I suppose it’s no surprise to my East Bay friends and family that I joined the Foreign Service and am now a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in London.
My first trips abroad were with the Contra Costa Children’s Chorus, a true Bay Area institution that I am proud to have been a part of. As we traveled through Europe, I not only developed wonderful, lasting friendships but also experienced the beginnings of a true wanderlust that continues today.
One of my most important missions is assisting U.S. citizens who visit or live in the United Kingdom, a mission we carry out in all our embassies and consulates around the world.
We help citizens with all kinds of problems, big and small. If a citizen is stranded, we help get them home. Arrested? We visit and make sure they are treated fairly. In the tragic event a U.S. citizen dies abroad, we provide support to families and next of kin in repatriating their loved one.
When a natural disaster strikes, we work to get U.S. citizens to safety by sending security messages and checking on the welfare of U.S. citizens in need.
I remember vividly a call I received one hot summer day last year when I was working at a U.S. Consulate in India. The call was from a close relative of an elderly couple who had been hospitalized for emergency care in India.
The couple, in their late 80s, had been put ashore from a cruise ship earlier that day and left at a local hospital with no additional assistance. Neither had any plans to come to India, but Mumbai was the closest port of call, so the cruise ship took them there for medical care.
I visited the couple in the hospital and, with their permission, worked with relatives, hospital administrators and doctors to facilitate proper medical treatment, including healthy meals and safe drinking water.
Thankfully, one of their children arrived a few days later and was able to take them home safely once they were well enough to travel.
A U.S. embassy or consulate abroad is there to help in an emergency. But there is a lot you can do before you travel to prevent problems in the first place. Make sure you have health insurance and emergency evacuation insurance to cover you abroad in case something happens.
If you have a medical condition, take enough medicine with you for your trip in your carry-on and discuss medical contingencies with your doctor. Consider leaving copies of important documents like your itinerary, passport and health insurance cards with a family member, friend, or colleague you trust.
You can also find information about the specific countries you’ll be traveling to on the State Department’s website.
Finally, help us help you by signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service allowing U.S. citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
In case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, we will send you important information on how to stay safe. It also helps us know whom to contact in case you have a personal emergency and need help. Click here to enroll in STEP.
Whether you dream of visiting the London Eye or the Taj Mahal this summer, know that wherever you roam your embassies and consulates have your back. Wishing you safe and happy travels!
About the Author: Laura Russ serves as a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in London.