How the U.S. helps its citizens abroad during a crisis

By: Mery Arcila

During the COVID-19 crisis, our priority is to keep you informed. We advise U.S. citizens who live abroad to arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. In a time of crisis, we understand making decisions and knowing the steps to move forward can be difficult. We want to make sure you know what we can and cannot do during a crisis in order to make an informed decision.  

We have no higher responsibility than to serve and protect its citizens, including those who reside or are temporarily abroad. To this end, the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit provides prompt, courteous, and efficient services to United States citizens and other clients, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.  

How can I keep myself informed of all U.S. official news and alerts?  

U.S. Citizens: are you enrolled in Stay informed: Enroll in STEP to receive travel warnings and alerts. Stay connected: By enrolling in STEP, we will be able to assist you in an emergency. Stay safe: we believe a well-informed traveler is a safe traveler.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, new government measures affecting U.S. citizens, etc.  

When will the U.S. provide government sponsored flights?  

Currently, the Government of the Dominican Republic is allowing for ferry flights by commercial airlines to continue.  We recommend all U.S. citizens have a plan to depart from the Dominican Republic that does not rely on U.S. government assistance.  If commercial transportation becomes unavailable, and if we have consular officers at the embassy or consulate, and if the conditions permit, we will do our best to identify what transportation options may be available to help U.S. citizens travel out of the crisis location.  

If the U.S. provides these flights, will it be free of charge?  

Regardless of the method of transportation, or who provides it, U.S. citizens (and others who are eligible for U.S. government assistance) are responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of their travel. For U.S. citizens who need emergency financial assistance at the evacuation destination, you may ask a consular officer to help you apply for a loan to help with the costs of your accommodations and/or other essential expenses. We will do our best to provide you with information about hotel options, but cannot guarantee hotel rates or room availability. 

Can I bring my pet on evacuations?  

When traveling or residing with pets, expect that you will not be able to bring them with you on a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation. You should make alternate plans for their care or take commercial transport if a crisis occurs abroad. In rare situations when pets can be transported, we will let you know, including the basic restrictions or requirements for boarding.  

Can the U.S. help my family who is not a U.S. citizen?  

Our focus must be on helping U.S. citizens. The embassy or consulate of your friend or family member’s nationality is responsible for helping their citizens. In general, we do not provide evacuation assistance to non-U.S. citizens. If your friend or family member is not a U.S. citizen, you can contact the embassy or consulate of their nationality. You may also contact aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, to ask about any assistance they might be able to provide.