The Visa Hour Special Edition: American Citizen Services

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The Visa Hour Special Edition: American Citizen Services

GREG: Hello! Welcome to the special episode of the Visa Hour, this episode is entitled, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Embassy American Citizen Services Unit, But Were Afraid to Ask,” and other useful information about Election 2012 too. My name is Greg, BOB: and my name is Bob, and we are consular officers at the American Embassy GREG: And today, we’re here to talk about American Citizen Services, we’ve got a couple different ways that you can communicate with us, the first one that you can use is Twitter, you can ask a question by tweeting at, you just use the hashtag #thevisahour, or you can post a question on our Facebook page, and hashtag it, again, with #thevisahour Now, our Facebook page is at You can follow us on Twitter at BOB: We’re here today to talk about American Citizen Services, but we’re also here to talk about Election 2012. The general election is just around the corner, and we want to encourage all American citizens to get out and vote In this sense, we mean that we want you to submit your absentee ballots. This is your chance to make your voice heard. You know, sometimes we hear people say, “Well, my vote doesn’t count, so what does it matter if I send one,” send a vote in. Well, in the last couple of years, there have been a number of elections that have been decided by a really small number of votes. For example, in 2008, a U.S. Senate race was decided by only 312 votes. In 2004, the governor’s race in Washington state was decided by 133 votes, and of course, we all remember the 2000 Presidential Election, where Florida was only decided by only 537 votes and New Mexico was decided by 366 votes. So all of our votes matter, so we encourage everyone to submit your votes. The Embassy has a lot of useful information on our webpage In the lower right corner, you’ll see a large button for Election 2012. Just to the right of that, there’s a link for voting information Much of the information that Greg and I will be talking about today can be found on our website. If you have questions, you can email them to us, through one of two addresses, the first is [email protected]; that’s our special email inbox simply for voting questions, and also you can use our general purpose information email address, which is [email protected] No spaces between any of those words We’ll repeat those email addresses periodically as we go through the show GREG: It’s really easy to vote, even if you are overseas. You don’t actually have to go to the polling place, you don’t have to wait in line, all you have to do is fill out some forms, send it in by email, by fax, or by hard copy through the mail, and by hard copy through the mail. The only requirement is that you have to be 18 years old, and you have to be registered in whatever jurisdiction you last lived in in the United States. If you’re watching the Visa Hour today, you’re probably in the Philippines, but most of you also probably have lived in the States at some time or another So just think about what that last address is where you lived, and that’s your voting address in the United States. We don’t actually conduct the elections here at the embassy, and that’s because in America the voting is done by the local jurisdictions. Some countries have voting conducted centrally by the federal government, not us, you vote at your county, or your city, at your local precinct. And so what we do here at the Embassy is facilitate that. We help put you in touch with your local election office in the U.S., and then we’ll help to send those ballots and other voting material from you to the voting office in the United States. We actually got a question yesterday by email about absentee voting versus voting in the U.S. The writer says, “I will be in the States at the time we will be voting Can I still send in an absentee ballot?” Well, the key answer to that question is that you can only vote once. If you vote twice, then you cause all kinds of problems for yourself, so please, don’t vote twice, but once. If you’re going to be in your precinct in the U.S., go ahead and vote there. Go in person down to the polling station and vote. If you’re going to be here in the Philippines, or if you’re going to be in a different place in the United States, send in an absentee ballot Make sure your vote gets counted one way or another. So in my case, I’m a Texas voter, so if I’m going to vote in my precinct, I have to be there, have to be in Texas. I’m going to be in New York, that’s just as good as being in the Philippines. As long as I’m not in my precinct, I need to vote absentee in order to cast my ballot. So the choice is yours, it just depends on where you are Just make sure you cast that ballot one way or the other BOB: So Greg and I thought we’d talk about our voting experiences as a way of illustrating the process and how easy it is to vote. During this show, we’re going to be pointing out some resources that you can use that will help you register to vote, get your ballot,

and then cast your ballot. If there is one important thing that we want you to take away from this program, it’s a website. The website is This is the website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program, and it is the Federal Government’s primary resource for overseas voters, like you and I, that we use to help cast our ballots. So let’s take a quick look at the FVAP website. So once you’re on the website, you’ll see two options on the main page, we want you to select the right option, which is for U.S. citizens who are living outside the U.S. for work, school, or other reasons. You click on that option, and that brings up a map of the United States. Then you simply click on the state where you are a registered voter and you begin the process. At that point in time, you’ll have a couple different options, you can either register to vote, you can get your ballot, you can track your ballot, so there’s lots of things that your options are. Now, Greg’s a Texas voter, but I’m from Virginia, and I’m registered in Virginia, luckily, so I already have my ballot on the way. But if I weren’t, Virginia allows me to register to vote up until the 30th of October, so right before the General Election. So I can use the website, the FVAP website, to get the federal postcard absentee ballot – I have two options, I can either follow an online form, which will allow me to fill up information and print it out, or I can actually print the form and fill it out by hand. It’s important to remember that whatever information you put on the website is not stored anywhere So as you fill in your name, address, and other key information, it will be erased as soon as you leave the website. Also, importantly, a lot of information about how to contact your local voting officials are also found on the website. It has addresses, it has phone numbers, it has email addresses. We also have a book that Greg is showing right now, which is the hard copy way to do it. So if you actually come into the Embassy and ask us, we can let you take a look