What does the Embassy do anyways?

The movies make embassy life look, well, absolutely fabulous. Swanky receptions, political intrigue, and world changing decisions being made daily by glamorous diplomats.

So, like most things in life, the movies and reality are quite different. Though embassy life does have more than its fair share of receptions, most diplomats bore of the same bulk-purchased wine and small talk that go along with these social obligations. And big international events, like negotiations with North Korea, don’t happen very often. Activities within the embassy are mostly administrative and bureaucratic – like any other government office.

Trust me, there ain’t no need to get huffy looking for a tour. You’ll literally be like “Hey, look, a guy working on his computer in a cubicle….it’s just like my office.”

However, as a traveler abroad, it is important to know where the closest embassy or consulate (think satellite office) is located. A major part of the embassy or consulate’s duties revolve around supporting its citizens in country. So, if you have your passport lost or stolen, give birth abroad, or are arrested or detained for some reason – the embassy if your place for help. For Americans, the part of the embassy that undertakes these activities is the American Citizens Services (ACS) section within Consular Affairs.

Generally speaking, if you find that you’re in some type of trouble – passport, medical, legal, etc – the embassy is the place to call. No matter the time of day or day of the week, the embassy will have someone to answer your call, at least for Americans. If it is after business hours, you may get a ‘duty officer’ who could be anyone in the embassy officer pool who carries the emergency phone and will help you figure out your predicament. Be nice to these duty officers, they are generally not consular section officers nor experts in the nuances of immigration law or how to get you out of jail.

What they will do is either help you problem solve, get your problem to the top of the list within the consular section at the start of the next work day, or cobble together the key people needed to help you immediately. Best bet is to have the main number for the embassy as a note in your phone, tablet, etc or physically written down. After hours, you will be routed to the duty officer as appropriate.

  • Arrest or medical emergency generally ranks as ’emergency’ and will get the appropriate people to you very quickly.
  • A lost passport is super common and not really an emergency in 99 out of 100 instances. Arrive at the embassy during business hours and inform the nice local guard (no Marines, sorry movie enthusiasts) that you are an American citizen and lost your passport – they’ll lead you from there.
  • When you arrive in country, if the immigration officer tells you that you need additional pages in your passport, similar to the above, arrive at the embassy during business hours and you will be assisted.

We’ll provide more insights on the embassy and diplomatic world in future postings, but here’s a couple of things you may find interesting:

  1. The Marines are located inside the embassy/consulate for American facilities. Local guards maintain the security around the perimeter of the building.
  2. Please don’t take photos of embassies. Some are in beautiful buildings, we know. However, with embassies having been terrorist targets in recent memory, embassy officers and security professionals get very antsy when people photograph the building, its staff, or other identifying features.
  3. You may see protestors outside the embassy/consulate. As long as they’re peaceful and respectful, no one will mind – even if their message is very eye/ear catching. Please don’t incite them.
  4. For Americans, we suggest that you register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This will enable embassy officers to know who is in country if there is an emergency, be able to send you any alerts or warnings, and help family/friends contact you if there is an emergency.


Travel Safe!


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