Foreign travel query
September 18, 2012 2:40 AM   Subscribe

When traveling in a foreign country, do you check in with your country's consulate?

It's recommended in travel guides that you let your consulate know where you are, but what are the advantages? And, are there disadvantages? What's your experience &/or recommendation? Thanks.
posted by jsslz to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Advantages are that if something happens (Revolution, natural disaster, etc) they will let you know and be able to evacuate you.
posted by corb at 2:43 AM on September 18, 2012

I really don't see the point unless you are traveling to a potentially or actively volatile area. I don't know of any disadvantages, though. I've travelled to SE Asia and several countries in Africa for extended research projects and never checked in with the consulates. I always had travel insurance, with contact infor handy, for evacuation if needed (my employer purchased it).
posted by waving at 3:14 AM on September 18, 2012

I signed up with the British Foreign Office's "Locate" service when I went to Thailand. Put in details of family, provided a mobile number and an email address, and informed them of our travel plans. While on the beach, I received an "Andeman Sea Tsunami warning" via sms. Checked where the Andeman sea was and we were not in danger. Forwarded it to some friends who were also in Thailand. Tsunami did not occur, but it was good to be informed anyway.
posted by guy72277 at 3:17 AM on September 18, 2012

I sign in to the Australian smart traveller and UK equivalent registers (when I'm outside my two countries, and even now I'm living outside the two). Mainly I figure if I manage to die I'd rather know that perhaps it'll help with repatriation and maybe help parents and partner, even if it's just making the process smoother, should anything happen. Also revolutions and blah blah, I don't think that'll happen again soon in France but it makes my Mum sleep better at night.
posted by jujulalia at 3:22 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Traveling? No, never done that, mainly because I've mostly traveled to first world countries and it felt like a hassle.

Settling for a longer time? Yes. When I was in Japan, my embassy kept me updated on the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and the situation developing at Fukushima through text messages. As I recall, there were a couple of flights out of the country offered (that you had to pay for yourself), and for a while they were advising residents in Tokyo and places closed to the affected areas to come to the embassy and get free iodine pills. I think that service would have been the same for a short-term visitor as for a longer-term resident.

I guess a disadvantage is if you give them a hotel address, move on to another place in your travels, and then something happens at hotel #1 and they list you as a missing person or something? But aside from how that's a highly theoretical situation, other than freaking your family the hell out and causing a bit of extra paperwork, it's not like it's a good reason not to register, if you're in an area where you worry some disaster might strike. Then at least your country will know to look for you should something happen.
posted by harujion at 3:25 AM on September 18, 2012

I've travelled to somewhere around 50 countries in the first & developing worlds, and places in between. Never bothered with this kind of thing, haven't felt like I've suffered for it, and can't honestly see what practical benefit it would have, given that embassies & consulates wouldn't have the resources to chase individuals up in a time of mass crisis.

Then again, if you can register in a few minutes online then it's no skin off your nose to do so.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:05 AM on September 18, 2012

It's a sliding-scale thing for me. Clearly worth it if you're in a dangerous place for a long time, ridiculous for a six-hour drive into Canada. If I were visiting Russia, I'd register if I were going to be there more than, say, a week (of course, the Russians also require you to register your hotel address with them, so.)

By far the best part is that they know you're there in case something awful happens. It's an information service more than a "help you in a tangible way" service. Since a sovereign nation's embassy's ability to get information back outside the country is more or less absolute, this can be handy. If things are already brutally messed up, in an "oh crap, revolution and chaos" kind of way.
posted by SMPA at 4:25 AM on September 18, 2012

I travel a lot (40+ countries), and the only time i've ever checked in with the consulate was when i moved to Uganda for two years. If you're actually travelling - ie. staying in hotels/guesthouses - then you'll be 'tracked' every time you check in to a new hotel or cross a border, and you'll be findable in an emergency.

I've never met anyone who's checked in with the consulate while they were traveling.
posted by Kololo at 4:27 AM on September 18, 2012

I have, but only when I'll be somewhere a while. You give them your phone number and address and they'll call you if there's a civil emergency, they issue a travel warning, etc.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 4:52 AM on September 18, 2012

Australian living abroad and reasonably well travelled and I have never done this. I wasn't even aware that it is advised.
posted by mary8nne at 5:02 AM on September 18, 2012

I've never registered. I might do it if I was living overseas. I'd be more likely to do it if I was going to a country that was in some way significantly dangerous--either politically unstable or prone to major disasters. For example, I went to Japan this summer for 10 days and didn't register. I would register if I was living there. I'd be way less likely to register if I was living in France, say, as it's really not prone to major disasters. If was living in the Bay Area (and weren't a US citizen), I'd register in anticipation of the earthquake that will level the East Bay.