at the voting assistance book, but it’s far, far easier to just go to the website, go online, and get the information I want everybody to remember that every state is a little bit different. So if you have questions about how to get registered to vote, how to cast your vote, what the deadlines are, please check the website, check out your state. Greg, you’re from Texas, I think the requirements are a bit different in your state GREG: Yeah, they are, that’s the reason this book is so thick, because it’s got a section about every state, plus the District of Columbia, and other places that can vote in the United States Federal Elections. So when I flip to the Texas section here, and you can do this on the online version of the voter assistance guide as well, I’ve got a few pages that talk about – for example, dates, when do I need to send my ballot back, to how do I register to vote in whatever jurisdiction I am, this is a whole page one, two, three, looks like four or five pages just of voting jurisdictions in the state of Texas. And they repeat that for every state in the country So whatever jurisdiction you’re from, you can find the contact information, and it includes the mailing address, the telephone or fax number, and also an email address for how you can contact each of those board of elections or voting clerks. Literally call that person in that county or city or state. And so this book is great, you can get it online, but you can also come in here and look at it, if you happen to be at the Embassy and find out all the different information about how to vote in whatever place you’re from. I happen to have something else here, I received my ballot just the other day, I got it by email, and it came with a couple attachments to that email. This is the ballot itself, looks like it’s a four-page ballot, with different options for all the different offices I can vote for, from President of the United States right on down to the Austin Independent School District School Board, so everything from the top to the bottom, every elected office is here, and I haven’t completed this ballot yet, so I’m happy to show it to you. I can vote for whoever I want on this ballot, fold it up, another attachment that came with that email was a postage-paid envelope, so it’s really important if you’re sending your ballot back, that you do one of two things. One is that you can put a stamp on it, and that’s fine, but if you don’t want to, you can use one of these postage-paid envelopes. And it’ll say at the top, it’s got this little logo for official election mail, and it says over here U.S. Postage Paid Now don’t try to use this for anything that’s not for an election material. But if you do this for election material, it’ll print out automatically at, an envelope with your voting district’s address right here at the top So this actually came to me by email, I printed it out, put the ballot in the envelope, I’ll

complete my ballot, put it in the envelope, seal the ballot, sign over the seal here, and then I can send it back for free through the Embassy’s mail system. And that’s something that we can help you out with BOB: Greg, I think we just got a question about returning the ballots GREG: Perfect. It’s a question for me now “Please advise where the drop-off area for the ballots is. Do I have to queue up at the line for security check?” [INAUDIBLE] BOB: We’re actually collecting ballots in the American Citizen Services office at the Embassy right now. So unfortunately, the answer is in the immediate future in the next few days you would have to come all the way into the Embassy and drop your ballot off with one of us. But we are working to get a drop box that’s gonna be placed out of the Embassy, near the entrance, so an American Citizen could just come to the Embassy and in five minutes, would be able to go in, drop his ballot off in a sealed box, that’ll be locked, and then every day we will collect them and we’ll put them in the mail. But as Greg said, it’s very important to make sure that you either use the postage-paid envelope that you can print from the website, or to put a stamp on it, because if it doesn’t have a stamp on it, it’s going to be harder for us to take care of at this time GREG: I think we have actually another question about returning ballots BOB: Another one by email, “May I ask, what office in the U.S. Embassy can I address my returning absentee ballot to if I were to use the local courier service so that I can send it through the diplomatic mail system?” There’s a couple questions in here. The last thing that the writer refers to is the diplomatic mail system, and we do have at the Embassy here in Manila and everywhere else around the world at our embassies, we have ways of sending mail through the diplomatic or military mail systems back to the United States. For election materials, those are free to you, and they’re probably faster and a little bit more likely to reach their destination than using a local mail system, where you’re going to FedEx to send your election materials back to the U.S So we certainly recommend that you take advantage of that service we do provide to Americans You’re welcome to come in and use the diplomatic mail system. Can you show the question again? I need to go back to the beginning GREG: While the next question is being put up, people are working on a number of other ways we are gonna try to put together between now and election day to make it even easier for American citizens to get their ballots to us, and for us to get them back to the U.S BOB: So if you’re going to send that ballot to us, let’s say you’re not in the city of Manila, you want to send it by mail to us, and then we’ll forward it by mail back to the United States. You can send that election material. If you get an envelope like this, put it inside another envelope. And address that outside envelope to American Citizen Services, Lording Information, U.S Embassy, 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines That’ll come to our office in American Citizen Services. We’ll get it out of the outside envelope and just leave the inside envelope, and send this envelope back to the United States, just to make sure this inside one is sealed and you’ve signed over the seal so that it’s officially sealed and completed piece of voting material GREG: So election day is November 6, that’s coming up pretty soon, and you have to keep in mind that one important deadline, which is common across all 50 states, is that your ballot has to be postmarked by the 6th of November. So what that means is that it has to be here at the Embassy by the 6th of November, so that our post office can put a stamp on it. In some states, you have a little bit more time after the general election date to get your absentee ballot in, but for example, in Virginia, as I read the book, I have to have actually my ballot into Virginia by the 6th of November. Other states have different deadlines. So please keep that in mind if you’re sending your ballot into us, get it to us in enough time so that we can get it into the mail system and get it back to the U.S. We think it’s about at least a week in advance that you could get your ballot