Embassies and consulates are far more than just diplomatic missions for governments abroad. Whilst their primary focus might be international relations, the role they play in assisting their own citizens abroad can prove absolutely vital in times of need.
Whilst embassies and consulates receive a lot more attention for offering sanctuary in times of trouble, the role they can play in helping citizens from their own country navigate their way around the world is just as important. Being a stranger in a strange land is a sometimes challenging experience, but your government's outposts are there to help guide you through the potential pitfalls this can bring.
Here are a few services that embassies and consulates can provide to their citizens both before and during their travels.
Government websites provide links to the official websites of various embassies and consulates they have stationed around the world. It is important to remember that if you're looking for the official website for these outposts, you're best off following the links from your own government's website, just in case you fall victim to a convincing internet scam.
Why the cautious approach? Because embassies and consulates offer either links to or, direct purchasing options for visas to the countries they can be found in. This is incredibly useful for saving time applying for visas, limiting your exposure to potential fraudsters, and you can apply through a trusted source.
However, embassies and consulates cannot offer you any advice when dealing with visas. You cannot ask for advice either applying, extending, or dealing with any other visa-related inquiries as this is not within their jurisdiction. The visa you apply for is with the government of the country the embassy or consulate is based in, and so any and all queries must be taken up with the local government as they are the one issuing the visa.
We know that diplomatic outposts are there to assist and protect the rights and lives of their citizens should they be impeached at any point. But there are limits to how far legal and foreign policy assistance can extend.
If you fall ill or become a victim of a serious crime, your embassy or consulate can offer you some assistance in the form of providing contacts for doctors and lawyers but will usually, not intercede on your behalf in a court case or police investigation. If your life is seriously threatened or in jeopardy, they can offer you sanctuary at their premise but this is only at the discretion of the ambassador of your country.
If you're being deported from a country, the local embassy or consulate will not interfere with or try to block your deportation. This is an issue for your government to deal with, if they choose, to and most of the time (especially if the reason you're being deported is your fault) they won't. If you're in legal trouble, don't expect any intervention from your embassy or consulate either, but they will set you up with a lawyer who speaks your language.
Additionally, embassies have a lot of guidelines on how to behave or what customs to expect when visiting certain countries. This can include anything from observing curfews to how you dress and is intended so you don't end up finding yourself in trouble whilst away. Make sure you check embassy or consulate advice for visiting your destination before you go.
One of the most important services you can make use of from a diplomatic outpost of your country. Your embassy or consulate is the key to renewing your passport, or travelling home on an emergency one if yours expires or, is lost whilst you're away.
If you live or are staying abroad but want to renew your passport before either once it has or after it expires, you can only do this at a consulate or embassy your government has in place in the country you're staying in. You could potentially spend hours travelling to and from this outpost of it isn't near you, not to mention the time you spent actually waiting to have your request processed once there, but there is no other way of doing this.
Whilst it is highly unlikely to ever happen, if you're travelling abroad and your passport does expire, you can get it renewed by visiting a local consulate or embassy. If you're pushed for time, the embassy can issue you with an emergency passport which will only be valid for travel back home from the country you are in.
Emergency passports are commonly issued in the case of lost or stolen passports. They're a relatively straightforward process, and an emergency passport can be issued in a matter of hours if you're lucky, but you will need to apply for a new passport once you have returned home.