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Consider the scenario where you are travelling overseas, outside of the jurisdiction of any of the countries to which you have citizenship. You somehow end up in legal trouble, and are arrested. By the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a foreign citizen has the right to request consular notification when arrested. How do you decide which embassy to request contact with?

Obviously the answer would depend on the specific situation, but I was hoping that someone might be able to give a general answer as to what the thinking should be for a multi-citizen needing consular services.

  • Why the close votes?! – Thorsten S. Mar 18 '18 at 20:39
  • @ThorstenS., the question is too general. For instance, EU citizens may request help from any EU consulate if there is none of their own. – o.m. Mar 19 '18 at 13:45
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I had to do this in Bolivia.

South African and NZ citizenship. Needed to contact my country and Interpol. Neither has a presence in Bolivia.

So I went to the 'closest' I could think of - the British consulate. A quick call to them and they were able to give some initial advice, but then connect me with the NZ consulates in Chile and Argentina, who contacted Interpol on my behalf as well.

Long story short - if your country doesn't have a presence, pick a country 'closeish' to your country who is on good terms with it. If they can't help you, they'll likely try to get you to someone who can - it's kinda their job, no matter who they work for.

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    Many countries suggest who to contact when they lack a consulate/embassy in a given country, e.g. Canada often points us toward Australian and British embassies. – Jim MacKenzie Mar 18 '18 at 2:32
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The answer is going to depend wildly on the citizenships you hold, and the country where you get in trouble.

My personal advice would be to choose the consulate or embassy with the most useful presence in the country where you are having difficulty. The larger the diplomatic presence, the more resources will be available to assist you.

A secondary factor would be to choose the country that has the best diplomatic relations with the country where your problem occurred. That way, the country that is assisting you will be in the best position to negotiate on your behalf, if that might be useful.

Of course, the best answer of all is to do your homework and understand what is permitted in a country and what isn't, to minimize the odds of you needing consular assistance to begin with.

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    There might be also a limitation on which citizenship you can use, depending on the country you're in: if you enter with passport A, you could be recognized as a citizen of A, period. – user67108 Mar 18 '18 at 1:25
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    I generally don't carry two passports. I decide which before leaving home. So, if I got into trouble then I would have no choice. The reason that I don't carry both is that if I am going somewhere that accepts one of my citizenships but not the other then it is probably the sort of place that carrying two passports would look suspicious. – badjohn Mar 18 '18 at 10:28
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    @dda to add to this, several countries won't recognize your foreign citizenship at all in certain situations, e.g. China if you were born there, even if you entered on a foreign passport. – dbkk Apr 8 '18 at 19:03
  • @dbkk the US and China have an agreement that a dual citizen of both countries must be given consular access if the person has entered on the other country's passport. So your example is incorrect for US citizens, at least. – phoog Dec 13 '18 at 8:00
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@MarkMayo 's and @JimMacKenzie 's answers are great. Another thing to consider is how each of your countries of citizenship are likely to view the "legal trouble" that you got into.

For example, if you have been accused of sexual conduct with a minor (whether or not you are actually guilty), it might not be such a good idea to seek help from the USA if you also hold citizenship in a country that is not known to prosecute its own citizens for overseas sexual behavior.

On the other hand, if you have been accused of engaging in unlawful political activism or religious proselytism, the USA, with its strong belief in such freedoms, is probably more likely to see you as worthy of assistance than, say, an Islamist or Communist country (unless, say, you were arrested for advocating for Communism in Egypt and you can get China to apply political pressure for you). Similarly, use common sense here. If you have been accused of stirring up Neo-Nazi activism, don't expect the German or Polish embassies to cry many tears for you, even if you hold their passports.

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    The US should do what it can to guarantee that its citizens receive a fair trial and humane treatment regardless of the crimes of which they're accused. – phoog Mar 18 '18 at 16:16
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    @phoog true, but no one is perfect. – Robert Columbia Mar 18 '18 at 16:27
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    This is worth considering, but as a practical matter, your consulate is very much unlikely to provide assistance beyond the standard efforts to ensure you aren't treated worse than other local prisoners, help contact family, facilitate funds transfers, periodic consular visits, maybe provide a list of local lawyers, etc... Unless your case is major international news, countries just aren't likely to apply political pressure to try to improve your situation; they're just going to do the normal consular services thing. – Zach Lipton Mar 18 '18 at 22:03

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