into us by that BOB: And if you’re looking at the voter assistance guide, either here in the hard copy, or online, that’s something you can find, let’s try [INAUDIBLE] of these states, talks about the different deadlines for the general election. And Bobby, you said you already registered, right? GREG: I am BOB: That’s great, because – but even if you weren’t if you’re a Virginian, you have, as an overseas citizen, until October 15th to register. So you’ve got another two weeks or so, almost, to register for the election You’d need to request a ballot by October 30th, and then it needs to be returned to Virginia by November 6th. Which is election day GREG: Yep. And you know, if I’m here in the Philippines, and I’m registered to vote, and I’m a little bit lazy and I don’t get my request in until the 30th of October, I think I’m going to be out of luck, to tell you the truth ‘Cause there won’t be enough time for the ballot to get to me. But, in that situation, I’m not going to be too worried, because there is another way that you can vote in the election without receiving your ballot from your state

or your county, and that’s by using what we call the federal write-in absentee ballot And luckily on the FVAP website, there is a way that you can actually print yourself a copy of that. I think, for example, if we go back to the state of Virginia, on the FVAP website, and we click on the state, and the middle option on that page is “get my ballot now” and if I follow that process, I’m actually going to be able to print off the federal write-in absentee ballot. I printed one off, it’s probably a bit hard to see, but it’s right here, you’re going to print it off, or you can fill it out online and print it off, and then the website gives you a template that you can print an envelope just like Greg printed off his Texas state ballot, it’ll allow you to print off an envelope, and you can put your federal write-in absentee ballot, and you can send it back to the same state or local office you would’ve sent your normal ballot on. And usually it’s a bit harder, because, for example, I know who – that I want to vote for the president, and for a senator, and for a congressman, but whereas Greg has four pages of elections that he was going to try and follow, I probably won’t be able to do that. But, nonetheless, there’s space on the federal write-in ballot for local elections as well, and it looks like we actually have another question from email. This one the writer asks, “I’ve tried to follow the instructions on the FVAP website, but I’m having trouble with the local election office, can you help?” You know, unfortunately, in this situation, we’re not gonna be able to offer too much assistance, because elections are really a local jurisdiction issue. What you can do, though, is you can go to the FVAP website, and you can get a phone number or a fax number for the election office, and rather than trying to send an email, and corresponding remotely, you can actually call someone up, you can get on Skype, and call them, and then you can ask – you should talk to a real live person and maybe that person will be able to answer your question. And I really encourage you to do that quickly, ’cause you definitely want to get any problems that you may have resolved before the elections BOB: I think one example of something someone’s asked us about – they got a letter back from Clark County, Milano, which is where Las Vegas is, who said that the address they put on their federal postcard application, that is the voter registration form, was not in Clark County. Well, the person had put their Philippine address on their voter registration form And that doesn’t work, unfortunately, because you have to register in a United States jurisdiction You have to register in some county, city, state in the U.S. so that you can vote in their elections. In this case, the person had put a Philippine address, but what they should have done was put the last address that they used in Las Vegas. But even if that was 20 years ago, if that was 50 years ago, it doesn’t matter, because that’s the last address that you used in the United States, then that’s your voting address for registration purposes. So make sure you use that address when you register and when you have voting correspondence. Hopefully that will solve some of those problems you have with local jurisdictions GREG: And it is important to check out the website, and look at the requirements for your state with both registration and for voting, because the rules are gonna change a little bit from state to state, and it wouldn’t do much good for me to tell you which state, what the requirements are for Virginia, where I live, if you’re from Mississippi, because your requirements may be a little bit different, and I might cause you some trouble if you just tried to follow my advice. So definitely go to the website, check it out. If you have a question, you can’t figure it out, again, we have two email addresses that you can contact us on, the first one again is [email protected], and the second one is our standard 365-day a year address, which is [email protected] Drop us a line, we’ll send you a response, we get about, I think, 3-5 emails a day, and we manage to answer them certainly by the next day. So we’ll try and help out in places we can BOB: The only thing we do want to point out is that, when it comes to voting, we are restricted in what help we can provide. We’re happy to help you with filling out forms, with sending mail back to the United States, as far as registration forms and write-in ballots or other ballot material that you’re sending back to the U.S. We can’t help you decide who to vote for, that’s completely up to you And it’s an individual action, voting is, and making your choices is something you need to do, educating yourself about who to vote for is something that you need to do yourself So make sure that you’ve done that, that you’re prepared to be an educated voter, and then do cast that ballot for whoever you think is going to best represent you or whatever proposition you think is the best choice for you. We did get an email just a couple days ago about that, and it’s something you really need to talk with your local officials if

