What Does an Embassy Do? What is the Purpose of Your Home Country’s Embassy?
No person abroad is completely immune from unexpected and sometimes unfortunate events. So, if you find yourself in an emergency or life changing event, getting to know your home country’s embassy while abroad in the foreign country can help ease some of your worries.
Here’s what you should know about embassies, how they operate, and how they can help you:
What is an Embassy?
An embassy is the residence of government officials in foreign countries who represent their home countries. Many large governments, like the United States, United Kingdom and other European countries, have embassies located all over the world where they provide services to members of their home country abroad. Embassies also work with local governments and organizations on shared interests.
What’s the Difference Between an Embassy and a Consulate?
You may hear these two terms used interchangeably. While they are related, embassies and consulates are not the exact same thing. Here’s the difference between the two:
- Embassy: Embassies are locations in foreign countries where diplomats are based. They help citizens seeking to communicate with their home country and local nationals who wish to travel to the country the embassy represents.
- Consulate: Consulates are branch offices of an embassy. A nation can have several consulates in another country. While most embassies are located in a nation’s capital, they can have consulates in other large cities. That way, they can help travelers and expats located in different parts of the country.
What is the Purpose of an Embassy?
The purpose of an embassy is to assist citizens of its home country living, working or traveling overseas. Embassy offices are typically located in capital cities and can offer multiple services to its residents abroad, including:
- Issuing emergency passports (if yours got lost or stolen)
- Replacing/renewing your passport
- Issuing birth reports for children born abroad
- Issuing death reports for residents who pass away abroad
- Accepting ballots for elections in a person’s home country
- Filing taxes in a person’s home country
- Navigating foreign police, legal and medical systems
- Assisting residents who get arrested or detained abroad
- Notarizing certain documents for use in a foreign country or your home country
- Assisting with emergency/evacuation situations
Embassies can help citizens from the foreign country it resides in become citizens of the country the embassy represents.
Embassies also collaborate with local governments, businesses, and other organizations, and work with local citizens interested in traveling to the US.
How Can an Embassy Help Me?
Embassies can provide various resources and assistance for different challenges and life facets you face during your time abroad. Here are a few things they can assist you with:
Getting Home in the Event of a Crisis
An embassy can help you in a crisis, but only in specific circumstances. For instance, embassies can help with emergency evacuations amid crises like natural disasters, war or other forms of civil unrest. However, that assistance does not include paying for your flight back home or providing government transportation to safety. At the same time, an embassy can arrange money transfers with banks, employers, or family members to get you the funds you need. See the State Department’s Emergency Financial Assistance information.
Provide Short-Term Protection (Depending on Situation)
Embassies can provide short-term refuge, and will contact the US Refugee Admissions Program or the Department of Homeland Security on your behalf. However, for the embassy to justify these actions, it must believe that the actions taken against you provide an imminent physical threat.
Dealing with an Arrest
In most cases, an embassy cannot help you get out of jail if you get arrested in a foreign country. However, if you were to get arrested, you should still call the embassy, as they can provide contact information for English-speaking attorneys and resources on how to work with local police.
For travelers from the UK, your 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 note 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 can also 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.
Losing a Passport
When it comes to passports, US Embassies can offer help regarding a lost or stolen passport. For example, if a US citizen were to lose a passport in Paris, they 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 can issue a temporary passport that is valid for up to one year. In general, applications need to be filed 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 and travel 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.
Getting Married Overseas
If you get married in a foreign country, you should find out what services your embassy or consulate can offer you.
Websites for many US embassies provide helpful information about getting married in foreign countries. For example, the website for the US embassy in Tokyo, explains that it’s fairly easy for an American to marry in Tokyo.
Personnel from US embassies and consulates cannot perform marriages. Different countries have different marriage requirements. For example, some require an affidavit as proof to enter a marriage contract, an embassy or consulate can likely help you execute the affidavit.
The British embassy in Brussels can issue certificates for marital status or make a certified copies of documents like your 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 UK’s Tel Aviv embassy advises consulting with Israeli authorities about local marriage laws, noting that the marriage should be recognized in the UK.
The Warsaw embassy notes that British citizens who want to marry in Poland must obtain a document called a Certificate of No Impediment that proves they can legally get married. It also provides a link to the form.
How can I Get More Information About My Country’s Embassy?
Before traveling to another country, look for your country’s embassy and consulates website. Many of those sites provide phone numbers and email addresses to contact in case of an emergency. It can also provide more detailed information about what the embassy can do for you.
If there is an area where the embassy cannot help you, the embassy 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.
For instance, the UK government’s website has an informative section titled “Worldwide Organizations” that includes links for each of the U.K.’s embassies The U.S. also offers their own version of this.
However, not all embassy pages offer the same information. For example, the Embassy page for Brussels offers a link to a list of English-speaking lawyers in Belgium, but the Tehran embassy page does not.
Always Keep the Embassy in Mind When Abroad
As you travel, live and work abroad, getting to know your home embassy or consulate can be beneficial when the unexpected occurs. Because when you’re abroad, having peace of mind can make a world of difference in your experience.
And while the embassy can help replace your passport, it can never replace your other personal belongings. That’s why why obtaining overseas personal property insurance is so important. Clements Worldwide’s international personal property solutions can replace lost, damaged, and stolen items at their original cost. Want to learn more about how it works? Visit our international personal property insurance page for more details.