Embassies and visas

Embassies and visas

Embassies are a source of help and information for British nationals abroad. This article describes what you might expect from an Embassy or Overseas Mission and what they cannot do for you. For many countries outside the Commonwealth and Europe you will need a visa. Tips to bear in mind when applying for visas.

If you are planning to visit remote or tribal areas, your embassy may be able to offer valuable advice on matters such as safety, medical facilities and evacuation procedures, and you would be wise to inform them of your proposed itinerary and dates of travel. Do not rely on them to bail you out if you get into trouble with the law however, and do not expect them to take the place of an international assistance organisation such as those provided by most reputable travel insurance companies.


It is a matter of some contention and concern that the embassies and consular representatives of countries abroad provide substantially different levels of service to their nationals

Embassies and Missions

It is a matter of some contention and concern that the embassies and consular representatives of various countries abroad provide substantially different levels of service to their nationals. British Embassies are often not the best, whilst those of Israel provide what amounts to almost an overseas club for their people.

If there is no British Embassy in the country you're visiting you will be referred to an Overseas Mission where Britain has a reciprocal agreement with another nation's Embassy to look after the interests of British nationals. However, their scope may be more limited than those of the Embassies. If you do run into difficulties or have an accident however, you are going to need their help, so it is definitely worth familiarising yourself with their locations and telephone numbers, etc.

The Embassy can...
  • Issue an emergency passport if yours is lost or stolen.
  • Contact your relatives or friends and ask them to help you with money or tickets.
  • Tell you how to transfer money.
  • In an emergency, cash you a sterling cheque worth up to £100 if supported by a valid bank card.
  • As a last resort, in exceptional circumstances, and as long as you meet certain strict rules, give you a loan to get you back to the UK, but only if there is no-one else who can help you.
  • Help you get in touch with local lawyers, interpreters and doctors.
  • Arrange for next of kin to be told of an accident or a death and advise on procedures.
  • Visit you if you have been arrested or put in prison, and arrange for messages to be sent to relatives and friends.
  • Put you in touch with organisations who help trace missing persons.
  • Speak to the local authorities on your behalf.
  • You may be charged for some of these services.
Embassies cannot...
  • Intervene in court cases.
  • Get you out of prison.
  • Provide legal advice or start court proceedings for you.
  • Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local nationals.
  • Investigate a crime.
  • Pay your hotel, legal, medical or any other bills.
  • Pay your travel costs, except in special circumstances.
  • Do work normally done by travel agents, airlines, banks or motoring organisations.
  • Get you somewhere to live, a job or work permit.
  • Demand you be treated as British if you are a dual national in the country of your second nationality.
Obtaining visas
Golden Rule number one: allow plenty of time to apply!
A telephone call to the local embassy of your destination country will confirm whether or not you actually require a visa to travel there. Most consular sections work short hours (10.00am - 2.00pm is normal), and diplomatic staff enjoy the luxury of observing the holidays of both their host country and their own. If you require a visa but you live too far from the embassy to make impractical to obtain it in person, you will need to have a form sent to you. Many Embassies now have downloadable forms on their websites or will fax a form to you but processing postal applications inexplicably takes most embassies weeks to perform.
Be sure you know exactly what is required before sending your passport and completed form off

There will be charge for your visa (check which forms of payment are acceptable)
You'll probably need to send in two or even three passport photographs, check how many are required.
You may need letters of introduction, invitations, proof of accommodation or return flight bookings.
Use registered mail and include sufficient postage, an addressed reply envelope and completed registration form for return.

If you intend to travel in politically sensitive areas, or you are a media professional (such as a journalist or photographer) it may pay to be economical with the truth when it comes to specifying your occupation or the purpose of your journey. For example, even if you are a food-writer just going sightseeing, the Indian High Commission will probably take a dim view of a journalist wanting to visit Kashmir. 

For holiday purposes it's unlikely that you'll have to travel at short notice, but there are a number of companies specialising in obtaining passports and visas very quickly, using couriers. Of course, such services command hefty fees, so try to plan ahead.

Foreign office

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website can provide for further details and invaluable advice relating to the country or countries that you're travelling to.

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