Why You Should Get to Know Your Home Country’s Embassy   

People who travel the world on a regular basis need to be prepared for the unexpected. Passports can get lost, people may get sick, and emergencies happen.

World Events also affect world travelers. In early November 2015, the U.K. government held all flights to and from the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh when intelligence indicated that the crash of a Russian plane in Sinai a few days earlier might have been caused by a bomb.

For crises both big and small, an embassy or consulate is often the best resource available to people traveling outside their home country. Embassies are locations in foreign countries where diplomats are based, and they offer assistance to people from, or seeking to communicate with, their home country. Consulates are similar, but smaller and tend to be located in tourist cities partly so that they can handle the sort of problems travelers encounter.

Get Online and Learn About Embassies

One smart thing to do before traveling to another country is looking at the website for your country’s embassies and consulates. Many sites offer phone numbers and email addresses to contact in case of an emergency, as well as information about what the embassy can do for you.

The U.K. government’s website has an informative section titled “Worldwide Organisations” that includes links for each of the U.K.’s embassies.

By going to those sites you can find location and phone number for the embassy, travel advice, and much more. Not all pages offer the same information. For example, the page about the Embassy in Brussels offers a link to a list of English-speaking lawyers in Belgium, but the page for Tehran does not provide a similar list.

If there is an area where the embassy cannot provide assistance, the website can point you in the right direction. For example, embassies cannot arrange visas, but embassy websites provide links to the government’s website devoted to visas and immigration. Consulates and embassies also cannot arrange passports, but the pages provide an easy-to-find link to Her Majesty’s Passport Office and a page about overseas passport applications.

Lost a Passport? Call the Embassy

The kind of assistance available changes from embassy to embassy. When it comes to passports, the U.S. embassy in Paris can offer help in regard to a lost or stolen passport. If a U.S. citizen were to lose a passport in Paris, he or she can apply for a new one through the embassy if they aren’t traveling immediately. People planning on traveling out of Paris within 10 business days can apply for an emergency limited-validity passport in person at the embassy.

The German embassy in London can issue a temporary passport that is valid for up to one year. In general, applications need to be filled in person, and it’s important to note that some countries do not accept the temporary passport as a valid travel document.

British embassies and consulates do not issue passports as they fall under the jurisdiction of Her Majesty’s Passport Office. However, if your passport gets lost, stolen or damaged while traveling, you can apply for emergency travel documents through an embassy or consulate. An emergency travel document allows a British citizen to leave the country they’re in to their destination. Applications for an emergency travel document are available in person at a British embassy, consulate or high commission. The staff there also can tell you what visas you will need to return home.

Dealing with an Arrest

For the most part, embassies cannot help you get out of jail if you get arrested in a foreign country. But calling an embassy should still be one of the first things you should do if an arrest were to happen.

For travelers from the UK, an embassy will do what they can to contact you within 24 hours of being told you’re detained. Many embassies offer a prison pack for British nationals. The packs explain the legal and prison system for each country through such stages as arrest and sentencing. For many countries, the embassy can provide a list of English-speaking lawyers, but the list is not a recommendation or endorsement of any lawyers. It’s also important to know that an embassy or consulate cannot stop deportation, or interfere in criminal or civil court proceedings.

For Canadian citizens, an embassy will notify friends and family of your arrest, and let them know of ways they can help. The embassy also will help you communicate with your lawyer, as well as family and friends. Other services Canadian embassies offer include making sure you receive equitable treatment in keeping with the standards of the host country; providing you with information about the local judicial and prison system; assist with the purchase of basic items (at your expense); delivering letters if postal service isn’t available, conveying telephone messages and helping with the transfer of funds from friends and family.

Getting Married Overseas

On a happier note, if you get married in a foreign city, then you should find out what an embassy can offer you. For example, the British embassy in Brussels can issue certificates for marital status or make a certified copy of documents, such as a passport, which you may need to get married in Brussels. The embassy offers information as to fees and paperwork that is needed to get married in the city.

In Sweden, the British embassy in Stockholm can provide notary and document services to British nationals. However, it cannot provide any services offered by local notaries.

Other embassies don’t offer the same assistance. For example the U.K.’s Tel Aviv embassy advises consulting with Israeli authorities about local marriage laws, noting that the marriage should be recognized in the U.K. The Warsaw embassy notes that British citizens who want to marry in Poland need to obtain a document, called a Certificate of No Impediment, that proves they can legally get married. It also provides a link to the form.

Websites for many U.S. embassies provide information about getting married in foreign countries. For example, the website for the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, explains that it’s fairly easy for an American to marry in Tokyo.

Personnel from U.S. embassies and consulates cannot perform marriages. Different countries have different marriage requirements. For example, some countries require an affidavit as proof to enter a marriage contract, an embassy or consulate can likely help you execute the affidavit.

Living Abroad

If you plan on spending a significant time in a foreign country, there’s a good chance the embassy in that country can provide you with helpful information. Embassies may have information on health care, education, employment, driving laws, work, and important documents.

Depending on the country, the embassy may also be able to help you in such areas as medications you may need, social ethics and traditions, and laws involving the purchase of property.

Anyone traveling with children should do a little extra research. For example, the UK embassy in Vienna advises that border officials are vigilant with minors traveling on their own or with adults who aren’t their parents or legal guardians.

As you are traveling, you should protect your belongs and consider purchasing international property insurance. Clements insurance covers full replacement cost paid on claims.

For the latest updates on safety and security and health risks on over 100 countries, visit Clements’ country risk assessment guides.

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