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Maintain your US citizen connection while living abroad

Using consular services can eliminate headaches in certain situations

By US Department of State | May 23, 2012

Whether you are planning to move abroad or are already residing outside of the U.S., you should review the information about safe travel and consular services available to you, since most of it applies equally to U.S. citizens residing abroad. 

The following is information about services you are more likely to need if you are residing abroad. 

Marriage abroad

U.S. consular officers abroad cannot perform marriages.  Depending on the law of the foreign country, local civil or religious officials generally perform marriages. Procedures vary from country to country, and some require lengthy preparation.

  •     Many countries have requirements that the parties have been resident in that country for a specified period of time before a marriage may be performed there.
  •     There may be requirements for blood tests, etc.
  •     There may be requirements for parental consent.
  •     There are also, in many countries, a requirement that documents certifying the end of a previous relationship (such as a death or divorce certificate) be submitted, translated into the local language and authenticated.
  •     Some countries require an affidavit by the parties as proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract.  (This affidavit can be executed at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.)

The process can be time-consuming and expensive, and, therefore, persons planning to marry in a foreign country should find out the requirements of that particular country before beginning travel.  Contact the embassy or tourist information bureau of the country where you plan to marry to learn the specific requirements. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.  If you are already abroad, consult with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Once your marriage has taken place abroad, U.S. consular officers can authenticate your foreign marriage document.  Note that this authentication simply signifies that your foreign marriage documents are real; it does not necessarily mean that your marriage will be recognized by your home state in the U.S.  If you are married abroad and need confirmation that your marriage will be recognized in the United States, consult the Attorney General of your state of residence in the United States.

Birth abroad of a U.S. citizen

Most children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.  As soon as possible after the birth, the U.S. citizen parent should contact the nearest U.S.  Embassy or Consulate.  If the consul determines that the child has acquired U.S. citizenship, a consular officer prepares a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America (Form FS-240).  This document is recognized in the United States as proof of acquisition of U.S. citizenship, and it is acceptable evidence of citizenship for obtaining a passport, entering school, and most other purposes.  Failure to document a child promptly as a U.S. citizen may cause hardship for the parents or child later on when attempting to obtain a passport or register for school. 

Divorce abroad

The validity of divorces obtained overseas will vary according to the requirements of an individual’s state of residence.  Consult the authorities of your state of residence in the United States for these requirements. 

Death abroad

One of the most important tasks of U.S. consular officers abroad is to provide assistance to the families of U.S. citizens who die abroad.  For more information about consular assistance when an American citizen has died abroad, see "Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad".

Federal benefits services abroad

Prior to your move abroad you should contact the federal agency (Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, or Office of Personnel Management) from which you receive a monthly check to report your change of address.  This will help you avoid a lost or delayed check.  Even if your payments are being sent to a bank, you must provide the federal agency with your new address.  You should also contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest your place of residence upon your arrival and advise them of your current address.  Each time you move while living abroad, you should notify the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at least 60 days prior to your move.  This will enable the federal agency to update its records so your checks are sent to your new address.

In many countries, you are able to have your monthly checks deposited directly into your account at either a financial institution in the country where you live or a U.S. financial institution.  To determine if direct deposit is available in the country where you plan to reside, or to sign up for direct deposit, contact the federal agency from which you receive payment.

If your check does not arrive or you have other questions about your federal benefits, contact a consular officer at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  If the consular officer cannot answer your inquiry, he or she will contact the regional federal benefits officer for your area and make inquiries on your behalf.

Driver’s license

It is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in many countries.  You should check with the Embassy of the country where you plan to reside, to find out more about driver’s license requirements.  Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.

Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license.  Some, however, will accept an international driver’s permit.  It is nevertheless a good idea to qualify for a local driver’s license as soon as possible, since international driver’s permits are not always valid for the length of a stay abroad, and often are only valid if presented in conjunction with a valid U.S. or local license.  To renew a U.S. driver’s license, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your home state.

Selective service registration

Section I-202 of the Presidential Proclamation of July 2, 1980, reinstituting registration under the Military Selective Service Act, states:  “Citizens of the United States who are to be registered and who are not in the United States on any of the days set aside for their registration, shall present themselves at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for registration before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States or before a registrar duly appointed by a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States.  Check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you need to comply."