Diplomats Have Your Back: From Beirut to Stockholm and Beyond

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Snowy roofs and buildings in Stockholm, Sweden.
A snowy winter in Stockholm, Sweden.

Diplomats Have Your Back: From Beirut to Stockholm and Beyond

When I was a student at City High in Iowa City, Iowa back in the late 1970s, one of the most memorable things was the French class trip. I was 18 and had never really been outside the United States. It showed me there was more to learning a language than rote memorization and dry grammar exercises. I realized language is the key part of another nation’s cultural fabric. It’s another way of seeing the same thing, another way to approach the same facets in life of family, society, and work. After experiencing France and staying with a French family for six days, I was bitten by the bug of overseas travel.

Nowadays I head up the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm. We do everything we can to protect U.S. citizens overseas and help facilitate smooth travel.

A view of the Drottingham Palace, the primary residence of the Swedish royal family.

As at all embassies and consulates, we can help you out of a jam. One of our duties is to help U.S. citizens return home. If your passport is stolen, we can issue you an emergency replacement to allow you to make that flight back to the United States. Was your only ID stolen in that backpack? That’s OK; we can work with our records to verify your identity and citizenship. In extreme cases, if you’re out of money and nobody can help you, we can provide a loan to get an airline ticket home. If you live overseas and have a baby, we can determine your child’s claim to citizenship and issue your new baby a passport.

One of my most memorable cases took place at my previous assignment in Beirut, Lebanon. It was in December. It was cold and snowing in the Bekaa Valley, with many Syrians displaced by the conflict in their country housed in poorly protected camps. A pregnant, dual national Syrian-American woman came to us with her family, seeking help. They had fled a city in Syria that was under siege and wanted to join her parents in Michigan. She was eight months along, and we were worried she wouldn’t be allowed to board a flight if she waited any longer.

So we checked with a doctor who said she could travel and worked with the airline to have a wheelchair waiting in Paris, where she needed to catch a connecting flight home. She made it, and everything worked out, just before the holidays.

A church on the island of Ekerö.

We help keep Americans safe even here in Stockholm. For example, on the afternoon of April 7, when a truck drove into pedestrians in the downtown area, the embassy immediately sprang into action and sent an alert to travelers enrolled in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It's a free online service that allows our embassies and consulates to contact you in an emergency — you can sign up at STEP.state.gov.

While you’re at it, check travel.state.gov for detailed information about your destination, including passport and visa requirements and even recommended vaccinations. Make sure you have medical and evacuation insurance in the event of an emergency overseas. Lastly, leave a copy of your itinerary, your passport identification page, and any other important documentation with a trusted loved one before you leave, just in case you need it while traveling.

Despite the attack, Stockholm is still very safe, so I hope you'll consider visiting sometime this summer, when there are 18 hours of daylight at the end of June. It’s a pleasant, vibrant city with much to offer. You can take an excursion boat out on Lake Mälaren to visit the Viking village at Birka. Or take a plane to overnight in Visby, on Gotland Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site with Scandinavia’s best-preserved medieval cities.

As you take a trip or plan a vacation abroad, remember that U.S. embassies are there to help you out. In the meantime, safe travels!

About the author: Jeffrey Gringer is the consular section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm.

Editor's Note: This entry was originally published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.