A friend of mine did end up registering in Germany because she had to replace her passport and got registered somewhere along the line. This resulted in being on the embassy's email list and being sent the somewhat inane State Department warnings. (Germany's one of those countries the State Department makes sound really dangerous when what they mean is 'use common sense and try not to get mugged'.) I think the verdict was that it was a little annoying, but that you end up on way more annoyin email lists.
posted by hoyland at 5:19 AM on September 18, 2012

I have never bothered, whether living in or visiting another country. However I do remember incidents like Katrina, where I think the consulate was the family's only source of information for a few of the Australians who were in the area. I have thought about it - it seems dumb, but in the same way that life insurance does. If there's an easy online way to do it then maybe I'll start.
posted by jacalata at 5:23 AM on September 18, 2012

I have an extremely well-traveled family member and they do this because they have a medical condition which could potentially (but rarely) render them non-communicative. They don't carry all of their information with them at all times for safety reasons but they do carry enough information for a hospital to contact the consulate and hopefully get information to us when we start looking for them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:41 AM on September 18, 2012

I was mugged in Russia when I was studying abroad there.

I had registered with the consulate.

The next day the consulate called the office of the school I was studying at to speak with me --- the police had been vague about the identity of the American student when reporting the incident and I happened to answer the phone in the international office when they called so they suspected it may have been me (I was the only student who had registered with the consulate). They were incredibly relieved to hear that, other than being vague about my identity, what the Russian police reported to them was correct --- that I was okay, that nothing more than what they said happened actually happened, and that in this particular case I chose not to press charges because dealing with the Russian judicial system seemed more than I wanted to go through for a mugging where the muggers didn't get anything.

They were also able to tell me about services they offered to US citizens on their premises and asked if I felt like I needed to come in to talk to someone there about what happened, and since they had my information on file from my having registered, they said they would check back in with me later during my study abroad.

While I didn't turn out to really need them all that much, I was glad that they would have had my back if I had decided to press charges and that they had a way to contact me further if they did need to.

I don't know that I would have registered if I was just staying for a week, but for stays much longer than that in countries that are either volatile or with whom we have a checkered history, I think it is a good idea.
posted by zizzle at 5:50 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't do this, and wouldn't unless I was going to be traveling in a politically unstable or violent country. Or perhaps if I was doing some kind of Big Adventure where there were lots of risks involved and it might be helpful that someone knows I am going to be on my bike alone in this rural province where few foreigners ever go.

If we're talking about, like, ten days in Tuscany and Cinque Terre? No. People at consulates have more important things to worry about than the quality of the food on your package tour.
posted by Sara C. at 6:43 AM on September 18, 2012

given that embassies & consulates wouldn't have the resources to chase individuals up in a time of mass crisis

You would be surprized! The US State Department pusts together a crisis intervention team every time something goes down abroad. Usually one of the teams' largest task is assisting the people that didn't bother to register and who show up later asking for help! Another big job is assisting the people that suddenly "remember" that they are American citizens after living for decades abroad and now want assistance to leave a crisis ravaged locale. Those that have registered an address are much more easily whisked to safety and are even often warned ahead of time to get themselves out of harm's way.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

That said, Sara C. is essentially right. Montreal for a weekend? No. Going to work on a Nigerian oil rig for six months? You betcha!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:58 AM on September 18, 2012

Best answer: IMO you are better safe than sorry. I would register, it's free and relatively easy to fill out the form. I recommend especially if you are traveling alone. I'm guessing you are a US citizen, you can enroll in the STEP (Smart Traveller Enrollment Program) here.

I used it mostly for traveling in developing countries. I received email updates from the consulate and some other information. I will also add that when I was traveling I purchased travel insurance for a 12 day trek I did in the Himalayas. If I needed to be evacuated by helicopter I needed to be registered with the embassy. It was some type of precaution my guide was telling me to take, otherwise my insurance would not be valid and I would be footing an expensive bill despite having the travel insurance.

So all in all, depends on where you're going and what your doing. It can't hurt though!
posted by melizabeth at 8:53 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have never registered beforehand, but had contact information for both US (wife) and Finland (me) embassies when backpacking in SE Asia. Was helpful/ comforting to have as we were few blocks away when the bombs went off in Bali nightclub. We ended up not using any actual help by the either embassy, but Finnish embassy at least checked on us for the following week or so. US embassy didn't seem to care.
posted by zeikka at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2012

70 countries and all 7 continents here - and I've never done it either. Like others above, I'd probably only do it if I was heading into a country with any potential dangerous political warfare brewing. Having said that, I have been to countries deemed tricky by the US government (Myanmar, Madagascar, etc.) and while there have been whispers of political unrest while I was there, I experienced nothing that personally affected me or my travels. On the other hand, most of my travels have been for work-related reasons, so I'm if something happened to me, my office would step in and coordinate any efforts necessary.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:23 PM on September 18, 2012

Foreign service officer here - I always recommend to friends travelling to dicey countries to register with their local embassy/high commission/consulate. Especially if you're going to be there for a longer stay. No one can predict when the shit is gonna hit the fan, but if everything goes sideways, you'll want your government knowing where you are.

