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Embassy Services

By PAUL RYDEN 

Everybody knows that when you’re in trouble on foreign soil, you should dash for the nearest embassy. But few know what type of help it can provide. Can an embassy get you out of jail? Can it annul last night’s drunken marriage? Find out what you need to know before you travel.

What is an Embassy?
An embassy represents your country in a foreign land. It hosts traveling dignitaries, deals with international political and business relations, and houses ambassadors. It is also a high-powered help desk for foreign travelers. But an embassy doesn’t deal with hotel reservations or travel plans; it sticks to more serious matters like passports, visas, emergency money transfers, birth certificates, and death notices. Embassies are only located in capital cities, so if you’re off the beaten path, they may be difficult to find.

Consulates, on the other hand, don’t deal with international relations and diplomacy, and they don’t house ambassadors. They exist solely to help travelers or people living and working in foreign lands. Because of this, unfriendly foreign governments are tolerant of consulates, making them far more common than embassies.

As many smaller cities around the world house consulates, they are more easily accessible than embassies. They can handle all the same travel paperwork as an embassy, including forms pertaining to visas, passports, taxes, absentee voting, and other day-to-day matters.

The embassy and consulate agents that can help you are called “consuls.” Ambassadors don’t deal with travelers’ visas, passports or legal battles.

Help on Foreign Soil

You're not alone in foreign lands. Embassies and consulates can offer a helping hand when you need it. Before you travel, find out where the embassies and consulates are in your destination country, and keep your list in a safe place. You never know when you may need it.

  1. Embassy Services
  2. Assistance if Arrested
  3. Help in a Foreign Country

Services for Travelers
If you lose your passport, head for an embassy. To help them help you, always travel with a photocopy of your passport stashed somewhere safe and leave another copy with a friend back home.

Likewise, if you want to hang around in a foreign country and you need a visa, pop on by. Embassy or consulate personnel can tell you what you need to do to legally extend your stay and help with any associated paperwork.

If you’re away during elections, embassies and consulates can help you cast an absentee ballot. If you forgot to file your taxes, they can give you tax forms. If you welcome a bundle of joy into the world on foreign soil, they can issue a birth certificate -- but only if both parents are naturalized citizens of the home country.

They can also help you find medical assistance when you’re sick or injured. And if you run out of cash and you need Dad to wire some funds, they can set up the transfer and disburse the money. Likewise, they can put you in touch with banks back home so you can secure a loan.

Need to start a business in a foreign country? Visit the local consulate or embassy before you enter into any agreements. They’ll be able to tell you how to legally operate your business and avoid lawsuits and/or hefty taxes. Consuls can also notarize official documents.

Embassies and consulates cannot deal with marriages. Every country has its own marriage laws and you’ll need to abide by them if you want to marry a foreign citizen. If you fall madly in love and you want to whisk your new bride away to the beautiful shores of New Jersey (or wherever home is), they can tell you all about immigration laws, but they can’t make your new bride a citizen of your country.

Getting You out of Deep Trouble
Contrary to what you’ve seen in certain TV movies, an embassy cannot get you out of jail. When you’re traveling, you are subject to the laws of the land, and if you break them, you’re essentially on your own. A consulate or embassy can offer minimal help, but they will by no means break you out of the slammer.

If you are arrested, contact the nearest consulate immediately. A consular agent will tell you how to deal with the local legal system and set you up with lawyers. He will also notify your friends and family back home of your predicament, which could do a lot to get you out of jail.

The consulate can also keep you relatively safe while you’re incarcerated. Consular agents will do their best to make sure that you’re not abused or mistreated while you’re locked up by filing complaints with local courts and officials. But prison is still prison, so don’t expect good conditions.

They can help if you go missing. If you don’t show up at the airport, friends and family can call the embassy or consulate where you’re traveling to find out where you are. Consular agents can comb the city (and country) to find you, checking with local authorities, hospitals, hotels, and guest houses. In some cases, however, you may not want to be found; perhaps you’re hiding from the ex or mom is just too overbearing. Embassies and consulates will keep your secret if you ask -- as long as you’re not running from the law.

Published Monday, January 8, 2007 9:24 AM by Kanoa Biondolillo

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