U S Embassies and Consulates
How to Get Help Overseas
When You Need It

U S embassies and consulates are located in countries around the world, wher-ever the United States has diplomatic relations with a specific foreign country.

Those who work in either an American embassy or American consulate are the official representatives of the United States and its interests. They act as liaisons between our government and the host country in which they're located.

Having U.S. embassies and consulates in any foreign country demonstrates that the United States recognizes the sovereignty of that country.

Foreign governments do the same by having a reciprocal embassy, consulate, or diplomatic mission in the United States.  

The word embassy is often used to refer to the building or cluster of buildings where the Ambassador, his staff, and offices are located.

Actually, the embassy is the people – the diplomatic delegation - who serve there.

The Ambassador is the point person for the embassy where he serves. He's the primary spokesperson for his delegation.

Central Station in Amsterdam

An American embassy is usually located in a country's capital city, with only one embassy to a country. But there can be several American consulates in the same country.

They're usually located in other major cities that attract large numbers of Ameri-can tourists, or wherever the U.S. government may have interests.

A U.S. consulate can do most of the things a U.S. embassy can do, but they often spend much of their time dealing with American travelers away from home or U.S. expatriates living abroad.

They provide various consular services, including help with passports, licenses for importing or exporting goods, assistance for tourists in trouble, as well as friend-ship and trade with the host country.

Additionally, they assist with visas for non-U.S. travelers who want to visit the United States.

People who work in an American consulate are called Consular Officers, with the in-charge person being known as the Consul, or Consulate General.

Like those who work in an American embassy, they are representatives of the U.S. government and have the benefit - as well as the responsibility - of diplo-matic immunity.

U S embassies and consulates work under the Department of State. It's their responsibility to convey U.S. policy to foreign governments, as well as to international organizations, such as the Red Cross.

As official government representatives, U S embassies and consulates react to locally unsafe conditions or hostilities, whenever they occur.

Even though the physical buildings of an American consulate or embassy are considered U.S. property and can serve as a safe haven for U.S. citizens in times of unrest, they are not immune to attack or destruction.

Embassy closings are infrequent. But when steps are taken to close or vacate an embassy due to political unrest or instability, it’s a clear sign to any who choose to remain in that country, that they do so at their own risk.

Tower Bridge Over the Thames

What U S Embassies and Consulates Can Do For You

There are many things U S embassies and consulates can do for you, if you find yourself in trouble or in need of help, when traveling overseas.

Primarily, they help travelers help themselves out of whatever predicament they might find themselves in. They can

  • replace a lost or stolen passport, once identity has been verified
  • contact family, friends, or employers back home
  • help locate lost, missing [or presumed missing] travelers
  • help obtain medical care and recommend local medical facilities
  • provide information on local English-speaking doctors, as well as their training and specialties
  • help transfer funds or receive funds from home
  • provide assistance for a death overseas, including notification to family and returning remains to the United States
  • provide emergency assistance, if you're a victim of crime
  • provide information about the local criminal justice process
  • visit you in jail if you're arrested and advise you of your rights under local law
  • provide sources for local English-speaking attorneys and their areas of legal expertise
  • register overseas births to American parents
  • notarize documents and supply governmental forms

What U S Embassies and Consulates Can't Do For You

There are limits to the kind and amount of help U S embassies and consulates can provide.

Many American travelers mistakenly assume if they get into trouble overseas, the U.S. government will step in and make it all right.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

American consular services can only go so far to assist travelers and protect them from themselves: 

  • they cannot cash checks [including Travelers Checks]
  • they cannot supply you with funds or hand out money, even if you’ve been the victim of a crime
  • they cannot pay physicians, hospitals, or medical expenses
  • they cannot help American citizens arrested for committing a crime
  • they cannot get you out of jail, or have your charges reduced
  • they cannot give you legal advice, or serve as your attorney
  • they cannot serve as interpreters or translators
  • they cannot pay legal or other fees
  • they cannot take you on a tour of the embassy or consulate

While U S embassies and consulates take crime against American citizens very seriously, it's not only your right, but your responsibility, to contact American consular services for help, if or when you need it.

You can do this online through the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

You can also find web pages for individual American embassies and consulates located anywhere in the world at U S Embassy.gov

If you find yourself without online access but have an emergency overseas and need help, you can reach someone by phone at the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs by dialing internationally: 00-1-202-501-4444.

Mosaic Sidewalk in Lisbon

Before you travel anywhere outside the U.S., find the local address and/or phone contact for all U S embassies and consulates in the areas you plan to travel.

Keep this information with your important travel docu-ments. It could be both critical and time-saving in the event of a serious travel emergency.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, register your trip with the DOS STEP program before you leave home.

If you have an emergency overseas and need help, or if an impending event arises that puts you in jeopardy while traveling, this is the best - and perhaps the only - way you can be reached for notification.

Before the days of the internet, overseas travelers were encouraged to register directly with the embassy or consulate in countries they were visiting.

This often needed to be done in person once you arrived in country. It was neither practical nor convenient.

But in today's wired world, it takes only a few clicks.

Registering your trip is particularly important, if you have either children or elderly relatives at home, or if you plan to be traveling overseas in excess of a month or living abroad. 

If it becomes necessary to reach you due to a family emergency back home, or if U S embassies and consulates have information of an impending political crisis or unstable situation, they have a much better chance of finding you, if you've registered your trip.

This is the best way for U.S. travelers to insure their personal safety on any trip overseas.

While increases in security worldwide make it unlikely you'll find yourself in an emergent situation when traveling overseas, take the steps to increase your personal safety while abroad. It's as simple as filling out a form!

For more tips and information on keeping yourself safe when you travel, check the following pages:

How Does A Travel Advisory Affect Your Trip? Learn the difference between a Travel Advisory, a Travel Alert, and a Travel Warning.

Dealing With A Travel Emergency Overseas. How do you find the help you need, when you can't help yourself?

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

Return to Safe To Travel

Travel  Tip

Take precautions to avoid being a victim of crime or petty thievery while traveling. Don’t wear expensive clothes, shoes, or jewelry. Americans: leave your tennis shoes at home - they scream 'tourist'.

Don’t display large amounts of cash or be obvious with cash or credit cards. Keep your daily money separate from the rest of your travel funds.

Do your best to blend in and be inconspicuous. Try not to look like a tourist.

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