you’re having trouble registering GREG: I think we’re going to remind viewers about that address, contact us at Google Plus at, all one word, you can also follow us on our visa blog, the Vi-Satisfied Voyager, at BOB: Slash Philippines GREG: /Philippines! And you can also watch this video on YouTube if you can’t get enough of Greg and I the first time, we’re going to be there in the Archives, and the archive is, and I think the session will be on the archives by tomorrow, so you can check us out again if we didn’t answer your questions the first time BOB: If you’re looking for answers to visa questions, this usually is the visa hour, you can go back to that archive and find our episodes where our colleagues have talked about visas. And I think after this episode, we’ll probably be back to visas on the visa hour GREG: I think you’re right! BOB: It is the American Embassy, I think, to talk about American Citizen Services sometime, and especially since voting is such a timely topic, we wanted to devote some of our time to that today GREG: Okay, great, I think we talked a bit about voting, so if anyone has any questions about our voting – it looks like we actually do have a question here. Nope, this is the question that we’ll answer in just a couple of minutes. Sorry about that. So we’ve talked about voting and what we’re going to do now, Greg and I are going to talk a little bit about some of the other services that we offer to American Citizens here in the Philippines You know, our primary goal here at the American Citizen Services section at the Embassy is to help American citizens, and we do that by offering routine services, such as passport or reports of birth, or noterials, or other functions, but we also offer emergency assistance sometimes to Americans who may have come into a little bit of trouble, for example, if you have a death case in your family, if you’ve been arrested, if you’ve been hospitalized and need to get in touch with someone, we can often help out. So I would urge you that if you need to talk to us, you can come into the embassy at any time if you’ve got an emergency, or you can contact us at [email protected] Now, I do want to caution people that we offer routine services, such as renewing a passport, getting extra pages in your passport, or registering the birth of a child by appointment. And sometimes, people, when we’re talking to them, they say, “You know, I used to be able to just come in, why do I have to get an appointment now?” And the simple fact of the matter is that we see a lot of folks every day and by using appointments, we’re able to use our time and resources in the most efficient way possible to see the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time. Rather than just having a first come first serve system where everyone lined up and no one really knew if you were going to have a chance to talk to a consular officer, now you go online, you go to our website, you go online, you make yourself an appointment, and then you come to the embassy and you only have to come about 30 minutes in advance of your scheduled appointment, so you have time to make it through security checkpoints, then you can wait in our waiting room for a few minutes, and then talk to an officer, and you know that you’re actually going to be seen on the day that you want to be seen, because it’s really unfortunate when people come and they have to go without even ever having talked to a consular officer Sometimes it will take us a while to fully help you and to answer your service, but we generally, almost in every case, can see everybody who’s scheduled on the day of their appointments BOB: I think we’ve got a question coming in So let’s see. This comes from Hayne Allen on Facebook. He says, “My father was an American citizen. He died two years ago. What benefits could we possibly get as a family? Is there any chance for us to go to Hawaii despite his failure to apply for a petition?” Well, that’s a tough situation. Because – some of it depends on your specifics. Now in most cases, as the child of an American, that parent would be eligible to petition for his or her children to join him in the United States Once that person passes away, unfortunately, his opportunity to file a petition has obviously passed. There are some cases where someone might have been born an American even though they were born in the Philippines even though they were in some other country. There are very specific requirements for that. And so I would encourage you to look at our website under the citizenship section to see what exactly you would need to do to find out whether you were born a United States citizen. Your question about a petition, unfortunately, if your father didn’t file a petition before

he passed away, his opportunity has passed at that point GREG: While that is true, I would encourage you, though, to drop an email to our immigrant visa section, the immigration visa section, you can find them on our embassy webpage under the “visas” tab for immigration, because – oh, actually, you can email them at [email protected], because there may be some options for you But Greg and I work in the American Citizen Services section, so we don’t want to steer you wrong. So it would be better for you to communicate with the immigrant visa section, who are the experts, and they can answer that question definitively for you. I was talking about routine services and we can do a lot of things, but there are some things that we can’t do for you BOB: Yeah, we get asked about all these things all the time with some regularity. And some things that we don’t have here. Unfortunately, we don’t have any lawyers, we don’t have a hospital or a doctor that’s available to see the public. We get asked about those things all the time. What we provide instead, in those cases, is a list of private attorneys, and doctors, and hospitals that you can go to that those people have identified themselves to us as attorneys and doctors and hospitals We don’t endorse them, but we do provide that list to Americans because we want you to have some kind of resource so that you can help to find someone who’s willing to help work with an American who’s in need of one of those services. Some other things that we unfortunately don’t [INAUDIBLE] not with beds, we don’t have a public cafeteria, we don’t have a decompression chamber, for those divers out there who might’ve stayed underwater a little too long, we don’t have a helicopter or a SWAT team. And we get asked about those things all the time. And we wish we could provide those kinds of services, but a lot of things when you leave the United States, you’ll just have to rely on the local officials and local systems to provide you with any support GREG: We do have a question – and I’ll answer it in just a second, but I wanna actually give a little bit of intro for it. Passports and birth registrations are actually two of the most popular services that we have, and we see dozens of people every day applying for U.S. passports or seeking to register the birth of a U.S. citizen. We have a lot of information on our website on both of these topics, and we ask that if folks have questions, that you check out our website, we have checklists, we have background information that can answer many of your questions. And if you look at our website, and you decide you do want to make an application, and you follow our checklists, and then you come and see us; and our officers will talk to you, but “Iamlove” on Twitter has asked, “Is to get a report of birth and a social security card replacement?” Well, I can answer the second part first The social security card replacement, we actually don’t help you with. Now, luckily though, here in the Embassy we have an office of the Social Security Administration. And if you go to our main website, they do have – there is a link to the Social Security Administration office, and you can find information on their public hours, on their email addresses and how you can get in touch with them. Now a birth report – on our website, we’ve got a fee report, but I think it’s a hundred dollars that we charge to