In many respects we hope you never have to use either a consulate or an embassy. A visit to either of these outposts in someone else’s native country is usually a sign that something has gone wrong. The holiday maker who has lost their passport or the resident who has got into trouble with the police.
However, consulates and embassies should not be seen as a catch-all for when you find yourself in a bit of bother. And they won’t bail you out of all your misdemeanours. They cannot free you from prison, help you enter a country or interfere in another country’s immigration policy.
However, they do have a very valuable and important role to play. In this article we explain what they do and what they don’t do.
An embassy is the more important of the two buildings and is usually located in the country’s capital city. The British Embassy in Spain is in Madrid. The ambassador is the main person representing people of that nationality in the country.
If you are the victim of a crime then either the embassy or consulate can provide support services and make referrals. However, you should also take local advice and denounce the crime yourself at your local police station.
Other services an embassy can provide you with include:
- Emergency consular assistance
- Passport extensions
- Replacing lost documents
- Contacting on your behalf or letting you contact relatives in an emergency
- A short term loan in some exceptional circumstances
However, you shouldn’t expect them to be a place of refuge. You can’t commit a crime and then seek impunity in there.
The consulates are usually to be found in large tourist centres. For example, in Spain there are British consulates in Alicante, Barcelona, Ibiza, Las Palmas, Madrid, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife. They are a smaller version of an embassy and provide advice and support for nationals on holiday or living in the region.
They might also have a role to play in developing trade links and business associations.
A consular office can:
- Provide a notary service and have authorisation to legalise a document
- Provide help and advice in an emergency situation in relation to a British citizen
- Provide advice on moving to and living in Spain
- Provide emergency help related to arrest or detention, missing people, transport accidents and civil emergency support
- Register births and deaths
- Provide a list of English-speaking lawyers and medical professionals
- Enable trade links
- Provide travel advice
- Organise road shows to help clarify issues about living in Spain and people’s rights and responsibilities
In 2012 5,709 emergency travel documents were issued to British nationals whose passports had been lost or stolen while on holiday.
It’s good to feel that there is a back up and someone to turn to if you encounter a major problem abroad. However, there is no doubt that embassies and consulates should be treated as a last resort. Much of their information campaign is based on helping people to help themselves rather than relying on others.
Useful contact details
British Embassy – Madrid
Paseo de la Castellano 259D
Tel: (+34) 902 109 356 (including emergency assistance)
Swedish Embassy – Madrid
Calle Caracas 25
Tel: (+34) 91 702 2000
Irish Embassy – Madrid
Paseo de la Castellano 46-4
Tel (+34) 914364093