CHAPTER 6 CONSULAR ASSISTANCE AND LEGAL ISSUES

REQUIRED DOCUMENTS

PASSPORTS

American citizens should have a valid passport before taking up residence abroad. Once living abroad, Americans should continue to maintain a valid passport. If you are overseas, consult the nearest US embassy or consulate. Not all embassies and consulates abroad are authorized to accept passport applications by mail or via a third party courier. Contact the US embassy or consulate in your consular district to find out if it accepts passport applications by mail or via a third party courier. You should also bring

cartoon #5 There's nothing like a friendly face and a welcome hand

with you such personal documents as birth certificates and your marriage license, which are often needed to obtain housing and local driver's licenses, and to complete school matriculation.

VISAS

All governments require foreigners to have an appropriate visa in order to reside in their country. This endorsement or stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government permits you to enter that country for a specified purpose. If you are planning to reside in a country for an indefinite period of time, most countries will require you to seek residence status. In most instances you must obtain the necessary visa before you leave the United States.

ASSISTANCE FROM AMERICAN CONSULS

In your stay abroad you will no doubt find the nearest US embassy or consulate to be useful to you in many ways. US consular officers are located in over 250 foreign service posts abroad. They are available to advise and help you, especially if you are in any kind of serious trouble. In addition, consular agents in a number of foreign cities without US consulates provide a limited range of emergency and other consular services.

Although consular officers are responsive to the needs of all Americans traveling or residing abroad, the majority of their time is devoted to assisting Americans who are in serious legal, medical, or financial difficulties. They can provide the names of local doctors, dentists, medical specialists, and attorneys, and give you information about travel advisories. Consular officers also perform non-emergency services, including information on absentee voting, selective service registration, and acquisition and loss of US citizenship. They can arrange for the transfer of Social Security and other US Government benefits to beneficiaries residing abroad, provide US tax forms, and notarize documents. They may also provide information on how to obtain foreign public documents.

Because of the limited number of consular officers and the growing number of US tourists and residents abroad, consuls cannot provide tourism or commercial services. For example, consuls cannot perform the work of travel agencies, lawyers, information bureaus, banks, or the police. They cannot find you jobs, get residence or driving permits, act as interpreters, search for missing luggage, or settle commercial disputes.

REGISTRATION AT US EMBASSIES OR CONSULATES

As soon as you arrive abroad, you should register in person or by telephone with the nearest US embassy or consulate. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare or whereabouts may not be released to inquirers without your express authorization. If you register in person, you should bring your US passport with you. Your passport data will be recorded at the embassy or consulate, thereby making it easier for you to apply for a replacement passport should it be lost or stolen.

CONSULAR OFFICIALS AND THEIR DUTIES

The Chief of Mission (with the title of Ambassador, Minister, or Chargé d'Affaires) and the Deputy Chief of Mission are the heads of diplomatic missions. They are responsible for all parts of the mission within a country, including the consular post. The Economic/Commercial Officers represent all the commercial interests in the country to which they are assigned. Their responsibilities include promoting trade and exports, arranging appointments for their citizens with local businessmen and government officials, and providing the maximum possible assistance to their country's businesses within the host country. Political Officers study and report on local political developments and the possible effects these developments might have on their country's interests. Labor Officers are well informed on labor issues in their particular countries and can supply information on such things as wages, non-wage costs, local security regulations, etc. The Consular Officers are the ones with whom you, as an expatriate, will have the most contact. Their function is to give you and your property the protection of your government. They maintain lists of their citizens living in the area, have lists of local attorneys, and act as liaison with police and other officials. Finally, the Administrative Officer is in charge of the normal business operations of the post, including all purchasing for the embassy or consulate.

SPECIFIC CONSULATE SERVICES FOR US CITIZENS

LOSS OR THEFT OF A US PASSPORT

When living overseas, the Department of State recommends that you keep your passport at home in a safe, secure place. Although a passport kept at an available storage facility outside the home might offer maximum security, keep in mind that an emergency requiring immediate travel may make it difficult or impossible to obtain your passport before departure. In such a case, it may not be possible to obtain a replacement or temporary passport in time to make the intended travel.

If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, report the loss immediately to the nearest foreign service post and to local police authorities. If you can provide the consular officer with the information in the passport, it will facilitate issuance of a new passport. Therefore, you should photocopy the data page of your passport and keep it in a separate place where it can be easily retrieved.

PASSPORT FRAUD

Multiple and fraudulent US passports are used in many types of criminal activity, including illegal entry into the United States. In processing lost passport cases, the Department of State must take special precautions that may delay the issuance of a new passport. If you suspect a US passport is being used fraudulently, do not hesitate to contact the nearest passport agency in the United States or American foreign service post overseas.

