May 6, 2013
If you are concerned about a U.S. citizen relative or friend who is traveling or living abroad, you can call us at 1-888-407-4747. Our Embassies and Consulates abroad can use the information you provide to try to locate the individual and pass on your message. We check also with local authorities in the foreign country to see if there is any report of a U.S. citizen hospitalized, arrested, or otherwise unable to communicate with those looking for them. If necessary, we may personally search hotels, airports, hospitals, or even prisons. The more information that you can provide about the person you are concerned about, the better our chances are of finding him or her.
The information that we can share with you about these searches is sometimes impacted by the “Privacy Act.” A U.S. law called the Privacy Act is designed to protect the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. The Act states that we may not reveal information regarding a U.S. citizen’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including the citizen’s family members and Congressional representatives, without the written consent of that individual. Although we recognize that this law may occasionally cause distress to concerned families, we must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act if the individual has asked us not to share information about him or her. However, exceptions can be made for the health and safety of the individual and when minors are involved. A consular officer can explain to you how the Privacy Act might impact your specific case.
Often, U.S. citizens abroad forget to contact their families on a regular basis due to time differences, busy schedules, irregular access to email, or difficulty making international phone calls. In most cases, worried family members eventually hear from their relative abroad, although it may take several days after you contact them before they are able to respond. It is also a good idea to discuss communication plans with friends and relatives before they travel; agree on how frequently they’ll be in touch and whether it will be by phone or email. Make sure they leave contact information and when possible, a copy of their itinerary. These details will also help us to try to locate them for you if it becomes necessary.