Traveling soon? Cool! Have fun! But before you go, there is one very important thing you should do. It might not seem important now, but if anything terrible happens in the country you are visiting, you will be glad you have done it. I’m talking about registering with your embassy before you leave your country. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, this post will explain what it means to register with your embassy before you leave for your trip and why it is so important.
Travel checklist: register with your embassy
First, let me share a little case study. In 2011, you may remember Japan was hit with a massive earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region. More than the earthquake, the tsunami took many lives and did serious damage to the area that Japanese people will not soon forget. There were also foreigners living in the area, and one who I know personally. He survived because his workplace happened to be on the top of a hill. But I believe he lost his passport, along with most of the contents of his apartment.
In a disaster situation like that, what are you to do if you have no passport or any other ID? How can you prove your nationality, get a replacement passport, and book a flight home if you need? Well that, my friend, is why it is soooo important to register with your embassy before you leave.
What does it mean to register with your embassy?
To register with your embassy simply means to inform the embassy in your destination country that you will be there. You should register online for short-term travel and long-term living. That way, if a disaster occurs, like a serious earthquake or tsunami, then your country will know where you are. They should have your address, your phone number, email, passport number, home address, and more. Then they can contact you, make sure you are safe, and make arrangements to get you home.
Another example, I’ve been living in Japan for over five years, and a year in Korea before that. I have been registered with my embassy that whole time. Luckily nothing has happened (yet?). But I do get an email or two almost every year from the embassy in Tokyo telling me that a typhoon is coming and what I should do to stay safe. It always makes me feel happy inside knowing that the Canadian embassy knows where I am, how to contact me, and that they have my back.
As a matter of fact, I just got an email from the embassy yesterday as I was writing this post. Coincidence, huh? It says there is a typhoon coming to Japan via Okinawa, to inform other Canadians in my area, how to stay safe, and a reminder to keep my registration information updated.
Don’t forget to register with your embassy when you travel as an expat
Registering with you embassy isn’t a one time thing, and then forget it. You have to keep it updated. Although I’m living in Japan, I still need to inform my embassy when I will be traveling abroad. I’ve been on quite a few international trips in the last five years, and besides a couple times I forgot to do it, I register that I will be traveling to Thailand, Mongolia, India, etc. That way if something happens in Japan, they know I’m not in danger. And if something happens in another country I’ve traveled to, they know I am there and can try and help me.
You also need to update you registration if any of your information changes. If you renew your passport, change your address, get married, then you should make the necessary updates to your online info.
What happens if you don’t register with your embassy?
If you don’t register with your embassy that you are traveling or living abroad, your country won’t know where you are. They will think you are safe at home, when you might have just experienced a tsunami. If you are not on their list, they don’t know where you are, and they can’t easily help you.
This does not mean that they will ignore you or turn their back on you (hopefully). BUT, it does mean that if you have previously registered they can get in touch with you, be able to issue you an emergency passport, and arrange to keep you safe. You will have credibility and priority over someone who randomly shows up ID-less asking for help. I don’t know all the logistics, but if you have registered with your embassy, they might even cover costs and provide accommodations for you. Whereas, if you have not registered, you might be a bit more on your own. And in the event of an emergency, I would prefer my embassy knew where I was and was taking action to keep me safe.
Why am I talking about this now?
Good question! The reason I bring this topic up right now has to do with North Korea actually. With North Korea-US tensions reaching an all-time high, and nobody really sure what is going to happen, people are becoming a bit nervous. With the recent missile launch over northern Japan, it raises the question of what will happen if Japan is, intentionally or unintentionally, the target of a bomb.
What do I do if war breaks out in the region? Honestly, I don’t know. But my guess is I should go back to Canada. If it ever reaches an emergency situation, like a dropped bomb or whatever, at least I know I am registered with the embassy. Of course, there’s only so much they can do, but at the very least, I know I am on their list of people in Japan that need to be kept safe and returned to Canada. On the other hand, any unregistered Canadians in Japan will be in more a “fend for yourself” situation.
Isn’t it enough to just pass through immigration?
Well, no, I don’t think so. It’s not the same thing. Sure your embassy might be able to track down your information and confirm that you are in fact in Japan, but it’s not on their record because you haven’t given it to them. They would have to get in touch with immigration, and even then, I don’t know how much information they are willing to (or can legally) share with each other. Passing through immigration serves the country you are visiting, not your home country. And I don’t think Japan cares about rescuing foreigners and returning them home safely in the event of a disaster. Sorry. That’s on you.
You should not assume that passing through immigration is enough to keep you safe. You must register with your embassy in the country you are visiting. Then you will not feel lost and helpless when there is an earthquake, a tsunami, a typhoon, or a bomb.
If you are abroad right now and haven’t already registered with your embassy, DO IT NOW!
It’s not too late! You can do it online! I believe the first time I registered, I was already abroad and had just found out about it. Of course, I have only ever registered with the Canadian embassy, but I assume it’s largely the same procedure for other countries. You provide your name, passport number and info, address, dates of travel (you don’t need an end date if you are living abroad), family contacts, and stuff like that. Then you likely never have to worry about anything because the chances of something bad happening are small. But you should register with your embassy to be on the safe side, because still, you never know what is going to happen in the crazy world.
Look, I’ve even collected a few different countries’ websites so you can do it right now!
Registration of canadian Abroad (Canada)
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (United States)
UK: seems have scrapped this system…? Please let me know if it still exists. Also, why??
eRegistration for going overseas (Singapore)
Smart Traveller Registration (Australia)
Safe Travel Registration (New Zealand)
Registration of South Africans Abroad (South Africa)
Tabi Regi (Japan, in Japanese) Are there any Japanese people reading my blog?!
Final thoughts on registering with you embassy
Final thoughts? Just do it. There’s no reason not to. At least not that I can think of. Register with your embassy when you travel or live abroad so your country knows where you are if disaster strikes. Then they can make plans to help you and bring you to safety. It’s much better to have your country on your side then try and sort through a disaster on your own. And you never know when a neighbouring country is going to drop a bomb on you. Positivity, yo!
Now, let me know, have you already registered for your trip abroad?