apply, so if you make yourself an appointment and you come in, before you actually speak with one of the employees there, you will have to pay the cashier a hundred dollars, because that’s the cost for that service. You know, we’re often asked at the end of our interviews about how long it’s going to take for the report of birth or the passport to come back. And generally, generally we tell people up to about 3-4 weeks. The reason that it takes a little bit longer these days is because we actually transmit the data files electronically to the United States, and the documents are all printed at really secure facilities in the United States, and then they’re FedExed back to us. And once we get them, we open packages, we check and make sure that everything is a hundred percent perfect, and then we let you know that your documents have been received. Most of our customers use our courier service, the Air21 service, because many folks come from outside of Manila to apply for these documents. And if you’ve used the Air21 air courier service, your document will be returned to you by the Air21 air courier service. If you live here in Manila and you’ve indicated that you want to come pick it up, we’ll send you an email that lets you know your document is ready for pickup, and there are instructions on how you can come into the Embassy and pick up the documents. Now one thing which we don’t do is we don’t offer expedited passport service, that’s only offered in the U.S., so even though you may see that on the passport application, we don’t offer that here BOB: The one question that we just got recently

that relates to that, Bob, is the question from an American asking about [INAUDIBLE] during his child’s birth. He lives in the U.S. and wanted to know if he had to come here to Manila to register the birth of his child. Well, actually no, there’s no need for both parents to be here at the Embassy or even in the Philippines to register the birth of a child who is American by birth. The only thing that we do need, we have to see the child, so the child must be here at the Embassy in Manila. You can also go, if it’s more convenient, to our consular agency in Cebu. But one of those two places you’ll have to go in and see an American officer We also need the child to be accompanied by at least one parent, and that’s so that somebody’s there to sign the application to register that birth outside the United States. Now it only needs to be one parent, so if it’s more convenient for a Filipino parent to come with that child, that’s great. There’s also some forms at the American parent can sign and get notarized in the United States, for example, to allow for his or her child to receive an American passport. The passport for a minor requires two-parent consent, and do need to have the signature of both of the mother and the father, but they don’t have to be here in person. That consent can be provided on a signed and notarized form that can then be sent from the United States back here to us in the Philippines and we’ll take that. So the answer’s no, there’s no need for both parents to be here, only one parent has to appear to register outside the U.S GREG: And if you do have a question about any of these issues, you can, of course, email us after this program is completed at [email protected], and we’ll be happy to give you an answer, because we find it’s much better to answer questions in advance rather than have people make their way all the way to the Embassy and they find that they’ve not understood something. I see we have actually another question, Greg. This is from Victoria on Facebook She writes, “My son’s passport will expire soon. He is 13. I’m under the impression that I need to take him to the Embassy because he’s a minor. Is that true?” Victoria, the answer is yes. Under the law, all children under the age of 16 must show up at the Embassy to renew their passport. I know it’s a little bit inconvenient because of school and other reasons, but that’s really what the law says If you come without your son, we’re not going to be able to take care of your passport application at this time. That’s why we offer appointments up to four weeks out, on our website for most appointments, and up to six months out for a small select percentage of appointments Find an appointment that’s at the time of your convenience, schedule it when you can bring your son to the Embassy; we’ll take care of him, and then he’ll be able to get a new passport. But don’t come without him, because we won’t be able to help BOB: We know sometimes it’s difficult for parents, but it really is intended to prevent situations that can get even more than unpleasant We do want to make sure that parents consent to the issue of a passport. We don’t want kids taken out of whatever country they live in by one parent without the consent of the other. Those are just really bad situations that we want to avoid. It’s the same thing in the United States, if you want to apply for a passport for a minor, you need both parent’s consent and the minor needs to go to the post office or some other passport acceptance facility there to make that application Here’s another question that we got, “I tried to get into the embassy today, but embassy guard said I needed an appointment Why is that?” Well, I’ve answered some of that. We do require appointments for passport applications, for reports of birth abroad, and for notary services. And the reason for that is so that we can save people the hassle and inconvenience of sitting outside. I know I’ve heard the horror stories of years back where visa applicants and passport applicants would queue up at 5:00 in the morning or even earlier, just to hope they got through the door that day, and that was unpleasant for everybody. It made it unpleasant for the officers when we were talking to people who had been sitting there for hours and were in a bad mood as a result. So we’ve tried to get past that and make some of those routine services – in fact, all of those routine services, even more routine by letting people come one at a time that’s convenient to them BOB: But I do want to add something on to that, that if you’re an American Citizen and you have an emergency, and you need to come in to talk to a consular officer, you can always get into the embassy. You just have to explain to the guard what the problem is And if he thinks that he’s still not sure, he will call us. He’ll pick up the phone and call us, we’ll talk to you, we’ll find out what’s going on, and if it is in fact an emergency, and we take a pretty liberal view of what an emergency is. We’ll let you come in and talk to a consular officer, consular employee, and make sure that you get the help that you need. So – American citizens out there, don’t think that if you have an emergency that we’re going to turn you away. We’re here to help So it looks like we actually have another question here, the writer asks, “Why do you make it so hard to get a consular-approved report of birth abroad? I had to bring photos and a ton of other records.” Well that’s a good question, but I think it’s – the answer is going to be easy to understand. American

