Britsoc: The British Society of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Serving the British Expat community since 1920.

The British Consulate General Amsterdam

The British Consulate General Amsterdam: worldwide consular assistance

With more than 40,000 British citizens living and working in the Netherlands, what kind of practical support can they expect from representatives of their home country?

BY KIRSTY DONALD

20120509_Consular_Services-1Have you ever played the word association game? It’s quite simple. The first person says a word and then the next person has to say the first word that comes into their head, so when the first person says “the Netherlands”, the next person might say “bicycles” or “tulips”. Ok, so now that you know the rules, let’s begin!

What is the first word that you think of when I say ‘’British ConsulateGeneral”? Perhaps it’s “passports” or “visas”. However, if either of these were your responses, then I’m afraid that you’d be disqualified from this round, because the British ConsulateGeneral in Amsterdam no longer issues full validity passports nor visas.

Why not?

Well, there is a long official answer. However, according to John Cameron-Webb, the British Consul, “the short answer is finances and security”. John is a people person. He is trying to get away from the stuffy, reserved and aloof image of the foreign office. The fact that he plays in a folk band, regularly gives “war walks” through Amsterdam, and speaks fluent Dutch gives some insight to the man.

Ok, but let’s first go back to passports and visas. What can people do about this? Well, if you’re British and you require a passport then you now have to send your old passport off to Paris, which takes about 3-4 weeks. For more information, visit the Regional Passport Processing Centre’s website: http://ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk/en/help-for-british-nationals/passports/

If you’re from a country that requires a visa to enter Britain, then you now have to go to Dusseldorf in Germany. For more information, visit the UK Border Agency website: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/

The role of the British Consulate-General

20120509_Consular_Services-2Well, if the British Consulate-General no longer does its traditional core tasks, what exactly does it do? Above all, the Consulate provides Consular Assistance to British nationals in a crisis. But it can also help British nationals with the registration of births and deaths and a range of notarial services.

If you’re British and you’ve found love in the Netherlands and you intend to marry, then the Consulate provides Certificates of  No Impediment or Declarations of Marital status. It can also issue
Emergency Travel Documents, if a British national has had their passport stolen, and they urgently need to get home to the UK. The Consulate also regularly visits British nationals in prison to offer welfare support.

About 3 million British citizens visit the Netherlands each year, either passing through, working or as tourists. A significant number of them sometimes require the help of the Consulate.

Assessing the situation

Let’s return to the word association game. When the first person said “the Netherlands”, you might also have said “below sea level”, but this is three words and against the rules of the game, however, it does highlight one of the very real threats of living in the Netherlands. It might not be a warzone, nor at risk of civil unrest.

“By improving customer knowledge and utilising partnerships, the Consulate can become better, more responsive and efficient.”

However, back in January when there was a huge amount of rainfall, the warnings that they might have to evacuate residents in Groningen, showed that there is a very real risk of flooding if the dykes should burst.Hopefully this will never happen and hopefully the little boy will keep his finger in the dyke! However, if there was such an event, then the British Consulate-General wants to be ready to aid its nationals, facilitating with the evacuation and helping Brits in whatever way it can. And since there are well over 40,000 Brits registered as living in Holland, there is a real possibility that there might be some Brits involved.

Getting to know you

20120509_Consular_Services-3With this in mind, the British Consulate-General is currently undertaking a Customer Knowledge project (its customers being British nationals). The primary aim of the project is to get to know their Customers better, so that in the event of a crisis it’ll be easier to help. The Project “BACK-UP” was the brainchild of John Cameron-Webb. The acronym stands for “Brits Abroad Customer Knowledge and Utilising Partnerships”. This is appropriate, as the British Consulate-General provides support to British nationals when abroad.

The Consulate is their “backup”. However, it is only by improving customer knowledge and utilising partnerships, that the Consulate can become better, more responsive and efficient. This was one of the reasons that the Consulate hosted a Consular Services Reception on 25 January, inviting approximately 70 representatives from the British and international community, including the British Club, the British Society, Commercial Anglo Dutch Society and also ACCESS.

Help in a crisis

The British Consulate-General in Amsterdam is very keen to get the message across: “We’re still here. If you’re a Brit in the Netherlands and you’re in a crisis, then let us know.” Meanwhile, if you need advice with living in the Netherlands, then you can look to one of the British Consulate-General’s partners, such as ACCESS.

Consular Affairs Minister Jeremy Browne said: “We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to the support that we can provide.”

One of those limits is that the British Consulate-General cannot help you with the information about Prince Charles’s shoe size. This was a real request received by the Foreign Office in Spain. The caller wanted this information so that he could send the prince shoes as a present!

So, when you next hear “British Consulate-General”, don’t think “housing” or “Prince Charles’ shoe size,” think “help” and “support” in a crisis.

Further information on being part of the network of Brits in the Netherlands can be seen on www.ukinnl.fco.gov.uk, where you can find the Consular Connection quarterly newsletter. «

 

Further points of contact for British residents or those interested in British culture and business:

British Society of Amsterdam – www.britsoc.nl
British Club in The Hague – www.britishclubthehague.nl
British School in the Netherlands – www.britishschool.nl
Commercial Anglo-Dutch Society – www.cads-amsterdam.org
GNE Netherlands-England Society – www.nederlandengeland.nl
Oxford and Cambridge Society of the Netherlands - www.oxbridge-nl.com
The Netherlands British Chamber of Commerce - www.nbcc.co.uk

 
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