US Passports and Social Security numbers
US citizens, even if they are citizens of another country, must enter and leave the United States using their US passport when visiting for leisure or business.
American Citizens can request or renew a US passport at any time either at a US passport facility in the US (usually your local post office) or at a US consulate abroad. If you haven't had a US passport previously, you'll have to prove your US citizenship either with a US birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or a Certificate of Naturalization. In addition to proof of citizenship and proof of identity, you will also have to provide your full name and any previous names you've had (due to marriage, etc.), date of birth, your permanent address and valid mailing addres (either US or foreign), and your Social Security number (if you have one). The necessity of providing this information was formalized by an amendment to Article 26, Part 301 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which went into force on July 18, 2014.
Recently, there has been some confusion regarding the need for providing a US Social Security number for US passport applications and US passport renewals.
If a US citizen has ever been issued a US Social Security number, they must provide this number on their application to renew/apply for a US passport (From State Department page: 22 U.S.C. 2714a and 22 C.F.R 51.60(f) requires you to provide your Social Security number, if you have one, when you apply for a U.S. passport or renewal of a US passport.)
If, however, a US citizen has never been issued a US Social Security number there is no need to apply for a US Social Security number in order to obtain or renew a US passport. However, US citizens who never had a Social Security number, when applying for a US passport, must provide a sworn statement stating that they were never issued a US Social Security number. https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/applying-for-a-u-s--passport-from-outside-the-united-states.html .
Although applying for a Social Security number is not necessary when applying for or renewing US passports, US Social Security numbers are needed for other US government agency services (e.g. the IRS) and for US employment and banking purposes. ACA recommends that all US citizens considering more interaction with US government services, for filing US taxes, entering the US employment market, etc., consider applying for a US Social Security number as well as for their children born in the US or abroad.
US Military Service
Under current law, all male US citizens are required to register with the US Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
At the present time there is no obligation to serve (induction), but registering for the draft is still required for all men between the ages of 18 and 25, even for US citizens living abroad. In addition, non-US-citizen males between the ages of 18 and 25 (inclusive) living in the United States must register. This includes permanent residents (holders of green cards), refugees, asylees, and illegal immigrants. Foreign males lawfully present in the United States who are non-immigrants, such as international students, visitors, and diplomats, are not required to register.
Failure to register as required is grounds for denying financial aid, federal grants and loans, certain government benefits, eligibility for most federal employment, and, if the person is an immigrant, can deny eligibility for US citizenship. Those who were required to register, but failed to do so before they turn 26, are no longer allowed to register, and thus may be permanently barred from federal jobs and other benefits, unless they can show to the Selective Service that their failure was due to not knowing about it and not willful.
If you are a US citizen living or visiting overseas at the time you are required to register, go to the nearest US Embassy or Consular office where personnel will assist you in registering. You can also register online at the Selective Service web site www.usa.gov/selective-service.
Until their 26th birthday, registered males must notify Selective Service within ten days of any changes to information regarding his status, such as name, current mailing address, permanent residence address.
A dual national whose other country of nationality has an agreement with the US that specifically provides for an exemption, is exempt from induction. However, he should be registered with Selective Service. Some countries have agreements with the US which exempt an immigrant or national, who is a citizen of both that country and the US, from military service in the US Armed Forces. An immigrant who requests and is exempt under an agreement or bilateral treaty can never be naturalized as a US citizen, and may have trouble reentering the US if he leaves.
An immigrant who served at least a year in the military of a country with which the US is involved in mutual defense activities will be exempt from military service if he is a national of a country that grants reciprocal privileges to citizens of the US.
For more information, see the Selective Service System website http://www.sss.gov.
US Citizens and International Law
Americans living abroad are of course subject to the legal systems of their respective countries of residence. They are sometimes also subject to American law even while abroad – for example, necessity to file US tax returns while living abroad, or US restrictions on travel to some countries.
