Readers of the Relocation Basics or In the Know sections will know that I recommend going straight to the horse’s mouth for information about passports, visas and security for any country that you happen to be visiting or residing in – i.e. your own embassy, or the embassy of the destination country. Some Consulates also employ a Community Liaison Officer (CLO) whose general function is to help embassy personnel to find a place in the local community with schools, local arrangements, jobs for embassy spouses etc. rather than to promote associations in the community, but who are often willing to share the knowledge with the expat community. They are not, however, supposed to replace your own effort (or internet searches) as has become apparent in a recent article by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)..(And as a final aside, if you are going to ask for a telephone number, George Clooney’s seems a far more worthwhile choice.)

Recent enquiries received by Foreign Office staff in Spain include a request for Phil Collins’ telephone number, whilst a man asked staff to contact his dominatrix after she had left him stranded at the airport.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is today reminding British travellers of the role of its global network of Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates as staff continue to be approached for weather forecasts and ticket bookings.

Other enquiries received by Foreign Office staff include:

  • A man rang the Consulate in Sydney to find out what clothes he should pack for his holiday
  • A Brit in Sofia asked the Consulate if they could sell his house for him
  • A man called the Consulate in Florida to report that there were ants in his holiday villa and asked for advice on what he should do
  • A lady complained to the Embassy in Moscow about a loud buzzing noise in her apartment – she wanted someone to visit her flat and advise the authorities to stop the noise
  • A caller in Spain wondered what shoe size Prince Charles wears so they could send him a pair of shoes as a present
  • A man asked a Consulate in Greece for information on how to go about putting a chicken coop in his garden
  • A man asked Consular staff in Dubai to meet his dog on arrival at customs and help the dog through the customs process, as he would be on holiday when the dog arrived
  • A caller asked staff in Malaga in mid-September where she could get a Christmas lunch as everywhere she had phoned was already booked up
  • Staff in Greece were asked for tips on the best fishing spots and where to purchase good bait

Jeremy Browne, Minister for Consular Affairs, said: “We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to the support that we can provide.  It is important that people understand the level of help we can offer.  Our priority is to help people in real difficulty abroad and we cannot do this if our time is diverted by people trying to use us as a concierge service.  We need to be able to focus primarily on helping victims of serious crimes, supporting people who have been detained or assisting people who have lost a loved one abroad.”

The FCO set up the Iberia Contact Centre in Malaga earlier this year to cope with the volume of non-consular enquiries received by British Embassies and Consulates in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Andorra.  The centre filters calls so that Consular staff can focus their resources on situations where they can provide assistance.

Maria Leng, Consular official in Tenerife, said: “A lot of our time was being taken up with queries that we could not assist with but now the Malaga call centre is making a big difference by filtering enquiries.  We can issue emergency travel documents or visit you in hospital but we can’t pick you up from the airport or make private arrangements.”

How the FCO can help you when you’re abroad:

 

The FCO can: The FCO can’t:
  • Issue you with replacement travel documents
  • Provide information about transferring money
  • Provide help if you have suffered rape or serious sexual or physical assault, are a victim of crime, are ill or in hospital
  • Give you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
  • Contact you if you are detained abroad
  • Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
  • Provide help in cases of forced marriage
  • Assist people affected by parental child abduction
  • Help you enter a country if you don’t have a valid passport or necessary visas
  • Give you legal advice or translate documents
  • Investigate crimes or get you out of prison
  • Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
  • Pay any bills or give you money
  • Make travel arrangements for you

For insight into the range of Consular incidents across the globe over a real 24 hour period visit:http://www.youtube.com/embed/nbO-k0zJkqE 

Full details of how the Foreign Office can provide support to British nationals when things go wrong abroad are outlined in the publication, Support for British nationals abroad: A guide:www.fco.gov.uk/travel

 

Resources.
Worldwise  This guide is packed with insights and useful tips from the experts at Lonely Planet to help you choose your destination, plan your trip and know what to do if things come unstuck.
US Department of State International Travel page – Resources for both traveling and living abroad, country by country.

Australian Foreign Office Living and Working Overseas – Basic information on main aspects of living and working overseas – it gives you the areas to think about, if not all the answers. pdf download available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to British Consulate: We’re Not Directory Enquiries

  1. Sarah Codd says:

    Damn, now this has put me off travelling again… I LIKE the idea that the consulate were there to answer my panicked calls and being ‘filtered’ concerns me … How on earth will I find out where to get an emergency cup of tea anywhere in the world now?

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