About the Author: Janice L. Jacobs serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
As part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs' mission to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad, we encourage you to sign up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that you can stay safe, connected, and informed while traveling or living abroad. Over the years, our consular officers in embassies and consulates around the world have assisted thousands of U.S. citizens overseas who have lost passports, had their passports stolen, experienced health problems, been detained, dealt with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, and other emergencies.
By signing up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (formerly known as "Registration with Embassies" or "Travel Registration"), you help us better assist you if something comes up while you're on vacation. For example, what if your family needs to contact you in case of an emergency, but they don't know how to reach you because you turned off your cell phone to avoid those roaming charges and you haven't been checking your e-mail regularly? Often, worried family members turn to us to help them reach you overseas. We in turn look to the contact information you provided us in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to help them connect with you.
When Teresa Ball moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, to work at a local university several years ago, she decided to be a smart traveler and stay in touch with us by signing up for our program on www.travel.state.gov. When conflict unexpectedly broke out in August 2008, she realized the value of connecting with the State Department, because the U.S. Embassy sent her daily updates on the security situation and informed her and other U.S. citizens in the area of voluntary evacuations organized by the embassy.
A few days after the start of the conflict, she received a personalized e-mail from the embassy asking to confirm that she was okay, noting that "...because I had already left Georgia before commercial airlines had cancelled flights out of Tbilisi, the Embassy could not reach me on my local numbers, but they were finally able to contact me via e-mail. It was comforting to know that American officials, in the midst of a crisis, took such care to confirm the well-being of each American citizen residing in Georgia at the time."
Her friend, Susie, also received calls from embassy personnel on both her cell phone and landline: "The Embassy helped me and other U.S. citizens to get on their chartered buses to Armenia. I really appreciated their personal attention during this difficult time."
Do you have a story of how U.S. Embassy personnel helped you while you were traveling or living abroad? Please share your thoughts with us by commenting on this blog entry or connecting with us via our U.S. Department of State Consular Affairs Facebook page and @TravelGov Twitter account. Safe travels, and don't forget to sign up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)! For more information, please visit www.travel.state.gov.