Diplomatic missions

An embassy is a type of diplomatic mission run by the UK Foreign Office. Along with consulates and high commissions, embassies represent the UK and to help protect UK citizens abroad.
A diplomatic mission is always in a capital city. It is called a high commission if it is in a commonwealth country or an embassy if it is in a non-commonwealth country.
A diplomatic mission can be located anywhere in a country; and might also be called a:

  • consulate;
  • vice-consulate;
  • consulate-general; or
  • consular agency.

Main duties

A British consulate will:

  • register births and deaths;
  • handle child abduction cases;
  • issue passports, including in an emergency;
  • deal with forced marriages;
  • help Britons who are detained or imprisoned;
  • help Britons who have fallen ill;
  • help Britons who are the victims of crime;
  • inform British nationals of any risks posed by visiting a country.

Dual nationality

If you are a dual British national (with a valid British passport), the British consulate can assist as long as you’re arrested in a country other than the one you hold dual nationality with. They won’t get involved if you’re arrested in a country for which you hold a valid passport, unless there’s a special humanitarian reason to do so.


If you are arrested abroad, you should contact the relevant embassy, high commission or consulate as soon as possible. This is something you are entitled to irrespective of the country you are in.
The British consulate can:

  • tell your family or friends what has happened (if you want them to);
  • contact you within 24 hours of hearing about the arrest and if you request a visit, they will aim to visit as soon as possible.
  • provide general information about the country, prison conditions and the local legal system (including if legal aid is available);
  • provide a list of local lawyers and interpreters;
  • tell the police or prison doctor about any medical or dental problems if you ask them to;
  • help with complaints about the police or prison (eg, ill treatment, personal safety, discrimination) with your permission;
  • send money to you from your family;
  • send messages between you and your family;
  • putting you in touch with the charity Prisoners Abroad;
  • help you apply for a transfer to UK where possible;
  • visit you when needed.

The British consulate cannot:

  • get you released from jail;
  • forward to you any parcels sent by their friends or family if you are a prisoner;
  • offer you legal advice;
  • prevent your deportation after you are released;
  • investigate the allegations made against you;
  • pay the costs of being arrested;

Victims of crime

If you are a victim of crime, the embassy, commission or British consulate can assist by:

  • helping you to understand local police and legal procedures;
  • finding an English-speaking lawyer or translator;
  • finding medical treatment or an English-speaking doctor;
  • contacting your relatives and friends to let them know something has happened to you;
  • providing advice on applying for compensation if you’re a UK resident and have been injured because of a violent crime in another country.

The British Consul cannot:

  • give you legal advice;
  • collect evidence or investigate crimes;
  • influence the outcome of any trial;
  • give you financial help, eg for travel costs to a trial abroad or to replace stolen property;
  • accept any lost or recovered stolen property, except for passports (which are cancelled and returned to HM Passport Office) and driving licences (which are returned to DVLA).

Legal services

For a fee, the British consulate can help British nationals by approaching the authorities of other countries to request that they try to obtain certain documents including:

  • birth certificates;
  • marriage certificates;
  • decree absolutes;
  • death certificates;
  • baptismal certificates;
  • certificates of good conduct;
  • baptismal certificates;
  • naturalisation/registration certificates issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

And, when relating to the death of a British national, they can search for:

  • autopsy reports;
  • medical reports;
  • police reports.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.