citizenship is a precious commodity. And we’re certainly happy to document anyone who is a U.S. citizen as a citizen. But by the same token, the law requires that consular officers be sure that the person who we’re documenting is, in fact, an American citizen. The U.S law has a lot of requirements, it tells us what we can do and what we can’t do. And so in order to make sure that we make the right decision in these situations, that we do have to ask for a lot of documents. And that why the website has such long checklists. Because we want people to bring the documents, bring the information with them. And it is far better to have brought a hundred too many documents than to not bring the one item that we asked for and that we need. If you do, unfortunately we may have to ask you to come back, and that is really not what we want. It inconveniences you, it inconveniences us. So please, take a look at our website, take a look at the checklists, look at the checklists, if you have a question about why you need to bring something, email us at [email protected] and we’ll give you an explanation of why we have to task that GREG: Let’s keep the questions coming. Here’s another one: “Does the Embassy have money that they can lend to Americans who had their wallets stolen and need to get home?” The answer to that is probably yes, but BOB: Yes GREG: We do have the – the U.S. government does in some cases, in very limited cases, provide financial assistance to Americans in the form of loans, not grants, but in the form of loans, which it is expected that those Americans will pay back in time. Now which situations are those? The most common one that we find here, at least, are where the American is “destitute.” And destitute has a very specific meaning to us as consular officers. Destitute basically means you don’t have a roof over your head or food to eat, and that’s about as far as it goes. if you’ve got money coming in from social security, from the VA, from a job, from a spouse or other family member, if you’re living with your wife or her family or something like that, then you’re probably not destitute But if you do find yourself, if you find you came here for a relationship and that has ended, and now you’ve got no place to live and no food to eat, you’re not allowed to work, you can’t buy your plane ticket home, that’s the kind of situation we’ll talk to you about whether or not you might qualify for a loan to go back to the United States Now, it’s an application and so we would need to talk to everyone, those individuals personally, but you can call us, you can email us, you don’t have to come here to the embassy for the first time. You can call or email, we really would recommend that instead of spending your last pesos travelling to the embassy But we can talk to people about what emergency financial assistance that we can bring through BOB: Speaking of the embassy and appointments and such, I do want to simply have an office of the Embassy down in Sarapu. And it is open every day, and you can find information about it on our website, and that may be a more convenient option for people who are living in the central or southern Philippines, and it may be easier for you to get to Sarapu than it is to get up to Manila. Check out that option, they offer a more limited amount of services than we offer here in Manila They really only deal with some document issues So if you have some of the emergency situations, contact the Embassy GREG: I wanted to point out one more thing about that financial assistance that I should note. We never provide financial assistance for people to stay outside the United States, in the Philippines, or anywhere else BOB: That’s right GREG: If we give financial assistance, it’s to get you back to the United States, it’s what we call a repatriation loan, and it will help you fly back to, to anywhere in the United States that you have a place to stay, whether that’s in Maine or Hawaii or Guam, wherever you’re going here in the United States is fine, but you have to be going to the United States in order to qualify for that financial assistance BOB: Exactly right, exactly right. Greg, it looks like we have another question here, the writer asks, what services can be provided for incarcerated Americans in the Philippines? Well of course, ideally, we’d rather we didn’t have any Americans incarcerated in the Philippines, and if you find — lawyer, you need to work this issue out through the Philippine legal system. Americans in the Philippines are subject to Philippine law, you have to obey Philippine law, and you have to go through the Philippine judicial system. Sometimes there are differences from the American judicial system, but we can’t help you evade the Philippine justice system. As Greg mentioned earlier, we’re not lawyers, we don’t have money to pay for lawyers, that’s really something that you’re going to have to take care of on your own. What we can do is we can help you contact family

members back in the United States who can maybe – to help you in this situation. If you do find yourself arrested for some offense here in the Philippines, a consular officer will come and visit you in jail if we know that you’re there. So if you do find yourself in trouble with the law, ask the police officer, say you want to contact your Embassy. You have a right to ask for the Philippine police, or the immigration officials, or whoever has detained you, to contact the American Embassy so that we know that you’re in trouble and that we can try and help. As you’re going through the process, we’ll visit you periodically, make sure that everything is okay, that you’re being treated fairly and equally, just as any other citizen of the Philippines, or anyone else residing in the Philippines. If at the end of that process, unfortunately, you are sentenced to some sort of prison term, we’ll continue to visit you periodically, making sure that everything is okay. We don’t provide a real large amount of services to folks who are in that situation. Unfortunately, you’re in the Philippines, you’re under their judicial system, but if you do find yourself in that situation and you think you’re being victimized, you’re being treated unfairly, let the consular officer know when he comes to see you. We will try to the best of our abilities to help you, but sometimes there’s not a whole lot we can do. It is a tough situation GREG: I know when I visit prisoners, I’m looking basically for three things. One is – are they being fed? And unfortunately most prisoners – American prisoners in the Philippines, don’t find their prison food much to their liking Well, not much we can do about that. As long as you’re getting those calories that will keep you alive, and just about everybody is getting that much food, as long as you’re getting that much, then you’re being fed and there’s not anything else we can do for you as far as food goes. The next thing on the list is are you getting any life-sustaining or saving medication that you need, and again, for the most part, the Philippine prisons are pretty good at letting prisoners visit doctors. Some even have their own hospitals or clinics. But we’ll make sure that you’re getting whatever medication you need