The US has numerous bilateral or multilateral agreements with other countries that affect Americans living abroad, such as tax treaties or social security agreements. (More information on these two subjects can be found in relevant sections of this website and on the websites of the IRS or the Social Security Administration.) In fact, the mere listing of treaties and other international agreements to which the US is party makes a book of almost 500 pages: Treaties in Force.*
* Note: Under US law, the distinction is made between a "treaty", which must have Senate confirmation, and all other forms of "agreement." See: law.duke.edu/ilrt/treaties_3.htm
Consular Notification in Case of Arrest
American citizens living overseas who are subject to arrest for any reason should expect that the authorities in the country of residence will immediately contact US consular officials in order to ensure decent, fair and equitable treatment under the laws of the foreign country. Failure on the part of US authorities to demonstrate observance of the "Vienna Convention on Consular Relations" subjects Americans living or traveling abroad to an unacceptable and unnecessary level of legal jeopardy.
International agreements which can impact Americans abroad are:
American Citizens Abroad (ACA) believes the United States should honor its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention, thereby encouraging other nations to comply in cases of Americans incarcerated abroad.
As an American abroad, were some quirk of fate to cause you to be arrested, you would probably want the US consular representative to know of your whereabouts. This right is spelled out in Article 36 the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by 173 countries. The Vienna Convention was signed by the United States on 24 April 1963, and was subsequently ratified, unanimously, by the US Senate.
Although a signatory to the Vienna Convention, the United States has a poor record in the area of notifying foreign consular officials when nationals from their countries are imprisoned in the US (see, for example, the Avena decision of the International Court of Justice). This may impact on the quality of representation accused foreign nationals obtain, particularly in criminal cases involving capital punishment.
Yet in Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) the United States Supreme Court held that even if an international treaty may constitute an international commitment, it is not binding domestic law unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it or unless the treaty itself is "self-executing." Also, the Court held that decisions of the International Court of Justice are not binding domestic law and that, without authority from the United States Congress or the Constitution, the President of the United States lacks the power to enforce international treaties or decisions of the International Court of Justice. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medell%C3%ADn_v._Texas)
As Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary for Management in the State Department has stated:
To protect Americans in foreign custody, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations – a binding U.S. treaty – mandates three simple rules: ask, notify, and allow access. Arresting authorities must first ask detained foreign nationals if they want their country’s consulate notified; if requested, must notify the consulate; and, must allow access if the consulate seeks to provide assistance. Thus, our ability to secure safe worldwide travel for the millions of Americans who live, work, study, and vacation abroad depends vitally on all countries granting mutual respect to the protective rules in the Vienna Convention.
This international Convention has 88 signatory countries, including the United States. Its declared purpose is primarily:
… to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence, as well as to secure protection for rights of access.
Parents or legal guardians whose child(ren) may be, are being, or have been, taken to or retained in a country other than their habitual country of residence (often by a non-custodial parent) have a rich source of helpful information from the State Department at: travel.state.gov/abduction/abduction_580.html. If based abroad such parents can rely on help from American consular services of the nearest US embassy. This help is available if the child is abducted from or to the United States.
The International Child Abduction convention is aimed at guaranteeing that children will be retained in their country of legal residence.
How to interact with the US Government and your Representatives in Congress
The US State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs working through US Embassies and Consulates around the world is your interface with US Government services when living abroad.
The Bureau sets guidelines and directs the Consulates for handling matters such as passport issuance and renewal, reports of births, deaths and marriages of US citizens, aiding destitute travelers, and issuing visas for foreign visitors to the US. To get an idea of the services offered by the Consulates, see this State Department webpage: travel.state.gov
If you want to contact your Member of Congress you can write to them directly or communicate to them via their individual website page. Find out who represents you using Contacting the Congress or BeBusinessed. To send a message on a Representative's website you need to use your last known residential address (even if you no longer have any ties to that address) in your Representative's district/state.
Information on members of the House of Representatives, Senate and Committees can be found at the following links:
senate.gov — Directory for locating your representative in the US Senate.