FEDERAL BENEFITS

If you are receiving monthly benefits from a federal or state agency (Social Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Personnel Management, etc.), contact the appropriate agency prior to your departure from the US to advise them of your residence abroad and to inquire about the procedures for having your benefits checks sent abroad. Federal agency monthly benefits checks are generally sent from the Department of the Treasury to the US embassies or consulates in the countries where the beneficiaries are residing. When you move overseas, report your change of residence to the nearest US embassy or consulate. The usual procedure is for the embassy or consulate to then forward the check through the local mail system to you. It may be possible to have your check deposited directly into a bank account located in the US or in the country where you reside. Check with the benefits paying agency or the nearest US embassy or consulate for further information.

If your check does not arrive or you have other questions about your benefits, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate. If they cannot answer your inquiry, they will contact the appropriate paying agency, such as the Social Security Administration, and make inquiries on your behalf. If you move, notify the nearest US embassy or consulate at least 60 days before the move. This will enable the Federal agency to update its records so your checks are sent to the correct address.

VOTING IN US ELECTIONS

Americans who reside abroad are usually eligible to vote by absentee ballot in all federal elections and may also be eligible to vote in many state and local US elections. Eligibility depends upon the laws and regulations of your state of residence in the US. To vote absentee, you must meet state voter registration requirements and apply for the ballot as early as possible from the state of your last domicile. Should your state ballot not arrive in sufficient time, you may be eligible to use a federal write-in ballot. You should consult the nearest US embassy or consulate for additional information.

SELECTIVE SERVICE REGISTRATION

According to the Military Selective Service Act, citizens of the US who are to be registered and who are not in the US on any of the days set aside for their registration are required to present themselves at a US embassy or consulate for registration.

MISSING PERSONS

When a US citizen abroad loses contact with friends or relatives in the US, the US consul is often requested to give information about that individual's welfare and whereabouts. Similar requests often come from American private and official welfare organizations attempting, for example, to track down an errant parent who failed to make child support payments. The US consul tries to comply with such requests after determining the reasons for the inquiry. If the consul has the address of the US citizen about whom the inquiry is being made, the consul will inform the American of the inquirer's interest in getting in touch with them and pass on any urgent messages. Consistent with the Privacy Act, the consul then reports back to the inquirer the results of their search efforts. Except in emergency situations, the consul will not release any details about a US citizen's welfare and whereabouts without the citizen's expressed consent.

ASSISTANCE FOR AMERICANS ARRESTED ABROAD

When living abroad, you are subject to local (i.e. foreign) laws. If you experience difficulties with the local authorities, remember American officials are limited by foreign laws, US regulations, and geography as to what they can do to assist you. The US Government cannot fund your legal fees or other related expenses. Should you find yourself in a dispute that may lead to police or legal action, consult the nearest US consular officer. Although consular officers cannot get you out of jail, serve as your attorneys, or give legal advice, they can provide lists of local attorneys and help you find legal representation. However, neither the Department of State nor US embassies or consulates can assume any responsibility for the caliber, competence, or professional integrity of these attorneys.

If you are arrested, immediately ask to speak to the consular officer at the nearest US embassy or consulate. Under international agreements and practice, you have a right to get in touch with the US consul. If you are turned down, keep asking politely, but persistently. If unsuccessful, try to have someone get in touch for you.

Consular officers will do whatever they can to protect your legitimate interests and ensure that you are not discriminated against under local law. Upon learning of your arrest, a US consular officer will visit you, provide a list of local attorneys and, if requested, contact family and friends. In cases of arrest, consuls can help transfer money, food, and clothing from your family and friends to you. They also try to get relief if you are held under inhumane or unhealthy conditions or are being treated less equitably than others in the same situation.

OTHER LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS

BIRTH OF A US CITIZEN ABROAD

Most children born abroad to a parent or parents who are US citizens acquire US citizenship at birth. As soon as possible after the birth, the US citizen parent should contact the nearest American embassy or consulate. When it is determined that the child has acquired US citizenship, a consular officer prepares a Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America. This document is recognized by US law as proof of acquisition of US citizenship and is acceptable evidence of citizenship for obtaining a passport, entering school, and most other purposes.

DEATH OF A US CITIZEN ABROAD

When a US citizen dies abroad, the nearest US embassy or consulate should be notified as soon as possible. Upon notification, the consular officer, in accordance with local laws, may do the following:

  • Require proof of the decedent's citizenship (for example, US passport,birth certificate, or naturalization certificate)
  • Report the death to the next of kin or legal representative
  • Obtain instructions and funds from the family to make arrangements forlocal burial or return of the body to the US
  • Obtain the local death certificate and prepare a Report of Death of anAmerican Citizen Abroad to forward to the next of kin or legalrepresentative (This document may be used in US courts to settle estatematters)
  • Serve as provisional conservator of a deceased American's estate andarrange for disposition of those effects

    Because the costs for local burial or transporting a deceased body back to the United States can be quite expensive, you may wish to obtain insurance to cover this cost. Otherwise, your relative or next of kin must bear these expenses. The US Government cannot pay to have your body buried overseas or returned to the United States.

