Where not to turn to when expat lives fall apart

Published:  14 May at 6 PM
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The list of what may go wrong in the average expat life overseas is as long as the journey to the new life, but who’s there to give a helping hand?

Disasters in expatland come in many shapes and sizes, from unexpectedly huge hospital bills due to illness, violent crime or accident through unexpected unemployment, problems and ever-changing immigration rules to relationship breakdowns and even arrests for drug or other offences. So, where does a desperate expat turn for help, advice, support or even a loan to get through?

Friends and family are the obvious first call, but what if the unfortunate expat has neither? It’s reality time, as many discover when they beg their consulate or embassy for much-needed assistance.

Although figures obtained under the UK Freedom of Information Act show almost 50,000 cases needing assistance every year, in the real world the assistance provided is limited, to say the least. Most British embassies and consulates offer 24/7 helplines, but are restricted from being much use by the controversial ‘Consular Services Charter’ with its pages of what can’t be done and its short list of what’s permitted.

If you wish to register a marriage, birth or death or peruse a list of lawyers or medical practitioners, none of whom have been checked out, that’s fine, but if you’ve been mugged or scammed and lost all your money as well as your passport, all they offer is an emergency travel document but no cash to buy a flight out. Dual citizens have even more problems as, for example, if a person entered China from America using their Chinese passport, the American consular authority will be even less willing to assist in any way as their charter says it’s China’s problem.

Services such as authenticating a marriage certificate, proof of residence and other visa or legal necessities coast an exorbitant amount, as do visas to enter EU states and America for expat spouses. On the expat trail, it's a well-told fact that consulates and embassies are only there to facilitate trade, however well-meaning the consuls themselves may be.
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