An embassy is a diplomatic building overseas where ambassadors live or work and can help out citizens of their given country. You will find embassies in major cities the world over, and where there is not an embassy there is usually a consulate. In the case of US embassies, American staff may work alongside local staff to help out with passports, travel warnings, travel emergencies, and so on.
You should always register with your embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting, and especially if the country in question is unstable or you are on an extended visit. Check embassies and consulates for travel warnings as they have up-to-date information about destinations, including severe weather, political problems, and the like.
Services provided by embassies and consulates:
- Replace lost passport: while a big problem, lost or stolen passports can be replaced but it is important that you report the loss with the embassy or consulate and also obtain a police report. If you need to be repatriated following the loss of your passport, embassies can issue an emergency travel document to get you home.
- Help getting money: although consulates and embassies cannot loan or simply give you money, they can contact friends or family to have them wire you funds.
- Help with medical assistance: they can provide you with a list of hospitals and clinics in the region that have English-speaking doctors, as well as alert family and friends at home.
- Help in the event of death: the embassy will contact family, arrange for the repatriation of the body and sort out the Report of Death for estate and insurance matters. Repatriation costs will have to be reimbursed.
- Prison help: although consulates cannot get you out of jail, they can provide you with a list of attorneys and inform your family of your predicament.
- Two way contact: family and friends can also get in contact with you through the local embassy/consulate in case of disaster, or the like. The traveler will need to be registered with the embassy abroad, of course.
Non-essential consular services:
Embassies and consulates can also be of use in non-emergency situations, including:
- News at home: the embassy has up-to-date news from back home.
- Local information: if you need to know more information about the country you are visiting, including public holidays and customs, your embassy or consulate will have this information to hand. Some embassies also have cultural programs.
- Birth registration: you can obtain a birth certificate abroad from your embassy or consulate.
- Voting: absentee ballot voting is possible at embassies and consulates abroad.
What embassies and consulates can’t do
Although they can help with problems and emergencies, don’t think that your embassy or consulate will bend over backwards for you. They are there to help only and are not, for instance, a shoulder to cry on or a travel agent. They cannot lend you money, get you out of jail, or get you work.