Learn tips and tricks when using a US embassy and consular services to get the most out of your trip.
What can they do for you?
There are two sections of consular services from which Americans traveling abroad may need assistance—the Passport Office and the Citizen Services Office.
The Passport Office handles the issuing of new passports (see next page). The Citizen Services Office handles about everything else. Rather than solving problems, they attempt to provide travelers with enough information to help themselves.
They maintain lists of English-speaking lawyers and doctors. They may know one specializing in your problem or illness.
U.S. officials are usually notified within 48 hours if you are arrested. They will visit, explain the justice system, check on conditions, and help contact your family.
Consular services can quickly transfer emergency funds through the Citizen Services Trust Fund. However, they do not in general pay expenses or lend money.
NOTE: The consular services or embassy is not a bank—it can’t cash checks or make loans; it is not a travel agency—it can’t make hotel reservations or flight arrangements, or recommend sights.
What to do if your passport is lost
About 27,000 U.S. passports are lost or stolen abroad every year. Report the loss immediately to local authorities.
Contact the closest U.S. embassy or consulate. There is always a duty officer on call who can usually get you a replacement or obtain permission for you to return to the States.
Travelers have to replace their passport before returning to the United States. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. Contact information for U.S. embassies and consular services is also available in our Country Specific Information pages. Ask to speak to the Consular Section to report the passport lost or stolen. The normal passport fees are collected from applicants for replacement passports.
If a victim of a serious crime, be sure to tell a consular officer about it as soon as possible so they can provide appropriate assistance. If scheduled to leave the foreign country shortly, provide the consular staff with the details of travel. The staff will make every effort to assist. They will direct Americans with lost passports to where they can obtain a photo for a replacement passport. In most cases, they will need to get a passport photo prior to arrival at the consular section.
However, if the applicant is the victim of a serious crime, or the applicant is a victim of a disaster and the applicant does not have and cannot reasonably be expected to obtain money to pay the fees before continuing travel, the passport fee may be waived and a limited-validity passport will be issued. When the person applies for a full-validity passport upon their return to the United States, the regular passport fee will be charged for the replacement passport.
If notified by a relative or friend traveling abroad that his/her U.S. passport has been lost/stolen, contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C, at 1-888-407-4747. That office will be able to provide information that will put a friend or loved one in touch with the closest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If a traveler has lost all identification, he or she should bring along anyone who can vouch for his or her citizenship, or anything that might prove his or her identity (plane tickets, engraved jewelry, a prescription bottle, or the like).
Do not go to the airport and expect to be allowed to board a plane back to the United States. This won’t work and you’re wasting precious time.
Make two copies (color copies, if possible) of all travel documents and identification papers before you leave—e.g., tickets, driver’s license, passport. Take one copy (keep it separate from your passport) and leave one with someone back home whom you can call in an emergency. (If you are a member of one of US Customs & Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs—Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI—bring your Trusted Traveler ID card and keep it in a separate place from your passport.)
If travelers find their lost passport after they’ve already applied for a new one, return the old one to the passport-issuing office.
If travelers received a limited/emergency passport abroad, upon arrival home, take it to a passport agency with proof of citizenship, identification and explanation of loss. That office will issue a new permanent passport.
Holidays and weekends passport service at consulates
Most U.S. embassies and consular services cannot issue passports on weekends or holidays when the embassy/consulate is closed. All U.S. embassies and consular services have after-hours duty officers available to assist with life or death emergencies of U.S. citizens abroad. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate after-hours duty officer for assistance if you have an emergency need to travel or have been the victim of a serious crime.
Duty officers must focus primary attention on life or death emergencies. In most cases, except for serious emergencies, a replacement passport will not be issued until the next business day.
Death overseas — What the consulate can do to help
from State Department documents
When an U.S. citizen dies abroad, the Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the family and friends during this difficult time. The Bureau of Consular Affairs will locate and inform the next-of-kin of the U.S. citizen’s death and provides information on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the United States. The disposition of remains is subject to U.S. law, local laws of the country where the individual died, U.S. and foreign customs requirements, and the foreign country facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the United States.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the next-of-kin to convey instructions to the appropriate offices within the foreign country, and provides information to the family on how to transmit the necessary private funds to cover the costs overseas. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains or ashes of U.S. citizens who die abroad. Upon issuance of a local death certificate, the nearest embassy or consulate may prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of that report are provided to the next-of-kin or legal representative and may be used in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.
A U.S. consular officer overseas has statutory responsibility for the personal estate of a U.S. citizen who dies abroad if the deceased has no legal representative or next-of-kin in the country where the death occurred, subject to local law. In that situation, the consular officer takes possession of personal effects, such as jewelry, personal documents and papers, and clothing.
The officer prepares an inventory of the personal effects and then carries out instructions from the legal representative or next-of-kin concerning the effects. For more information on the Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad, and other services that a consular officer can help you with when a loved one passes away overseas, see the links below.
- Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad
- Return of Remains of Deceased U.S. Citizens
- Estates of Deceased U.S. Citizens
- Report of Deaths of U.S. Citizens Abroad
Get Help with a Medical Emergency Abroad
If a U.S. citizen becomes seriously ill or injured abroad, a consular officer from the U.S. embassy or consulate can assist in locating appropriate medical services and informing the family or friends. If necessary, a consular officer can also assist in the transfer of funds from the United States. However, payment of hospital and other expenses is the patient’s responsibility. They can find local medical and emergency information at the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate near the ill or injured person. Find it online at www.usembassy.gov.