The recent chain of escalating events around the employees led the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia to cease most of its services. This includes canceling offering consular services for locals, but I'm interested about the services offered to U.S. citizens.

The Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Mission Russia – Reduction of Consular Services says what services the Embassy will not offer, but it does not say what it will still do:

Embassy Moscow will not offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future.

Being an expat myself, I was under the impression that Embassies have a certain minimal service they are required to offer to their citizens who stay/live abroad and may need an urgent support from their home country's officials. One recent example is when a U.S. citizen abducted and murdered abroad.

So, my question is, What services are the U.S. Embassies required, either by law or by statutory responsibility, to provide for U.S. citizens abroad?

  • I doubt that there will be a legal minimum, since it will depend on the local conditions. What if the law says (it does not, just for the sake of the example) that they must provide access to a lawyer while under arrest, but the local laws do not allow for legal asistence or force to use the state-provided lawyer? Not to mention that sometimes the Embassies just stop working and may be evacuated.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 22:09
  • 1
    What's the difference between "law" and "statutory responsibility"?
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 23:10
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    @phoog, I simply mean that some provisions are written in the law while smaller regulations could be defined in, for example, internal instructions issued by the DoS and not require the affirmation from the Congress. An example off the top of my head: whether or not can I enter my country's embassy at night time or simply with no prior assignment. I would appreciate if you could suggest a better formulation. Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 23:27

1 Answer 1


Looking for "embassy" in the US Code returns some requirements:

US Code Title 50 section 453: Embassies must allow every male US Citizen not residing in the USA to register for military service.

US Code Title 22 Section 5506 In case of an emergency in which the DoS sends a crisis relief team to a country, the embassy staff must work with that team.

USC 8 1435, In the case of person regaining US citizenship. If the oath they take is done at an embassy, then it must be entered into the records of the embassy.

And so on... It's all quite boring stuff.

More generally, ambassadors and their staff are federal officers, and so must obey legal instructions of the executive. The president or the secretary of State can direct ambassadors, and they must comply with any legal order.

  • Is the point that the Embassies are just subordinate offices of the DOS and are therefore subject to follow instructions from the DOS, but they don't bear any obligations to the private US citizens? (unlike the Police, Fire dept. etc., who can be sued for not providing the required assistance).
    – Jacob3
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 23:33
  • There are probably common law requirements, a "duty of care" etc. But these duties apply to everybody. Every public body owes a duty of care, and can be sued. These are not statue requirements. Duty of care requirements on police are particularly limited, and while I'm not sure that it has reached the courts, I would suppose that those on Embassy staff are similarly limited.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 4:59

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