Diplomatic Missions

An Embassy is a type of diplomatic mission run by the foreign office. Along with consulates and high commissions, embassies work through the British Consul to represent the UK and to help protect UK citizens abroad.

Other types of mission are often mistakenly known as embassies, but there are differences:

  •  A diplomatic mission is always in a capital city; and:

  •  Is called a high commission if it is in a Commonwealth country; or

  •  An embassy if it is in a non-commonwealth country.

         A consular mission can be located anywhere in a country; and might also be called a:

  •  Consulate;

  •  Vice-consulate;

  •  Consulate-general; or

  •   A consular agency.

Main duties

A British consul 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 a person has dual national status (i.e. have more than one passport), then the British consul can normally only offer support if they are travelling on your British passport. If travelling on the other passport, you should go to that state’s embassy, high commission or consulate.


If a person is arrested abroad, they should contact the relevant embassy, high commission or consulate as soon as possible. This is something they are entitled to irrespective of the country they are in.

The British Consul will:

  • Tell their family or friends what has happened (if they want them to);

  • Try to contact the person within 24 hours of hearing about the arrest; and

  • If the person requests a visit, they will aim to visit as soon as possible.

  • Try to be sensitive, non-judgemental and treat all prisoners the same no matter what crime they are accused of.

The British Consul cannot:

  •  Get a person released from jail;

  •  Forward to a prisoner any parcels sent by their friends or family;

  •  Offer a prisoner legal advice;

  •  Prevent a person’s deportation after they are released;

  •  Investigate the allegations made against a person;

  •  Pay the costs of being arrested;

But they can:

  •  Provide information regarding local lawyers;

  •  Provide information regarding local interpreters;

  •  Send messages between a prisoner and their family;

  •  Provide information on how the prisoner could transfer to a UK prison;

  •  Send money to the prisoner from their family;

  •  Ensure that any health problems are referred to the prison doctor;

  •  Take action to uphold their rights if they have been denied or abused; and

  •  Contact local authorities if they think that a Briton is not being treated correctly.

Victims of crime

If they need it, the British Consul can help victims of crime by:

  •  Helping them to contact local English-speaking interpreters, doctors and lawyers;

  •  Contacting relatives and friends to let them know what has happened;

  •  Advising them on how to transfer funds;

  •  Advancing them up to £100 in local currency, but only against a sterling cheque that is supported by a valid cheque guarantee card

  •  Make a repayable loan available to the victim so that they can return to the UK.

The British Consul cannot:

  •  Pay any costs;

  •  Secure for you better treatment in hospital than is given to local nationals;

  •  Become involved in court cases;

  •  Investigate a crime; or

  •  Provide legal advice.

Legal services

The British Consul can also assist British nationals by legalising documents to make them acceptable abroad. This involves confirming that a signature, seal or stamp is genuine.

Document searches

For a fee, the British Consul 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; or

  •   Police reports.