While many of us may still retain the rather romantic notion that our embassy will be able to help us if we get into trouble abroad, the truth is that embassies actually have a rather limited scope, and in many situations, we would be better off finding help elsewhere.
Embassies and consulates both represent their own government and country within a foreign nation. There will only be one embassy where the ambassador is stationed, whereas there may be a number of consulates. In some countries, there might only be a consulate. The key things that both can help you with are diplomatic and legal issues.
Contact your consulate or embassy if you:
Lose your passport. An embassy can issue you with temporary papers. Carrying a photocopy of your passport will help to speed up the process, so be sure to always have one to hand.
Are victim of a crime. Your first stop is the police, of course, but if you are left in need of help, either medical or financial, your embassy can put you in touch with the right resources.
Need to urgently transfer money from the UK. An embassy can help arrange this for you if you find you find yourself in trouble.
Are in need of medical help. If you're not sure where to turn, an embassy can point you in the right direction.
Need legal help. Your embassy can put you in touch with an English speaking lawyer.
Decide you would like to stay longer in a country and need help with a resident or working visa in order to remain.
Want to pay your taxes in your home country or cast an absentee ballot - your embassy can arrange the paperwork for this.
Are thinking of setting up a business in the country. Your embassy can advise on making contacts with trade bodies and how to find out any legal and financial obligations.
Need help with a missing person in the country. If one of your party disappears, contacting both your embassy as well as police will help speed up the search.
Tip: If you can get to an embassy rather that a consulate, you may find your issue is dealt with much more speedily, as consulates will pass some issues on to embassies anyway.
What they can't help you with:
Marriages. Do organise this before you go. Your best solution is to find a wedding planner experienced with organising marriages in that particular country.
Providing financial help. They can help arrange a transfer from your own bank or a friend or family member who wants to help, but they will not subsidise you.
Freeing you from imprisonment.They will try to ensure that you are looked after and that you have access to legal counsel, but they cannot legally intercede.
Hotel reservations or flight plans. They won't be able to help you with any of your travel plans.
If you're in trouble, your hotel or hostel can help you locate your embassy or consulate, but just doing a little research online and having the address and number to hand can save a lot of time. Â Do remember that your travel insurance provider can direct you to the right medical attention, and help sort out legal advice.more blog posts