International travelers are aware that danger can lurk just around the corner. In the blink of an eye, the worst-case scenario can come into play a long way from home. At times like these, travelers often scramble to figure out what they need to do to get to safety.
For all the wonderful things that the U.S. Embassy can do for travelers, there is often a misconception as to what their role is during an emergency situation. Those who don't understand what the government is and is not capable of doing often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, trusting that they would be taken care of no matter where they roam. In an emergency, do you know what the U.S. Embassy is prepared to do?
Believe it or not, here are five requests the embassy receives that they will not fulfill, according to the State Department website. Regardless of the circumstance, American embassies around the world cannot help travelers in these situations during an emergency.
Won't Act as an Attorney
This is one of the more common requests embassies receive around the world. When travelers are arrested in a foreign country, distressed travelers can ask to meet with officials of their home country. During a consultation, embassy officials can inform travelers of their rights in the situation, and offer limited support from their home government. However, the U.S. Embassy cannot legally act as an attorney for any American citizen accused of a crime overseas.
Those travelers who find themselves in trouble a long way from home need representation - but the State Department can't help. Instead, the State Department may be able to offer other assistance, like translation services. But, at the end of the day, don't expect the embassy to act as a "get out of jail free" card.
Can't Pay for a Flight Home
During an emergency, the U.S. Embassy has several obligations and risks to consider. One of their primary obligations is ensuring the welfare of American citizens in the country. During an emergency, the embassy will alert travelers who are registered in the STEP program of the nature of the emergency and offer advice on when to depart. However, in the event of most emergencies, the embassy will not pay for a flight to get home.
If an emergency evacuation is absolutely necessary, and no other means are available, then the U.S. government has the authority to evacuate their citizens to the nearest safe place, which is often not the United States. From there, travelers are responsible for finding their own way home. If a traveler cannot afford to get home, then the Embassy may loan the citizen the money for transportation, with the traveler obligated to pay back their fare. However, a travel insurance policy may be able to help travelers return home under certain circumstances. If the U.S. government does arrange for transportation, the traveler will be obligated to pay back the money spent and will have to sign a form promising to repay the debt.
Will Not Provide Ground Transportation in a Crisis
During an emergency, embassy staff are taxed with many tasks that require their full attention. Also, local restrictions may prohibit when or how the embassy staff travels. As a result, travelers cannot rely on the embassy to provide ground transportation during an emergency.
However, during the emergency, the embassy will provide citizens in the country instructions on what to do, including when to plan to leave the country. These instructions may include areas to avoid in the country, as well as what methods of ground transportation are available.
Cannot Transport Pets in a Crisis
In the event of an emergency, the embassy can step in to assist travelers who have absolutely no other means to get out of the country. In a severe emergency where commercial transportation has been cut off entirely, then the government may organize charter flights for American citizens to be transported to the next safe location by any means necessary, including air, land, and sea. Because space is at a premium, pets are usually not allowed to fly on a government flight.
Travelers who have animals with them may need to consider another method to get their pets home in the event of an emergency. While some concessions may be made for small animals, large animals may not be welcome on evacuation flights, even if properly crated. Working animals like guide dogs aren't considered pets and the embassy will accommodate them if possible.
Will Not Use the U.S. Military to Evacuate Travelers
If there are no other options during an emergency, then the U.S. government will rely on assistance from the local country and any other friendly nations to get citizens out of clear and present danger. However, this does not require a military response. As a result, travelers can get any images of a military airlift out of their heads in an emergency.
On their website, the U.S. State Department states that military intervention during an evacuation is something out of movies and not applicable to real life. Unless absolutely mandated, military force will not be used to help travelers get out of an emergency.
While the embassy can be a great resource to displaced travelers, staff can only help to the extent they are allowed. By knowing the duties and responsibilities of the embassy, travelers can make appropriate plans to get out of a country during an emergency situation.