Should one of your American family members become missing, or if you are concerned about the welfare of an American family member in Bermuda, the consulate can assist you. Keep in mind that once an individual is located, you will be notified ONLY if he/she has signed an authorization to waive the Privacy Act provisions.
The provisions of the Privacy Act, which were designed to protect the privacy and rights of the individual, occasionally complicate the handling of cases involving Americans abroad. As a general rule, consular officers may not provide information regarding an individual American’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives, without the express consent of that individual. The Act does, however, permit the release of information if required to ensure the health or safety of an American who is ill or injured abroad.
If a U.S. citizen who has not maintained contact with family or friends is located by a consular officer abroad, neither that officer nor an OCS officer in the State Department may provide information regarding the individual’s welfare or whereabouts unless the individual gives written permission for them to do so. Americans arrested overseas often refuse to give permission to inform their families or friends of their location or plight. Without a signed Privacy Act waiver, the only information we can give to a family member, or to a Congressional office inquiring on behalf of a constituent, is that contact with the individual has been made and that the individual is alive. Although sympathetic to the distress this lack of information may cause concerned families, consular officers must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act.
What Information to Have Available Before You Contact the Consulate
In order to assist us in locating the U.S. citizen abroad, it is helpful to have the following information available:
- Caller’s full name, address, phone number, and relationship.
- Name of the person abroad.
- Date and place of birth of the person abroad.
- Passport number (if known).
- Last known address and phone number; itinerary.
- Reason for their travel/residence abroad (business, tourism, etc.).
- Date of last contact.
- Other points of contact abroad (friends, business associates, hotel, etc.).
- If ill, where hospitalized and, if relevant to current hospitalization, the name and phone number of attending physician in the U.S.
- You may also be asked to provide a photo of the missing person.
- It may also be useful for you to contact credit card companies, telephone companies, etc. to try to determine if the missing individual’s accounts have been used recently and where those transactions occurred.
- Travel plans and the date when he/she entered Bermuda.
For Emergency Family Messages also include:
- Nature of the emergency.
- What you want the person told about the emergency.
- Name, address, telephone number, and relationship of person you wish the welfare and whereabouts subject to call after the emergency family message is relayed to him or her by the U.S. embassy or consulate.
Consular officers will use a variety of methods to locate and confirm the welfare of the missing person, including, but not limited to:
- Using the information you provide to try to locate the person.
- Checking with local immigration and police officials if possible.
- Checking local hotels, youth hostels, and other places where foreigners (U.S. citizens) are known to stay or visit.
- Checking local hospitals, jails, and, if appropriate, local morgues. (Note: In countries where a consular treaty is in force, local authorities have certain obligations to inform the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of the arrest, injury, hospitalization, or death of a U.S. citizen.)
What the Consulate Cannot Do in Welfare and Whereabouts Cases:
- We cannot force a U.S. citizen to speak to the consular officer or to permit the consular officer to visit him or her.
- We cannot compel a U.S. citizen to return to the United States. (An exception to this would be the formal extradition of a fugitive, which is accomplished with the cooperation of foreign authorities pursuant to specific treaty obligations.)
- As noted above, we cannot release information about an individual without the individual’s consent pursuant to the Privacy Act.
For missing and sick adults; emergency family messages; child abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation cases; and child welfare in cases involving parental child abduction or custody disputes, please contact the U.S. Consulate, or phone the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 888-407-4747 (from the U.S. and Canada) or 202-501-4444 (from outside the United States and Canada).
International Parental Child Abduction / Child Custody
The consulate can also provide guidance in cases involving child abduction and child custody in Bermuda and the United States.
The recovery of a child who is the subject of a custody dispute or is the victim of parental child abduction must be done in accordance with local laws in the foreign country.
- If the parents cannot reach mutual agreement about custody of or access to their children, legal action in the foreign country may be necessary. Foreign countries may not recognize or enforce a U.S. custody order.
- A consular officer cannot visit a child without permission from the child’s parent, guardian, or other custodian in the foreign country. If permission is refused and there is evidence of possible child abuse or neglect, the consular officer will request assistance from the appropriate local authorities. Evidence of child abuse or neglect would include, but not be limited to, police reports, medical reports, social services reports, etc.
- Consular officers at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have no legal authority to obtain physical custody of abducted children and return them to a requesting parent.
- The consular officer cannot assist a parent to regain physical custody of a child by force or deception.
- The consular officer cannot provide legal advice, but can provide a list of attorneys (PDF – 211 KB) in the foreign country.
- A consular officer is not a social worker and is not able to conduct a professional home study or similar analysis of the child’s circumstances.
- The consular officer will report observations made during the welfare/whereabouts visit to the U.S. Department of State. This is simply a recitation of what the consular officer saw during the visit. While both parents may request to see the consular officer’s report, the report is not subject to editing by the parent(s), although parental disagreement with the report may be noted. The results of the consular welfare/whereabouts visit are provided to parents upon request in the form of a letter. Official Department of State communications are not generally released except under the procedures explained below. Please note that these reports are not released to parents whose parental rights vis-à-vis the child have been legally terminated.
- The Privacy Act prohibits release of information about a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident Alien to a third party absent a written waiver and the applicability of one of the Act’s conditions of disclosure. Requests for copies of U.S. Department of State records may be made according to the Freedom of Information Act 22 CFR 172 which provides particulars regarding requests for consular records or testimony for use in a court in the United States.
For a Child Custody/Parental Child Abduction Case of a U.S. citizen under the age of 18, please contact the U.S. Consulate, visit Travel.state.gov – International Parental Child Abduction, or contact the Office of Children’s Issues at 888-407-4747 (from the U.S. and Canada) or 202-501-4444 (from outside the United States).