Embassies are established around the world in order to develop relationships between nations, but are also critical outposts for international travellers. When encountering issues while travelling, from the mundane to the serious, one of your first points of contact should be your country’s embassy. Not only will you be able to find some fellow nationals, your embassy offers critical advice, information, and even sanctuary when required.
First, don’t get too confused about the terminology. An embassy is sometimes called a ‘high commission’ if it is located in another Commonwealth country, although they serve the same purpose. Additionally, although not fully functioning embassies, consulates are similar places that can help you when in need. Whether you find an embassy, high commission or consulate, as long as the establishment is associated with the country on your passport, they will be able to help you. If there is no embassy for your own country where you are visiting, it is sometimes possible to visit one closely associated with your home nation. For example, when it is not possible to get to a Canadian embassy, citizens can enter a British embassy for emergency assistance.
Before you leave, it is critical to research where your embassy is located and how to get there if needed. Usually embassies are found in capital cities, although there are sometimes exceptions to this rule based on population, immigration and other factors, so it is best to look up the specific location. Sometimes there are consulates established in other large cities or in places more convenient for tourists.
Once you arrive at your destination, if the embassy is close by, it is often worthwhile to take a quick trip there to ensure you know exactly where it is located in case of any problems. Especially if travelling with other people, taking some time to visually mark it in a city could be invaluable in case of a crisis. Either way, be sure that the address and phone number of your embassy is easily accessible at all times (preferably in a different place than your passport) – given the extent of the emergency, you may need this information quickly.
You know where the embassy is located and have even tracked how to get there, by why is this so important? What are you going to do at an embassy anyways? The first major issue that brings people to an embassy is often the loss of their passport. Whether it was misplaced or stolen, the loss of your passport is a significant emergency that you should take seriously immediately upon noticing it is gone. Your embassy will be able to work with you to possibly track it down, or else get you back home without this important document.
While travelling you may run into other difficulties involving the law or local authorities. When in a different country, it is always advisable to seek information and help from your embassy rather than dealing with foreign systems that you may be unaware of. Whether you were simply pickpocketed or involved in a more serious crime, do not hesitate to contact your embassy for assistance in negotiating the local system. Given the situation, the embassy may be able to speak on your behalf and negotiate your position better than you alone.
Occasionally unforeseen circumstances and emergencies occur when you travelling abroad and you may be required to seek sanctuary at your embassy. Civil wars, natural disasters, riots and crime outbreaks happen all around the world nearly every day. If a serious situation arises, or you hear that officials are recommending foreigners leave the country, it is recommended that you immediately seek out your embassy for further instruction. Not only are these buildings often safe places to go during a crisis, the resources available at these institutions can ensure you get out quickly and safely.
Embassies do not usually make tourist sightseeing lists, although they are important locations in any country you visit. Taking note of where they are, how to get there, and even tracking the route can not only help you in a time of need, but could even save your life in significant crisis. If any situation arises that you are not comfortable with or are unsure how to handle, do not hesitate to contact the embassy for help – these are ambassadors of your home nation and are there to assist in a time of need.