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What Embassies and Consulates Can Do: U.S. embassies and consulates help to locate U.S. citizens overseas when relatives or friends are concerned about their welfare or need to notify them of emergencies at home. The Department of State and U.S. embassies and consulates abroad handle over 200,000 welfare and whereabouts inquiries a year.

Privacy Act Issues : The provisions of the Privacy Act require that U.S. citizens over the age of 18 must provide a written Privacy Act waiver before we can release information about them to third parties. This means that if the U.S. citizen you are looking for does not sign a Privacy Act waiver and agree to the release of information about his or her whereabouts, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. embassies and consulates abroad cannot release that information to you absent the applicability of one of the Act's conditions of disclosure. See the Department of State Prefatory Statement of Routine Uses Regarding Release of Records Under the Privacy Act . If there is no Privacy Act Waiver, we can simply confirm whether or not we were able to contact the individual, but cannot provide other information.

How to Request a Welfare/Whereabouts Check: Welfare whereabouts requests may be directed to the appropriate office in the U.S. Department of State, Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS).

For Missing and Sick Adults, Emergency Family Messages, and Child Abuse, Neglect, Abandonment or Exploitation cases, and child welfare in cases not/not involving parental child abduction or custody disputes , contact of the Office of American Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225/5226.

For a Child Custody/Parental Child Abduction Case of a U.S. citizen under the age of 18 , phone or fax the Office of Children’s Issues, (CA/OCS/CI), U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818; TELEFAX: 202-312-9743; PHONE: 202-736-9090. If you make the request by phone, you will be asked to follow up with a written request via fax.

Or Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate -- It is also possible to contact the American Citizens Services Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate directly. Telephone and fax numbers for U.S. embassies and consulates are available in our Consular Information Sheets for each country or via our automated fax service by dialing (202) 647-3000 from the phone on your fax machine.

What Information to Have Available Before You Call: In order to assist us in locating the U.S. citizen abroad, it is helpful to have the following information available:

  • Caller's full name, address, phone number and relationship
  • Name of the Person abroad
  • Date and place of birth of the person abroad
  • Passport number (if known)
  • Last known address and phone number; itinerary
  • Reason for their travel/residence abroad (business, tourism, etc.)
  • Date of last contact
  • Other points of contact abroad (friends, business associates, hotel, etc.)
  • If ill, where hospitalized and, if relevant to current hospitalization, the name and phone number of attending physician in the U.S.
  • You may also be asked to provide a photo of the missing person
  • It may also be useful for you to contact credit card companies, telephone companies, etc. to try to determine if the missing individual’s accounts have been used recently and where those transactions occurred.  

For Emergency Family Messages also include:

  • Nature of the emergency
  • What you want the person told about the emergency
  • Name, address and telephone number and relationship of person you wish subject to call after the emergency family message is relayed to them by the U.S. embassy or consulate.

How Will the U.S. Embassy or Consulate Try to Locate the Individual and Obtain Information About the Individual’s Welfare and Whereabouts?

Consular officers will use a variety of methods to locate and confirm the welfare of the missing person, including, but not limited to …

  • Using the information you provide to try to locate the person.
  • Checking with local immigration and police officials if possible.
  • Checking local hotels, youth hostels and other places where foreigners (U.S. citizens) are known to stay or visit.
  • Checking local hospitals, jails, and, if appropriate, local morgues. (Note: In countries where a consular treaty is in force, local authorities have certain obligations to inform the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of the arrest, injury, hospitalization, or death of a U.S. citizen. See Consular Access and Notification .)

Limitations on Consular Authority

  • Consular authority to conduct welfare/whereabouts checks regarding U.S. citizens abroad is based on tradition, and is codified in large part in Articles 5, 36 and 37 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and comparable provisions in bilateral Consular treaties. 22 CFR 71.1 and 71.6 provide that consular duties include protection of U.S. citizens abroad. The welfare whereabouts function of consular officers is described in detail in 7 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 100.
  • We cannot compel a U.S. citizen to speak to the consular officer, or to permit the consular officer to visit.
  • We cannot compel a U.S. citizen to return to the United States. (An exception to this would be where the formal extradition of a fugitive, which is accomplished with the cooperation of foreign authorities pursuant to specific treaty obligations.)
  • As noted above, we cannot release information about an individual without the individual’s consent pursuant to the Privacy Act, with certain specific exceptions specified in the Privacy Act such as law enforcement requests, and where the subject’s health and safety is in question.

Runaways, Abandoned U.S. Citizen Minors, and Victims of Child Abuse or Other Crimes

  • In the case of a runaway minor in a foreign country, consular officers cannot compel the return of the minor to the United States, but we try to facilitate a solution.
  • We can and do work with local authorities in foreign countries to attempt to ensure the protection of U.S. citizen minors abroad.
  • For young children, it is usually a relatively straightforward matter of coordinating with foreign authorities, family in the United States, and if necessary, our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , the International Social Service (which works in cooperation with HHS to provide and coordinate these services for U.S. repatriates), and appropriate officials in U.S. states to arrange for the repatriation and resettlement of the U.S. citizen minor.
  • For runaway teens who do not want to come home, particularly for teens over age 16, the level of assistance available from the foreign authorities varies from country to country, based on foreign laws regarding the age of consent and age of majority.
  • For victims of child abuse or other crimes, we also coordinate with state child advocacy centers and our colleagues in the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, and state victims of crime programs.

Child Custody Disputes/Parental Abduction

  • The recovery of a child who is the subject of a custody dispute or is the victim of parental child abduction must be done in accordance with local laws in the foreign country. See our booklet on international parental child abduction.
  • If the parents cannot reach mutual agreement about custody of or access to their children, legal action in the foreign country may be necessary. Foreign countries may not recognize or enforce a U.S. custody order. For further information, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Parental Child Abduction Internet feature . Lists of attorneys prepared by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are also available on our home page or on request from our Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management at (202) 647-5225.
  • A consular officer cannot visit a child without permission from the child’s parent, guardian or other custodian in the foreign country. If permission is refused and there is evidence of possible child abuse or neglect, the consular officer will request assistance from the appropriate local authorities. Evidence of child abuse or neglect would include, but not be limited to, police reports, medical reports, social services reports, etc.
  • Consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad have no legal authority to obtain physical custody of abducted children and return them to a requesting parent.
  • The consular officer cannot assist a parent to regain physical custody of a child by force or deception.
  • The consular officer cannot provide legal advice, but can provide a list of attorneys in the foreign country.
  • A consular officer is not a social worker and is not able to conduct a professional home study or similar analysis of the child’s circumstances. For information about professional intercountry social work services see International Social Service (ISS) United States of America Branch .
  • The consular officer will report observations made during the welfare whereabouts visit to the U.S. Department of State. This is simply a recitation of what the consular officer saw during the visit. While both parents may request to see the consular officer’s report, the report is not subject to the editing by the parent(s), although parental disagreement with the report may be noted. The results of the consular welfare whereabouts visit are provided to parents upon request in the form of a letter. Official Department of State communications are not generally released except under the procedures explained below. Please note that these reports are not released to parents whose parental rights vis-à-vis the child have been legally terminated.
  • The Privacy Act prohibits release of information about a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident Alien to a third party absent a written waiver and the applicability of one of the Act's conditions of disclosure. Requests for copies of U.S. Department of State records may be made according to the Freedom of Information Act . 22 CFR 172 provides particulars regarding requests for consular records or testimony for use in a court in the United States.
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