to keep yourself alive. And then the third is that you’re not being mistreated in any way. And that’s pretty rare here, but some people do claim that it happens. So we’ll ask about that and make sure that you’re being treated civilly and that you’re not being abused or anything like that BOB: It’s important to remember that you need to have an attorney, though, in this situation We can’t be your lawyers. What we can do is we can ask questions. If you say, why is this happening to me? We can try and find out and let you know. But at the end of the day, to represent you in a Philippine court, you do need to have a lawyer. Greg, we have another question GREG: We have another question. It says, why do I need to contact to find an American citizen in the Philippines? Well, this is something else that happens all the time. People come to the Philippines, they drop off the radar, they stop contacting people, usually they don’t BOB: They don’t post on Facebook GREG: They don’t post on Facebook or Twitter, and everybody’s talking, well why haven’t they – what happened to my son, daughter, cousin, brother, friend, I don’t know what happened, maybe they’re hurt, maybe they’re dead. Usually they’re fine. But we can help to locate that person and get them back in touch with you. Contact the Embassy and we’ll use whatever resources we can to try and find that person and see if they’re still alive and well. Now if you contact us, make sure that you know something about the person If you say, “My friend Joe went to the Philippines and I haven’t heard from him,” well, that’s going to be hard for us to track Joe down If you know that Joe went last to an island whose name starts with M, that’s also going to be kinda hard for us to find him. We’d like to have something more specific, you know, a city, that’s great, if you know the name or contact information of the person that your loved one was going to visit or stay with, that’s even better, we’ll try and contact that person. We can get in touch with local officials, with the police, at hospitals, at, heaven forbid, a morgue. Let’s hope that we don’t need to do that, but we could check with that as well to try to find whoever you’re looking for. And usually, we can be of some assistance BOB: And that brings up an interesting point, Greg, if you’re coming to the Philippines, whether for just a visit, short visit, or a permanently relocate to the Philippines, we really ask that you register with the U.S Embassy. This does two things for us, it lets us know that you’re here, so that we can keep track of how many Americans are in the area, but it also helps us add you to our contact lists. So that way if we’re going to send out information to the Americans about emergency situations, weather reports, to tell you that we’re coming to your area in a few weeks on an outreach visit, we can stay in touch with you. So we really ask that you do that. It’s a pretty easy process, actually, you can do it in one of two ways, the first is that you can go to the State Department’s main website, which is, I’m not sure

if we’re going to be able to pull that up, but that’s the Department of State’s main website for Americans who have questions about travelling overseas. In the lower left corner, you’ll see a little blue box that is for the SMART Traveler enrollment program. If you click on that and follow it, it’ll help you get enrolled and we’ll be alerted that you’re going to come here to the Philippines. Also you can do that same process through our website, to the Embassy Manila website, if on the main web page, you look on the top, you’ll see a tab for American Citizen Services. If you click on that, and then on the left side of the page, you can find a tab that says, “Public Services,” if you click on that, the first item is “Register with the Embassy.” You follow that link; it’ll also help you there. This database of American Citizens is only used by the Embassy for the benefit of American Citizens, we do not share this database with other U.S. government agencies. This is only used for our benefit, to help you, the American Citizens here in Manila. So we really encourage you to let us know that you’re going to be in the country. For example, as Greg was talking earlier, if we get a phone call that says, you know, I’m really worried about my son, Joe, he – I know he registered with the embassy, here’s his full name, I haven’t been in touch with him. Well, if we’re able to look in our records and see what Joe put down as his email address or his phone number, we might be able to contact him, let him know that his family is concerned about him, and ask Joe to call back home and make sure that he’s okay GREG: Well, I think we’ve got a question coming in, it looks like it’s coming from Facebook, it’s from Joy Facelin, and she writes, “I’m an American currently residing in — and I plan to travel to Malaysia for leisure. My U.S. passport is expiring in 6 months. Can I still use it? What if there’s less than six months before it expires?” We just had someone come into the Embassy today. In fact, they called the Embassy at the airport Because they were stuck, they weren’t allowed to enter the Philippines on their American passport. Usually you can do that visa-free as a tourist, as long as you have a return ticket, but this person was being barred from entering. Why? Because his passport expired in less than six months. Well, the Philippine regulations say that your passport has to have at least six months of validity on it in order to enter as an American tourist And that’s similar to other countries around Asia. And I’m not sure if Malaysia is one, but the way you can find out is you can go to and you can look up the country profile for Malaysia. And one item that you’ll find there is the entry and exit requirements for Americans travelling to that country. And that’s the case for any other country in the world, we’ve got that on the website. And that’ll tell you exactly what requirements there are. You’ll need a visa, how long does your passport need to be valid, and anything else you might need in order to enter a country. So, check that, I know if you were coming to the Philippines, yes, you would need at least six months. For Malaysia, take a look at and see what it says BOB: Or alternatively, you can open google and type, American Embassy Malaysia, and just as we have a website, the embassy in Kuala Lampur has a website and they would have a lot of these same types of information. So, if you do a little bit of looking, you can find out the answer to your question. Greg and I work in the Philippines, so we’re not really fully familiar with what the requirements for Malaysia. Did we have another question that was queued up? Maybe not. Okay. Well, Greg and I have been talking a lot about some of the services that we offer here in the American Citizen Services unit. But the Embassy in Manila is a really big place. And there are a lot of U.S. government agencies that are present here, isn’t that right, Greg? GREG: There are a couple others beside the Department of State and besides the consular section that are public-facing here at the embassy. So one of those is the Social Security