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What the U.S. Embassy Can - and Can't - Do for Travelers

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Allianz - couple hiking by ocean

When you get into trouble overseas, who can help? Many travelers’ first call is to the U.S. embassy, whether they need money, legal help or an emergency evacuation. But the embassy can’t resolve every problem you may encounter.

It’s vitally important to understand the powers and the limits of the U.S. embassy, and how your travel insurance plan can fill in the gaps. To prepare yourself, download the TravelSmart app from Allianz Global Assistance before you travel. This free travel app for iPhone and Android makes it easy to reach the nearest embassy and Allianz Global Assistance, wherever you may roam.

Can the U.S. Embassy send me home in a crisis?

Only in limited circumstances. The embassy may help citizens with an emergency evacuation in a major crisis, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest. The Department of State says that it may provide citizens with travel warnings and advice about areas to avoid and how to seek help. “In extreme situations, if there are no commercial transportation options (planes, trains, boats/ferries, etc.) available, and if we have consular officers at the embassy or consulate, and if the conditions permit, we may help U.S. citizens seeking to depart by working with the host government, other countries, and other U.S. government agencies to identify – and in some cases arrange – available transportation.”1

You’ll notice a lot of “ifs” in that sentence. The underlying message: If there’s a major disaster, don’t expect a government helicopter to come and pick you up from your hotel. You have to look after yourself, because the embassy isn’t promising to evacuate you. Also, there are no free rides: citizens are generally responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of their travel.2

How travel insurance can help: In a crisis, call 24-Hour Hotline Assistance for help. Our multilingual experts can help you make new travel arrangements and/or figure out the best course of action.

If you miss at least 50% of the length of your trip because of a covered natural disaster, civil disorder, roads being closed or impassable due to severe weather, or other covered reasons, your travel insurance plan with trip interruption benefits can reimburse you for:

  • Reasonable transportation expenses to return home early
  • Additional accommodation and transportation expenses if the interruption causes you to stay at your destination longer than planned.
  • Unused non-refundable trip payments and deposits.

Can the U.S. embassy help with a medical emergency overseas?

Only to a degree. A U.S. consular officer can help you find local hospitals, doctors or medical services. The officer also can inform your family or friends back home that you’re having a medical emergency, and can help you get money sent from home, if needed. The embassy will not, however, pay any hospital or medical expenses on your behalf.

If you don’t have travel insurance, that can be a big problem. Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States, and many overseas medical facilities won’t accept U.S. insurance plans. Instead, they require cash payment up front.3 One family without travel insurance discovered this the hard way: Their son was denied urgent treatment for appendicitis in a Mexican hospital because they couldn’t guarantee payment.4

How travel insurance can help: If your travel insurance includes emergency medical and dental benefits, your plan can reimburse the reasonable and customary costs of emergency medical or dental care (up to the limits stated in your plan) if, while traveling, you experience a serious covered illness, injury, or medical condition. Allianz Global Assistance also can guarantee or advance payments in most cases if you’ll be hospitalized for more than 24 hours.

If you experience a covered medical emergency while traveling and we determine that the local medical facilities are unable to provide appropriate medical treatment, then Allianz Global Assistance can arrange and pay for emergency medical transportation to the nearest hospital that can provide appropriate care. This is a huge benefit of travel insurance, because the cost of a medical evacuation in some parts of the world can easily rise to six figures.5

Infographic: What to Do in a Medical Emergency

Can the U.S. embassy help me replace my lost or stolen passport?

Yes. You’ll have to get a new passport in order to return home, and the U.S. embassy or consulate at your destination can help you. Report your lost or stolen passport to the Consular Section, and the staff will try to help you get a replacement quickly. You’ll need to apply in person, and in most cases, you’ll need to get a passport photo before you show up.6

How travel insurance can help: Call 24-Hour Hotline Assistance for personalized help replacing your passport and making new travel arrangements, if required. Also, if you miss more than 50% of your trip because of a lost or stolen passport, that can be considered a covered reason for trip interruption.

Can the U.S. embassy help me if I’m the victim of a crime?

Yes. If you’re robbed, assaulted or otherwise victimized in a foreign country, you should contact the embassy as soon as possible. Embassy staff can connect you to resources, including local lawyers who speak English; contact family and friends (with your permission); update you on the status of your case; and connect you with local medical or emergency services.

The U.S. embassy can’t, however, investigate the crime, serve as your official interpreter, or provide legal advice.

How travel insurance can help: Once again, you should call 24-Hour Hotline Assistance! We can help you communicate with police, get money sent from home, cancel stolen credit cards and find emergency medical care, if needed. Also, your baggage loss/damage benefit may be able to reimburse you for stolen baggage, up to the limits of your plan.

Can the U.S. embassy help me if I get in trouble with the law?

Somewhat. Many inexperienced travelers think that if they get arrested overseas, their status as American citizens will automatically protect them. That’s not the case. When you’re traveling abroad, you’re subject to the local laws — and if you break them, you may have to pay the penalty.

The embassy can be a powerful ally for you if you get into legal trouble overseas. Ask the local authorities to notify the embassy as soon as possible. Consular staff can:

  • Recommend local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact your family, friends, or employer on your behalf
  • Visit you in jail and make sure you’re receiving adequate care
  • Advise you on how the local criminal justice process works
  • Ensure that you can meet with a clergy person of your religion, should you choose
  • Enable your friends and family to send you money

The embassy cannot, however, get you out of jail, serve as your official interpreter, provide legal advice, pay your legal fees or intervene in the justice process.7

How travel insurance can help: If you’re arrested or imprisoned overseas, call 24-Hour Hotline Assistance. We can’t give you a “get out of jail free” card, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure you’re receiving all the services you’re entitled to. If you need money sent from home, or a message sent to family, or interpretation services, we can help.

Long story short, it’s always a good idea to protect yourself with a travel insurance plan that includes emergency medical benefits, trip cancellation and interruption benefits, and 24-Hour Hotline Assistance. If anything goes wrong on your trip, help is just a phone call away. Find the perfect plan for your next adventure!

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