What does a U.S. Embassy do?

According the U.S. State Department Travel Abroad website


Not sure what an Embassy really is? Well, it’s not just another building full of bureaucrats. In many ways, the U.S. Embassy is your 911 when overseas. Whether you’ve lost your passport, need to evacuate the country, or someone back in the U.S. needs to get in touch with you, the U.S. Embassy is your point of contact for assistance in many different situations. During a natural disaster, political upheaval, or other emergency, consular officers assist American citizens with transportation, evacuation, and in keeping them safe. This is just one of the many reasons that we encourage you to register your trip before you depart. Registration is free, confidential, and can be done online.


If you’re in serious legal, medical, or financial trouble, the U.S. Embassy offers a variety of services.

Health emergencies

Obtaining medical treatment and hospital care abroad can be expensive, and medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost more than $50,000. Note that U.S. medical insurance is generally not accepted outside the United States, nor do the Social Security Medicare and Medicaid programs provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States.

If an American citizen becomes seriously ill or injured abroad, a U. S. consular officer can assist in locating medical services and informing family or friends. If necessary, a consular officer can also assist in the transfer of funds from the United States. However, payment of hospital fees and all expenses are the responsibility of the traveler.

If your insurance policy does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy that does.

There are health insurance policies designed specifically to cover travel. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations. The names of some of the companies offering short-term health and emergency assistance policies are listed in the Medical Information for Americans Abroad.

On their site, you can find a hospital or doctor abroad.



While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

As our Country Specific Information explains, penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, fined, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. If arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, possibly convicted and sentenced, and for any appeals process. Within this framework, U.S. consular officers provide a wide variety of services to U.S. citizens arrested abroad and their families.

On their site, you can find out more information on arrests overseas.


When an American dies abroad, the Department of State must locate and inform the next-of-kin. Sometimes discovering the next-of-kin is difficult. If the American’s name is known, the Bureau’s Office of Passport Services will search for his or her passport application.The Bureau of Consular Affairs provides guidance to grieving family members on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the U.S. The disposition of remains is affected by local laws, customs, and facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the U.S. The Department of State relays the family’s instructions and necessary private funds to cover the costs involved to the embassy or consulate. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains or ashes of American citizens who die abroad. Upon completion of all formalities, the consular officer abroad prepares an official Foreign Service Report of Death, based upon the local death certificate, and sends it to the next-of-kin or legal representative for use in U.S. courts to settle estate matters. Click here for more information about how consular officers can help if there is a death overseas.

Missing Persons

As concerned relatives call in, consular officers use the information provided by the family or friends of a missing person to locate the individual. We check with local authorities in the foreign country for any report of a U.S. citizen hospitalized, arrested, or otherwise unable to communicate with those looking for them. Depending on the circumstances, consular officers may personally search hotels, airports, hospitals, or even prisons.

Privacy Act—The provisions of the Privacy Act are designed to protect the privacy and rights of Americans, but occasionally they complicate our efforts to assist citizens abroad. As a rule, consular officers may not reveal information regarding an individual Americans location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives, without the expressed consent of that individual. Although sympathetic to the distress this can cause concerned families, consular officers must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act.

Non-emergency Services

The U.S. Embassy can help with the following:
• Absentee voting
• Selective Service registration
• Transfer of Social Security/Government benefits
• Acquisition and Loss of U.S. Citizenship
• Providing U.S. tax forms
• Notarizing documents
• Providing information on obtaining foreign public documents

Contact the Office of Overseas Citizen Services for answers related to questions concerning:
• Death of an American citizen abroad
• Arrest/detention of an American citizen abroad
• Robbery of an American citizen abroad
• American citizens missing abroad
• Crisis abroad involving American citizens
• After-hours number for an emergency involving an American citizen abroad

You can reach Overseas Citizen Services
Outside the United States and Canada


Toll free in the U.S. or Canada

Services Not Offered

Since there’s such a large number of travelers and a limited number of consular officers, they do not provide tourist or commercial services. The following is a list of services NOT provided by the U.S. Embassy.
• Tourism services
• Commercial services/banking services
• Search for missing luggage
• Settling of commercial disputes for U.S. citizens
• Interpreter services
• Lawyer advice and services

This information taken from: The U.S. State Department Travel Abroad website