular
The Office also issues Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends deferral of travel
by Americans to a country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions,
terrorist activity and/or because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations
with the country and cannot assist an American in distress.
Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings may be heard
anytime, by dialing the Office of Overseas Citizens Services travelers'
hotline at (202) 647-5225 from a touchtone phone. They are also
available via Consular Affairs' automated fax system at (202)
647-3000, or at any of the 13 regional passport agencies, at U.S.
embassies and consulates abroad, and through the airline computer
reservation systems, or, by sending a self-addressed, stamped
business size envelope to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services,
Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 4811, U.S. Department of State,
Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.
If you have a personal computer, modem and communications software,
you can access them, and other consular handouts and publications
through the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). This service
is free of charge. To access CABB, dial the modem number - (301)
946-4400. The login is travel; the password is info.
ACS coordinates the Bureau's activities and efforts relating
to international crises or emergency situations involving the
welfare and safety of large numbers of Americans residing or traveling
in a crisis area. Such crises can include plane crashes, hijackings,
natural disasters, civil disorders, and political unrest.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES (CI)
The Office of Children's Issues (CI) formulates, develops and
coordinates policies and programs, and provides direction to foreign
service posts on international parental child abduction and international
adoptions. It also fulfills U.S. treaty obligations relating to
the abduction of children.
CI coordinates policy and provides information on international
adoption to the potential parents. In 1994, over 8,000 foreign
born children where adopted by U.S. citizens. The Department of
State cannot intervene on behalf of an individual in foreign courts
because adoption is a private legal matter within the judicial
sovereignty of the country where the child resides. This office
can, however, offer general information and assistance regarding
the adoption process in over 60 countries.
International Parental Child Abductions
In recent years, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has taken action
in thousands of cases of international parental child abduction.
The Bureau also provides information in response to thousands
of additional inquiries pertaining to international child abduction,
enforcement of visitation rights and abduction prevention techniques.
CI works closely with parents, attorneys, other government agencies,
and private organizations in the U.S. to prevent international
The Hague Convention provides for the return of a child to his
or her habitual place of residence if the child has been wrongfully
removed or retained. CI has been designated by Congress as the
Central Authority to administer the Hague Convention in the United
POLICY REVIEW AND INTERAGENCY LIAISON (PRI)
The Office of Policy Review and Interagency Liaison (PRI) provides
guidance concerning the administration and enforcement of laws
on U.S. citizenship, and on the documentation of Americans traveling
and residing abroad. The Office also provides advice on matters
involving treaties and agreements, legislative matters, including
implementation of new laws, conducts reconsiderations of acquisition
and loss of U.S. citizenship in complex cases abroad, and administers
the overseas federal benefits program.
Consular Conventions and Treaties
PRI works closely with other offices in the State Department
in the negotiation of consular conventions and treaties, including
prisoner transfer treaties.
As a result of these prisoner transfer treaties, many U.S. citizens
convicted of crimes and incarcerated abroad have returned to the
U.S. to complete their sentences.
Over a half-million people receive monthly federal benefits
payments outside the U.S. In many countries, the monthly benefits
checks are mailed or pouched to the consular post and then distributed
through the local postal service. In other countries, the checks
are mailed directly into the beneficiaries foreign bank accounts.
Consular officers assist in the processing of individual benefits
claims and problems; investigate claims on behalf of the agency
concerned; and perform other tasks requested by the agencies or
needed by the beneficiaries or survivors.
PRI is involved with legislation affecting U.S. citizens abroad.
The Office participates in hearings and provides testimony to
Congress on proposed legislation, particularly legislation relating
to the citizenship and welfare of U.S. citizens. They also interpret
laws and regulations pertaining to citizens consular services,
including the administration of the Immigration and Nationality
PRI responds to inquires under the Privacy Act. The provisions
of the Privacy Act are designed to protect the privacy and rights
of Americans but occasionally complicate efforts to assist U.S.
citizens abroad. As a general rule, consular officers may not
reveal information regarding an individual Americans location,
welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members
and Congressional representatives, without the expressed consent
of that individual. In all potential cases, consular officers
explain Privacy Act restrictions and requirements so that all
individuals involved in a case understand the Privacy Act's constraints.
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Friday 8:15 a.m.-10:00 p.m.,
Saturday 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.:
Telephone: (202) 647-5225*
For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and Holidays,
Telephone: (202) 647-4000
Request the OCS duty officer.
*Overseas Citizens Services has a 24-hours a day hotline at
(202) 647-5225 for American Citizens Services (including travel
and citizenship information). Policy Review and Interagency Liaison
can also be reached at this number.
The Office of Children's Issues can be reached by calling (202)
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Department of State