Registering As A U.S. Citizen With U.S. Embassies/Consulates
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
Through its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), the U.S. State Department encourages U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to register with U.S. embassies/consulates. The reason is simple. In the event of an emergency, either at home or in the country you’re visiting/living in, American embassy or consulate personnel can communicate with you directly. In some cases, embassy/consulate staff are vital in helping family members in different countries communicate.
On a day-to-day basis, embassy/consulate staff stay busy with, among other things:
- Assisting with filing IRS documents.
- Helping people vote for their favorite political candidates via absentee ballots.
- Ensuring federal benefits are received by those entitled to them.
- Issuing and replacing passports.
- Recording the births/deaths of U.S. citizens.
- Handling registration for the Selective Service.
- Notarizing documents.
Other times, however, their assistance is invaluable and more dramatic. Consider these scenarios (and many more):
1. You bought your airline ticket without knowing anything about the political situation in your destination. Now it’s 4 a.m. and you can’t sleep because the war tanks rumbling by your hotel room window are kind of loud. News reports say local rebels have shut down the local airport. You’re scared and unsure of what to do. Who can help guide you to safety?
2. You’re retired and living overseas. Your rich uncle passes away in the U.S. and you inherit some money. The estate’s executor knows which country you’re living in, but has no idea how to reach you. Not even the private investigator he hired can find you. The money owed to you will gather dust unless they can contact you. Where’s the first place the lawyer would turn to for help in locating you?
3. Your dream trip to a far off land starts well. You arrive safely, get dressed up and find the town’s trendiest nightspot. You party like it’s 2099 until you meet a pretty girl with sad eyes. She leans on your shoulder and shares her tale of woe. You comfort and counsel her, unaware she’s lifting your passport and cash from your pockets. Wiping a tear away, she excuses herself to go to the restroom, never to return. Penniless, broken-hearted and with no passport, who can assist you?
4. Nobody told you that in X country they a.) drive like maniacs and b.) drive like maniacs on the wrong side of the road. You were, unfortunately, struck by a vehicle while trying to cross a road. Your medical needs require technology and expertise beyond what’s available in the country you’re visiting. Thankfully, you were smart enough to invest in protection for this type of situation. Who can help supervise your evacuation?
5. You got arrested in another country. Who will monitor your situation and take steps to ensure you’re treated fairly? (Note: Embassy/Consulate staff do not provide legal representation, but can put you in touch with someone who can.)
U.S. citizens get into all kinds of pickles abroad. Think of registering with the embassy/consulate as a free insurance policy against unexpected situations. Thanks to technology you no longer have to go to visit the embassy/consulate in person.
You can register for the STEP program online. Still in the planning stages of your trip? Sign up to receive State Dept. email alerts for the countries you specify under the Email Subscriptions tab.