And yeah, I wouldn't worry about it in most Western countries, then again I bet that those who were in Japan during the tsunami and had registered were happy that they did. The odds of anything ever going wrong are exceedingly slim, but it happens. Better safe than sorry.
posted by fso at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2012

they will let you know and be able to evacuate you.

This doesn't work the way most people think it does. FSO can confirm but in my experience, what registering at the consulate does is give the consulate a head count so they can plan evacuations - basically, how many plane loads of people they are going to need to shift. But they are not going to come get you; you have to get to the evacuation point, normally an airport but sometimes a sea port. All of the evacuations I can think of, from the famous Saigon embassy airlifts in '75 to the Libya airport debacle of 2012, have worked this way.

In a best case scenario, what registering will get you is a text message informing you of the extraction point you need to reach, and a text message relay if you are otherwise unable to tell your family you're not dead. It's not going to get you an SAS, Navy SEAL or Israeli Special Forces extraction unless you're being held hostage.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:54 PM on September 18, 2012

All of the evacuations I can think of, from the famous Saigon embassy airlifts in '75 to the Libya airport debacle of 2012, have worked this way.

Your examples are of non-US personnel associated with the US hoping to be evacuated after the US had evacuated all the Americans and a British evacuation of Brits. If you want recent examples of US actions to evacuate Americans from hot spots you might look here or here.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2012

I always register (though most of my recent foreign travel has been to places that, if not dodgy themselves, have been next-door to dodgy places). It takes 3 minutes to do online, and it might be helpful. Why not?
posted by charmcityblues at 1:32 PM on September 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your helpful answers!
I see now more info from me would have helped. In a nutshell: My husband & I (67 & 61) are going to Thailand for the winter, with a visa run to Myanmar in Dec & to China for a week or so in Jan. We've been to Thailand 2X before, 1st time was when the airport was closed due to political unrest & the during the 2nd we made the visa run to Myanmar. Hadn't registered either time, but I'm thinking that for various reasons (one is that we're 'older') maybe we'll just do it - can't hurt, right?
Thanks again & enjoy your travels!
posted by jsslz at 11:57 AM on September 19, 2012

Won't it be sort of problematic to inform the consulate that you plan to stay in the country longer than typically? Usually visa runs are not encouraged by host countries, so informing your consulate of that might not be a super wonderful idea.

If it's just an online sign-up for text alerts, sure, but I would be scared shitless to call up some official authorities and tell them that I was planning to be an illegal immigrant in the country they oversee.
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2012

Sorry, should say "longer than typically allowed".
posted by Sara C. at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2012

Response by poster: Sara C.- another point that might speak to your comment: We will have pre-arranged visas with three pre-paid entries (60 days each) that will carry us 'legally' thru the winter, so I don't foresee the problems you allude to. But, thanks.
posted by jsslz at 1:55 AM on September 20, 2012

Best answer: Registering with the Embassy/Consulate has (in most foreign services) been replaced by an online registration system. In the foreign ministry I work in, that info doesn't even go to the mission overseas unless there is a consular crisis and, for data protection, it is deleted after the dates you have put in for return.

I would recommend registering even if you are travelling to somewhere politically stable and not perceived as dangerous. Natural disasters, terrorist acts, and major accidents happen regularly. Someone above mentioned not bothering for 10 days in Italy - 300 people died in an earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009. You can be sure the passengers of the Costa Concordia went looking to their Embassies/Consulates for assistance. Someone else mentioned that embassies and consulates don't have the resources to track down individuals in the event of a mass crisis. They don't, but capital-based emergency assistance teams would be activated in the event of a major crisis. The more data they have on the citizens likely to be affected the better.

Lastly, please a) take out comprehensive travel insurance and b) touch base regularly with someone back home and let them know your plans/whereabouts. It's frustrating to deal with the families of the countless "missing" people overseas who later turn up fine because they forgot to call home or were unclear about their travel plans, but it's heartbreaking to deal with the families of someone who has been severely injured (or worse, killed) overseas and who have no money to get them or their remains home. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer!

Have a great trip - I'm jealous!
posted by bimbam at 1:04 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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