Government Advice: The Office of Overseas Citizens Services

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Government Advice: The Office of Overseas Citizens Services

March 2007

Editor’s note: The information below is a reprint of material posted by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs as of March 2007



Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Depart-ment’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three offices: American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, the Office of Children’s Issues and the Office of Policy Review and Interagency Liaison.

American Citizens Services And Crisis Management (ACS)

American Citizens Services and Crisis Management corresponds organizationally to American Citizens Services offices set up at U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. ACS has five geographical divisions with case officers who assist in all matters involving protective services for Americans abroad, including arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts inquiries. The office also issues Travel Warnings, Public Announcements and Consular Information Sheets and provides guidance on nationality and citizenship determination, document issuance, judicial and notarial services, estates and property claims, third-country representation, and disaster assistance.


Over 2,500 Americans are arrested abroad annually. More than 30% of these arrests are drug related. Over 70% of drug related arrests involve marijuana or cocaine.

The rights an American enjoys in this country do not travel abroad. Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone who enters regardless of nationality. The U.S. government cannot get Americans released from foreign jails. However, a U.S. consul will insist on prompt access to an arrested American, provide a list of attorneys, and provide information on the host country’s legal system, offer to contact the arrested Americans family or friends, visit on a regular basis, protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary supplements, if needed, and keep the State Department informed.

ACS is the point of contact in the U.S. for family members and others who are concerned about a U.S. citizen arrested abroad.


Approximately 6,000 Americans die outside of the U.S. each year. The majority of these are long-term residents of a foreign country. ACS assists with the return of remains for approximately 2,000 Americans annually.

When an American dies abroad, a consular officer notifies the next of kin about options and costs for disposition of remains. Costs for preparing and returning a body to the U.S. are high and are the responsibility of the family. Often local laws and procedures make returning a body to the U.S. for burial a lengthy process.

Financial Assistance

If destitute, Americans can turn to a U.S. consular officer abroad for help. ACS will help by contacting the destitute person’s family, friends, or business associates to raise private funds. It will help transmit these funds to destitute Americans.

ACS transfers approximately 3 million dollars a year in private emergency funds. It can approve small government loans to destitute Americans abroad until private funds arrive.

ACS also approves repatriation loans to pay for destitute Americans’ direct return to the U.S. Each year over $500,000 are loaned to destitute Americans.

Medical Assistance

ACS works with U.S. consuls abroad to assist Americans who become physically or mentally ill while traveling. ACS locates family members, guardians, and friends in the U.S., assists in transmitting private funds, and, when necessary, assists in arranging the return of ill or injured Americans to the U.S. by commercial carrier.

Welfare and Whereabouts of U.S. Citizens

ACS receives approximately 12,000 inquiries a year concerning the welfare or whereabouts of an American abroad. Many inquiries are from worried relatives who have not heard from the traveler. Others are attempts to notify the traveler about a family crisis at home.

Most welfare/whereabouts inquiries are successfully resolved. However, occasionally, a person is truly missing. It is the responsibility of local authorities to investigate and U.S. consuls abroad will work to ensure their continued interest in cases involving Americans. Unfortunately, as in the U.S., sometimes missing persons are never found.

Consular Information Program

ACS issues fact sheets on every country in the world called Consular Information Sheets (CIS). The CIS contains information on entry requirements, crime and security conditions, areas of instability and other details relevant to travel in a particular country.

The Office also issues Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends deferral of travel by Americans to a country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity and/or because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country and cannot assist an American in distress.

Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings may be heard anytime, by dialing the Office of Overseas Citizens Services travelers’ hotline at (202) 647-5225 from a touch-tone phone. They are also available via Consular Affairs’ automated fax system at (202) 647-3000, or at any of the 13 regional passport agencies, at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, and through the airline computer reservation systems, or, by sending a self-addressed, stamped business size envelope to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 4811, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.

If you have a personal computer and Internet access, you obtain them and other consular handouts and publications through the Consular Affairs website at

Disaster Assistance

ACS coordinates the Bureau’s activities and efforts relating to international crises or emergency situations involving the welfare and safety of large numbers of Americans residing or traveling in a crisis area. Such crises can include plane crashes, hijackings, natural disasters, civil disorders, and political unrest.

Children and Family

Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) works with a wide range of domestic and international organizations to assist American citizen families in the U.S. and abroad. We are fully committed to protecting the welfare and interests of children and their parents.

Within OCS, the Office of Children’s Issues is responsible for coordinating policies and providing information about international adoption and international parental child abduction.

International Adoption

The Office of Children’s Issues provides information and assistance about the adoption process in over 60 countries, including:

  • Information about visa requirements and other U.S. requirements for international adoption
  • Information about he Hague Inter-country Adoption Convention, and coordination with other countries about the treaty and related matters
  • Help with individual inquiries about the status of adoption cases
  • Ensuring that U.S. citizens are not discriminated against by foreign authorities or courts

International Parental Child Abduction

We help parents whose children are victims of international parental child abduction and fulfill U.S. treaty obligations relating to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Services include:

  • Information about international child abduction, enforcement of visitation rights and abduction prevention techniques
  • Information about the Hague Convention, and coordination with other treaty partners to the benefits of parents and children
  • Help parents protect children from the tragedy of international parental abduction through our Prevention Unit

Other Family and Children’s Issues

The Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management provides protective services for American families living and traveling abroad, and assists with child custody, child support, child abuse, victims of crime, and other child protection services.