Administration, they have a window here where you can come in the mornings and talk to someone from the SSA about whatever issue you might have. You can contact them also by email, telephone, and their contact information is on our Embassy website at Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security has a window here, and that’s pretty unusual for them to have an office at an Embassy overseas, but they do have one here, so if you have any questions, if you want to file a petition, or if you have any questions about a petition you filed for a family member, a spouse, perhaps, who’s intending to immigrate to the United States, you can ask them. It’s USCIS, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. And another one that we have that sees Americans is the Veterans Administration. They have a clinic just down the road from the Embassy here in Manila. Now one thing is that it’s a clinic, it’s not a hospital, and a lot of Americans are confused by that. If they’re veterans who would usually have that full access to a VA hospital in the United States, if they come to the clinic here, those people treat only service-related disabilities. So if you catch a cold or malaria or a stomach virus here in the Philippines, the probably can’t treat that. And you can call them to

find out. But their general policy is that they treat only service-related disabilities and that’s because it’s a small facility compared to a VA hospital in the United States. They don’t have any inpatient space, it’s only an outpatient clinic. So you’ll want to contact them. But if you do have a service-related disability that you need treatment or checkups for, by all means, check in with the VA clinic here in Manila, and they see people all the time. They seem to be outside the door almost every morning BOB: Yes, Greg, we have a question here. The writer has asked, “I had a baby in the Philippines Where do I start with getting all of his documentation in order?” Well, that is something that we here in the American Citizen Services section will help you with. As we’ve said a couple of times before this, the best place to start is to go to our website and look at the information that we have on what’s called a “Consular Report of Birth Abroad.” We have a lot of information that explains the process to you But it also has long, detailed checklists that you can print off, and you can use to help assemble the documents. Because this is the U.S. government, so we do require a lot of pieces of paper to get anything done, but once you have all of those documents assembled, you go on our website, you make yourself an appointment at a time of your convenience, and then, as I said earlier, you come to the Embassy on the day of your appointment, about 30 minutes before your appointment. Please bring your new baby with you – congratulations on having a baby – and then you’ll speak with an officer and we’ll get you started on the process. Okay? Greg, I think we have another question GREG: One more question, this comes from TimmyZ59 from Twitter. And Timmy asks, “How safe are U.S. citizens now?” Well, want to take a crack at that one? BOB: [LAUGHING] Well, you know… GREG: …that’s a tough question… BOB: …Manila’s a big city. I mean, Manila’s a big city, so I think you should think about in Manila or Cebu or any other big city in the Philippines, treat it like a big city anywhere. You know, use the same sort of safety precautions that you would if you were in New York or London or Rio de Janeiro. You know, we have some information on our website, and we also have information on If you go to what’s called the “Country Specific Information Sheet” on the Philippines, we have a lot of information about safety and security, about crime, and so this is all information that you can do, and then generally, I would say at this point in time, Americans are safe in the Philippines, you should not be afraid to come to the Philippines. In the interest of full disclosure, I do have to mention that the State Department, the Embassy in Manila, does have a travel warning about travel to the Mindanao region in the southern Philippines. If you’re thinking about travelling there, we would urge you to go to our website and read that so you’re fully informed and you sort of know what you’re getting yourself into. There is still a little bit of uncertainty down in that part of the country, and we want Americans to make good decisions about their visit to the Philippines. If the U.S. Embassy ever receives information about a change in the security and safety of the situation here in the Philippines, under law we are required to share it with you, and we will share it to you. And if you’re registered with the American Embassy, and we have your contact information, you will receive the safety and security updates through a format we call “Messages to American Citizens.” And we send these out all the time, we sent one out recently about a possible security situation in the Manila area because we wanted to make sure that everyone had all that information so they could make the best decisions about their own security. Greg, you wanna add anything to that? GREG: Yeah, so typically, go to and register through the SMART Traveler enrollment program, and you’ll get all the most up-to-date information that we provide to Embassy staff and every other American in the Philippines who we’re able to be in touch with about the security situation, whether it’s from some kind of safety or terrorism-related incident, whether it’s from a natural disaster or some other security-related piece of information, we’ll share that with you and all the other Americans that we have this information for BOB: Greg, I see the clock on the wall is sort of winding down on our hour, so I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has tuned in. Remind people that our Facebook page is located at, so you can find us there You can also follow us on Twitter, at If you have a question for American Citizens Services, you can email us at [email protected], and if you have a voter-specific question,

you can email us at [email protected] If you want to follow us on Google Plus, you can add us by going to And for those of you who are tuned in to hear the visa hour and thinking, hey, what’s all this about American Citizens, you can actually follow our visa blog, which is the Vi-Satisfied Voyager, which can be found at And finally, if you’ve tuned in and realized this was a really good show and you’d like to see it again, just to get all the fine details, you can watch this video on YouTube at GREG: And I’ll put in one more plug for the Federal Voter Assistance Programs. Since we were talking a lot about voting earlier in this show, and that’s, and that’ll help you draw the voter registration process so that you can vote in this election next month. Now, we won’t be able to answer every question, but for the ones that we don’t answer, stay tuned for the next episode of the visa hour, or post them on our visa wall at So right now we want to thank you for joining us for this special edition of the visa hour, and we hope you’ll join us again next time BOB: Thanks very much GREG: Thanks! Good afternoon! BOB: Bye