How To Handle An Overseas
Travel Emergency

Having a travel emergency overseas is not an everyday occurrence.

Most Americans traveling abroad experience nothing more than a minor incon-venience or two, when they travel in Europe or anywhere overseas.

You go, you have a wonderful time, you come home. With lots of travel memories, photos, and tales to tell your friends.

But occasionally, the unthinkable happens.

A serious travel emergency occurs, and you need help....

When planning a trip to Europe or wherever your travel dreams take you, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation for what may be the trip of a lifetime.

But in the small chance something dreadful occurs during your trip, it pays to know in advance where to turn to for help, if you can’t help yourself.

Rooftops of Old Lisbon

The same Consular Services agency of the U.S. Department of State that issues international travel warnings can also help you, if you have a travel emergency while overseas.

Known as the ACS [Office of American Citizens Services & Crisis Management], this agency works with U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe to provide travel emergency services to Americans living, working, and traveling abroad.

By logging onto the DOS website [], you can review the types of emergency travel services and assistance available to Americans  overseas.

The summaries below illustrate some of the ways this agency can help.  You can find how to access help or get assistance in solving any number of travel emergency situations,  just in case you or a traveling companion encounters a critical circumstance overseas, that you're unable to resolve on your own.

Help With A Travel Emergency Overseas

Of the many travel emergency situations where Consular Services can step in to help, there are four that rise to the top:

  •  Arrest, including Drug Offenses
  •  Death or Severe Medical Crisis
  •  Being the Victim of Crime
  •  International Terrorism

Arrest - There are over 2500 arrests of Americans traveling abroad each year. At least a third are the result of drug offenses against the laws of the country being visited.

American rights do not exist overseas: they end at U.S. borders. The laws of the country you’re visiting apply to everyone who enters that country.

Regardless of the crime or the country, the U.S. government cannot get you out of jail.

But members of the Consular team [ACS] will assist you in the following ways:

  • Offer to contact your family or friends
  • Inform you about the local legal system
  • Provide you with a list of local attorneys
  • Visit you and monitor jail conditions
  • Be on the lookout for possible mistreatment

Death or Medical Crisis - Almost 6,000 Americans die overseas each year.

While most of these are American expatriates living abroad, regular tourists also succumb to serious illnesses or have fatal accidents.

Flemish Municipal Building

The ACS can  help with returning remains to the U.S., which they do for about 2,000 Americans each year.

They can confirm the identity and death of the deceased, as well as assist with the necessary documents.

ACS will notify family members and pro-vide options and costs for the return or disposition of remains.

Costs for returning a deceased U.S. citizen home is expensive - and it is solely the responsibility of the deceased's family.

[Foreign local laws can often make this a lengthy and exhausting process.]

For emergency medical travel, ACS will assist family or friends with local doctors, hospitals, and information to help patients return to U.S. soil by commercial carrier.

They'll also help with transferring funds, if necessary.

All costs for medical treatment or emer-gency medical travel to return someone to the U.S. are paid by family members.

Victim of Crime - Consular Services is often called on for assistance to help Americans traveling abroad, who are victims of crime.

They'll help you replace a stolen passport, assist with the transfer of funds from home, and contact family, friends, or an employer on your behalf.

They can help with obtaining appropriate medical care, if there's an accom-panying medical emergency [but they don't pay for it].

They can provide information about the local criminal justice system, as well as about your particular case.

They can provide information on victim assistance programs that might be available both locally [overseas] and back home in the U.S.

And, they'll assist in finding local overseas attorneys who speak English.

Terrorism Overseas - Acts of terrorism are by definition, unpredictable.

While they may have been thought out or even well executed by the terror perpetrators, there is little, if any, advance knowledge before acts of terrorism are committed.

The best precaution is not to travel to areas of the world with a record of unrest or history of terrorism.

Oberkassel Houses in Dusseldorf

If terrorism is known to occur in the area you choose to travel, you may actually be safer making inde-pendent travel plans, rather than joining a group travel program.

Since independent itineraries are often more random – at least in the eyes of terrorists - they have little way to predict unique travel plans.

Terror attacks are generally carried out where they can do the most damage.

The best protection for traveling safely is to take precautions before travel and familiarize yourself with current geo-political conditions in the area you plan to travel to. 

The best way to prevent a terror-related travel emergency is to avoid lingering in places with high tourist congregations, like airports, bus and train stations, or other travel hubs. Keep your itinerary and all travel plans to yourself.

Don't stay longer than necessary in areas of high tourist activity. Once you've done what you came to do, move on.

Always have control of your luggage [but no one else's]. Stay away from any bags not attached to another human being.

The chance of a terrorist attack in most parts of the world is minor. But, the most important thing you can do is be aware.

Travel smart and be smart about where you go and what you do. Don’t take chances. Protect yourself, as if your life depends on it. It may.

And remember: the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists.

There are many more ways the ACS and Consular Services can help with a travel emergency abroad.  When out of the country, you can reach them in the U.S. by phone at 00-1-202-501-4444.

They'll either help you directly, or refer you to a local overseas office for assistance.

If you have someone back home who can help, have them call for you [toll free] at 888-407-4747 during business hours, or 202-647-5225 after hours, for assistance and information. The ACS is available 24 hours a day.

From loss of funds [they make you a loan] to natural or man-made disasters [earthquakes and floods, riots and protests], the goal of the ACS is to provide help, information, and assistance to Americans overseas, whenever and wherever help is needed.

For more tips and information on if it's safe to travel, see the following pages:

How A Travel Advisory Affects Your Trip - Learn the difference between a Travel Advisory, a Travel Alert, and a Travel Warning.

U.S. Embassies and Consulates are just a phone call away when you're overseas. They're your lifeline to home if you're hurt, sick, or in trouble.

Use Country Specific Information and Background Notes when you begin your travel prep, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Return to Is It Safe To Travel?

Travel Tip

A frequent job that U.S. Embassy and Consulate personnel are asked to do is locate 'missing' travelers. While not always a true travel emergency, 'lost travelers' can be the cause of great stress and anxiety to family members and friends back home.

Do them a favor. Before you go, register your trip with the STEP program at the Department of State website. That way, if a situation arises where some-one needs to find you or reach you, they have a place to start.

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