Consular protection outside the EU

EU citizens are entitled to seek help from the embassy or consulate of any other EU Member State if they find themselves in a situation where they need assistance outside the EU, with no embassy or consulate from their own Member State effectively in position to help them (they are “unrepresented”).

An EU citizen can be unrepresented if there is no embassy or consulate from his or her own Member State established in the country. An EU citizen can also be unrepresented when the embassy or consulate established locally is unable for any reason to provide consular protection, for example because it is far away from where the EU citizen is located.

The help that may be provided by embassies/consulates of (other) EU Member States include assistance in cases of:

  • need for an emergency travel document (for example in case of loss or theft of passport)
  • arrest or detention
  • being a victim of crime
  • serious accident or serious illness
  • relief and repatriation in case of an emergency
  • death

In any of those situations, EU Member States must provide unrepresented EU citizens with whatever assistance they would provide to their own nationals. This support can be different from one EU Member State to another. There are also rules to what extent EU citizen’s non-EU family members can get assistance.

When unrepresented EU citizens seek help from the embassy or consulate of another EU Member State, they must prove their identity by showing a passport or identity card. If their documents have been stolen or lost, their nationality can be proven by other means, including by verification with the authorities of their own EU Member State’s consular authorities.

The unrepresented EU citizen’s Member State of nationality will be consulted by the Member State from whom he or she is seeking help and can, at any time, decide to take care of the case, even when it has no embassy or consulate in the country concerned (for instance by providing information over the phone, contacting family or friends, or by way of online consular services). The Member State of nationality thus maintains its important role in taking care of its own citizens in distress abroad.

EU Member States can agree on practical arrangements to ensure efficient protection of EU citizens. For example, an EU Member State can represent another EU Member State on a permanent basis and consulates can agree locally on who should take care of whom. Where such arrangements exist, unrepresented EU citizens may be redirected to the embassy or consulate responsible for them.

If the assistance provided implies certain costs or fees, unrepresented EU citizens will not have to pay more than the nationals of the EU Member State that assists them would pay for similar assistance. If unrepresented EU citizens are not able to pay these costs on the spot, they will be asked to sign a form by which they undertake to repay those costs to their own authorities, if requested to do so.

Unrepresented citizen should be duly taken into account and fully assisted in crisis situations, where a clear division of responsibilities and coordination are of paramount importance. The Consular Crisis Management Division of the European External Action Service assists in coordinating action in times of crisis.

For more information, visit the website on consular protection for EU citizens abroad. To see whether your Member State has an embassy or consulate in the country where you are, visit the section “Find an embassy/consulate”. To find out more on how the EU Member States work together on consular issues, visit the Council’s website on consular protection.

Development of EU consular protection

The right to consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens is set out in Articles 20(2)c and 23 of the EU Treaty and Article 46 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

On this basis, the Council adopted, on 20 April 2015, an EU Directive on consular protection for unrepresented European citizens living or travelling outside the EU. The EU Member States had to implement those rules into their national laws by 1 May 2018. Information on how they have done so is available here.

The new rules clarify when and how EU citizens in distress in a country outside the EU have the right to seek assistance from other EU Member States’ embassies or consulates, how EU Member States should coordinate their assistance, and who should pay for any arising costs.

The Directive makes cooperation between consular authorities easier and strengthens EU citizens' right to consular protection. This is particularly important in crisis situations (for example in the case of a natural disaster or armed conflict). Member States represented in a non-EU country should coordinate contingency plans among themselves and with the EU Delegation to ensure that unrepresented citizens are fully assisted in the event of a crisis.

A special form of consular assistance is the issuance of emergency travel documents, for example in case of loss or theft of a passport. In 1996, EU Member States agreed on a common format for an EU emergency travel document to provide help to EU citizens without a travel document abroad in a country in which their own Member State has no embassy or consulate. In May 2018, the Commission made a proposal to revise the EU Emergency Travel Document to make it more secure and user-friendly.

In parallel, the Commission continues to include and negotiate consent clauses in bilateral agreements with third countries to ensure that these countries agree that represented EU Member States give assistance to unrepresented EU citizens.

Further reading/documents

Consular Protection Directive

 

Summary

Press release

EU ETD Proposal

Press release

1996 ETD Decision

Summary

Communication on consular protection 2011

Action Plan of December 2007

Green Paper of November 2006

Notice on travelling between the EU and the United Kingdom following withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (point 7.6 on consular protection)