MARRIAGE ABROAD

Consular officers abroad cannot perform a marriage for you. Marriages abroad are generally performed by local civil or religious officials. Once your marriage is performed abroad, US consular officers can authenticate your foreign marriage documents for a fee. A marriage which is valid under the laws of the country where the marriage was performed is generally recognized by most States in the US. If you are married abroad and need confirmation that your marriage will be recognized in the US, consult the Attorney General of your state of residence in the United States.

Marriages abroad are subject to the residency requirements of the country where the marriage is performed. There is almost always a lengthy waiting period. Some countries require that the civil documents which are presented to the marriage registrar abroad be translated and authenticated by a foreign consular official in the United States. This process can be time-consuming and expensive. Unlike in the United States, civil law countries require proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract. If it is necessary to obtain this proof while outside the US, you can execute an affidavit of eligibility to marry at a US embassy or consulate for a small fee. There are also individual requirements which vary from country to country (for example, parental consent and blood tests). Before going abroad, check with the embassy or tourist information bureau of the country where you plan to marry to learn of any specific requirements. In addition, the Office of Citizens Consular Services, Room 4817, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520 has some general information on marriage in a number of countries abroad. If you are already abroad, consult with the nearest US embassy or consulate.

DIVORCE ABROAD

The validity of divorces obtained overseas will vary according to the individual's state of residence. Consult the authorities of your state of residence in the United States for these requirements.

US CITIZENSHIP AND RESIDENCE ABROAD

US citizens who take up residence abroad, or who are contemplating doing so, frequently ask whether this will have any effect on their citizenship. Residence abroad, in and of itself, has no effect on US citizenship. However, a person who becomes a US citizen through naturalization and then takes up a permanent residence abroad within one year thereafter is subject to possible revocation of naturalization on the grounds that he did not intend to reside permanently in the United States when the petition for naturalization was filed. Each particular case is judged on its own merits. Clearly, some persons may have intended to reside in the United States but due to unexpected circumstances had to take up residence abroad. Revocation of naturalization is the responsibility of the court where the naturalization occurred. The initial steps leading to revocation are taken by the Departments of State and Justice. Contact the nearest US embassy or consulate if you have any questions about citizenship.

ACQUISITION AND LOSS OF CITIZENSHIP

US citizenship may be acquired by birth in the United States or by birth abroad to a parent or parents who are US citizens. However, there are certain residency or physical presence requirements that US citizens may need to fulfill before the child's birth in order to transmit citizenship to their child born abroad. A child born abroad in wedlock to one citizen parent and one alien parent acquires US citizenship only if the citizen parent was physically present in the United States for five years prior to the child's birth, at least two years of which were after the age of 14. Living abroad in military service or US Government employment, or as an unmarried dependent in the household of someone so employed, can be considered as presence in the United States. A child born out of wedlock to a US citizen mother acquires citizenship if the mother was physically present in the United States for one year. A child born out of wedlock to a US citizen father must establish a legal relationship to the father before age 18 or be legitimated before reaching age 21, depending on the date of birth, if he is to acquire US citizenship through the father. For further information on these legal requirements, consult the nearest foreign service post.

Loss of citizenship can occur only as the result of a citizen's voluntarily performing an act of expatriation as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act with the intent to relinquish citizenship. These include naturalization in a foreign state and taking an oath or making an affirmation of allegiance to a foreign state.

AMERICANS AND DRUG USE OVERSEAS

While the dangers of drug use are not a subject I want to dwell on, it is worth mentioning that every year over 1,000 Americans are arrested overseas for possession of illegal drugs. Anyone found to be in possession of illegal narcotics overseas will be prosecuted according to the laws of that country. Note well that US laws pertaining to possession of narcotics are not applicable in other countries. If you are incarcerated on a drug charge, you could find yourself in solitary confinement for months awaiting trial. If you are convicted, you can expect a sentence of up to ten years, which may include six years of hard labor. The bottom line is that possession of illegal drugs overseas leads to a dead end nightmare. If you are arrested, you will find:

  • Few countries provide a jury trial
  • Most countries do not accept bail
  • Pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement, may last manymonths
  • Prisons may lack even minimal comforts-bed, toilet, washbasin
  • Diets are often inadequate and require supplements from relatives andfriends
  • Officials may not speak English
  • Physical abuse, confiscation of personal property, degrading or inhumane treatment, and extortion are possible.

If you are convicted, you may face one of the following sentences: Two to ten years in most countries; a minimum of six year's hard labor and a stiff fine; or the death sentence in some countries.

Learn what the local laws are and obey them.

back Table of Contents

last chapter Chapter 5

next Chapter 7