STEP Program for Americans Abroad
Ever since opening its doors to the world in the 70s, China has experienced a period of rapid growth and change. Today, more and more tourists from around the world are flocking the ancient country to experience its rich history and perhaps catch a glimpse of its bright future. While China’s modernization has meant that western amenities are available, there are still a few hurdles that can catch you unaware. Thus, it’s imperative that you register with your embassy since life can get so unpredictable that you better prepare for anything.
Seasoned travelers will always tell you that as you travel, there so many unexpected incidences that can easily occur. Some places in the world are even more challenging compared to others and it’s paramount to know where to look for help in the case you are faced with a problem. The US Embassy, for instance, is very hands-on and all around the globe. In the case you encounter an issue while traveling abroad, they can be very resourceful. The U.S. State Department has an excellent free service called STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) that it offers to its American travelers as the perfect platform to stay safe, informed and connected.
What is STEP?
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program was recently launched by the US State Department. It’s a free and secure online travel registration website that will allow American citizens to record foreign trip and residence information that the Department of State can use to communicate with them or assist them in a case of an emergency. Americans residing in China can get information routinely from the nearest U.S consulate or embassy.
Why Should I enroll with STEP?
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So many Americans who travel abroad each year are faced with a myriad of difficulties and China is not an exception. The US consulate and embassies have helped almost 200,000 Americans yearly who are victims of accidents, illness, crime or in a case of an emergency when their families and friends need to contact them. The US embassy or consulate may also be your greatest source of information and assistance in case of civil unrest, terrorism, natural disaster or any other emergency that can happen during a foreign disaster. Register with the embassy before travel or even during your visit to China so as to provide the necessary information which can be very helpful in case the US embassy or consulates want to locate you. Signing up is not coaxed and doesn’t cost a dime; it’s more like your own decision to take a step towards your travel security and planning.
Benefits of Enrolling in STEP
- To help you receive very important information about the safety state of the country that you are going to and aid in your decision making regarding your travel plans. The portal is overseen by the US Department of State so it’s very reliable
- In the case of any emergency including family emergency, civil unrest, or natural disaster, the US Embassy can easily contact you as they will already have your contact information in their databases.
- Facilitate communication between you and your family and friends during an emergency or they can contact your family back at home in case of an emergency.
- Expedite the application of renewing or replacing your US passport if it gets lost or stolen.
Who is eligible to register?
All US citizens who will be traveling or residing abroad can register. It is actually a good idea to notify the Embassy of international travel and register before departing for your international trip. You must provide travel information and personal details such as your date of birth, where you will be staying in China and emergency contact information in the US. The site is very secure, and it will protect your personal information during transmission. It shouldn’t’ feel like a tracking system but more like insurance. If you have concerns about registering online, you can do it in person at the US embassy in China. The information is destroyed after 18 months of your date of return to the US, and if you travel again, you register again.
What do embassies do?
The Macartney Embassy, also referred to as Macartney mission was the first diplomatic mission to China which took place in 1793. George Macartney, who was Great Britain’s first envoy to China facilitated its opening with the goal of opening up new ports for British trade in China. Later, a permanent embassy was established in Beijing. Today, China has over 300 embassies representing various countries which act like your 911 number when in China. The following are some of the roles played by embassies:
1. Emergency services
Whenever faced with a serious medical, financial or legal trouble, contact your respective embassy and they will gladly help.
Getting medical treatment in China can be quite expensive and so is medical evacuation to your respective country since most of the foreign medical insurance covers are not accepted in China. If you seriously fall ill or get injured while in China, the embassy can step in to help in locating medical services or even contacting family and friends. Whenever possible, they can facilitate funds transfers from your home country, but remember ultimately, the hospital bills and expenses are solely the responsibility of the traveler. It’s advisable to get a short-term medical insurance policy that is covered abroad so as to reduce the hassle in case of a medical emergency while in China.
While in China, you are governed by the Chinese laws and regulations and if you fail to abide by them, you may be fined, expelled, arrested or imprisoned. If the law catches up with you while in China, you will go through their legal process of prosecuting, indicting, convicting and sentencing. The embassy will only provide several services to the arrested individual and the families but within China’s legal framework.
In case one dies while in China, the US embassy helps by locating the next-of-kin. They also provide guidance on how to make arrangements for local burial or returning the remains back to the home country. Additionally, they prepare a local death certificate that is sent to the next-of-kin back in the home country.
The embassy helps the concerned relatives of the missing person locate them by checking in with the local authorities to find out if there is any foreigner hospitalized, arrested or otherwise. They also take the initiative of searching in hospitals, prisons, hotels and airports.
- Provision of tax forms
- Legalization services
- Selective transfer registration
- Provision of information regarding obtaining foreign public documents
- Acquisition and loss of “country’s” citizenship
- Transferring Social Security or Government Benefits.
Events at the embassies
Embassies usually organize several charity events and also annual events that pay respect to their roots. For instance, Americans in China may celebrate their holidays such as 4th of July while Australia has the Australian Writers Week to Celebrate their stories and writers. It’s the perfect moment for meeting with other expats, indulging in some good traditional meals from your home countries, and networking.
It’s very important to register with the embassy for international travel since so much can happen while abroad and you need all the help that you can get. Your respective embassy is the perfect place to start. Apart from the US, so many other countries are urging their citizens living abroad to register, including Canada, Australia, and the UK. Since nobody really knows what the future holds, it’s good to protect yourself by getting registered.