Meld. St. 12 (2010–2011)

Assistance to Norwegians abroad

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1 Introduction

1.1 Background to the white paper

Every year Norwegians make more than 7 million trips involving overnight stays to other countries, while some 80 0001 Norwegian citizens are registered as permanently resident outside Norway. An increasing number of Norwegians are travelling abroad and spending longer periods of time outside the country due to increased trade and international cooperation, greater spending power, cheaper air tickets and stronger promotion of tourism in many places. This trend is expected to continue in the years ahead.

The vast majority of trips abroad proceed without any problems. A small percentage of those who travel abroad need assistance, but are able to resolve their problem with the help of their insurance company, fellow travellers, friends or relatives. There are many reasons why Norwegians may need assistance; theft and illness are among the most common. Only a small percentage of those who need help contact the Norwegian authorities. However, with the steadily increasing number of Norwegians abroad, combined with new, more exotic travel destinations, there are a growing number of requests from the public for assistance. Requests for assistance are also becoming more complex because many Norwegian citizens have close ties with other countries, and extensive legal assistance is often needed.

At the same time, the eligibility requirements for receiving public assistance are becoming more stringent. Some people seem to think they are entitled to the same assistance when they are abroad as in Norway. At times there is a considerable gap between the public’s expectations and the assistance the Norwegian authorities can in fact provide under existing legislation and budgets.

In other words, the consular field is growing and becoming increasingly complex. At the same time consular matters are attracting more and more attention, both in the media and among the general public. We have also seen cases of people using media coverage to try to get more assistance from the Norwegian authorities.

The Storting has also shown interest in the way consular matters are dealt with, particularly after the tsunami in 2004, but also subsequently. This has taken the form of written and oral questions, debates and parliamentary documents such as Recommendation S. No. 306 (2008–2009), cf. the white paper on the main features of Norwegian foreign policy (Report No. 15 (2008–2009) to the Storting). The Storting has drawn attention to the importance of providing professional consular services and emphasised that this is a key task for the Norwegian Foreign Service. The Storting has been concerned that consular services should be consistently of high quality, but at the same time made it clear that Norwegian citizens cannot expect to receive the same standard of social welfare services abroad as in Norwegian territory. In the above-mentioned recommendation, the Storting therefore asks the Government to define more clearly the kind of consular services Norwegian citizens can expect from the Foreign Service and to ensure that the consular services provided at the various missions abroad are comparable.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has drawn up this white paper in response to Norwegians’ changed travel habits and the increasing number of Norwegians who are permanently resident abroad, and with a view to complying with the Storting’s request for a review of consular services. Both government and private actors have provided valuable input.2

The purpose of the white paper is to highlight the scope and nature of Norway’s consular activities today, identify key trends and challenges and indicate how these activities can be further developed to ensure that we can provide professional, effective and efficient assistance to Norwegian citizens abroad in the years ahead.

The white paper does not contain proposals for making any major changes to Norway’s current consular practices. Nonetheless, in the light of the clear signals given by the Storting and the considerable public interest in how the Foreign Service deals with consular matters, the Government considers that it is appropriate to submit this white paper to the Storting.

1.2 What are consular services?

Consular services are generally defined as services provided by a country’s authorities to its citizens abroad. From the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905 to the end of the 1950s, this assistance was largely focused on seamen and businesspeople. Today most of the requests for assistance come from tourists and other travellers, and from Norwegian citizens who have chosen to take up residence in another country for shorter or longer periods.

The most common consular services provided today are assistance to Norwegians in connection with theft, illness or accidents, applications for passports, legalisation of documents and maritime matters. However, consular matters cover a wide range in terms of both complexity and use of resources, from straightforward questions about visa requirements and forwarding of applications, which normally only take a few minutes to deal with, to cases involving arrests and child abduction, which can require several person-years to follow up.

1.3 Other kinds of assistance to Norwegians abroad

Not all assistance provided by the Norwegian authorities to Norwegians abroad is considered to be consular assistance. Assistance to Norwegian citizens posted abroad by the Norwegian authorities through the Foreign Service and to persons participating in international military operations or other international service is generally not considered to be consular assistance and is therefore not discussed further in this white paper. Nor is the assistance provided by the Foreign Service to the Norwegian business sector or efforts to promote Norwegian cultural interests abroad.

The Foreign Service’s contact with Norwegians in Norway, for example in connection with a particular foreign policy or development policy issue or a commercial matter, is not generally considered to be consular assistance either. Work in the immigration field, such as dealing with visa matters, work and residence permits, etc., is only dealt with briefly in this white paper as it involves assisting foreign citizens who are seeking to come to Norway and therefore does not come within the traditional definition of consular assistance. However, in the EU and Schengen cooperation, immigration matters are considered to be part of the consular field.3

In our efforts to further develop consular services that are as professional and consistent as possible in a situation where there is growing demand for such services, there are several key questions that must be answered. For example, who is eligible for assistance from the Norwegian authorities? And where and when should such assistance be provided? This is discussed in Chapter 4. Other questions concern the level, scope and nature of the consular assistance provided, both in critical and in non-critical situations. These are discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. Opportunities and limitations regarding assistance in crisis situations are discussed in Chapter 7. Finally, the white paper gives an account of key challenges and choices in the consular field and the Government’s policy for providing assistance to Norwegians abroad in the years ahead.



The figure is uncertain due to the different registration practices in the various countries and because many Norwegians do not register at a Norwegian diplomatic or consular mission when they travel abroad.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had meetings with a number of ministries, agencies and other partners in connection with the preparation of this white paper, cf. Appendix 1.


Cf. Chapter 3.2.

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