Meld. St. 12 (2010–2011)

Assistance to Norwegians abroad

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4 Who is entitled to assistance, and where and when is it provided

The question of who is entitled to Norwegian consular assistance and where and when it can be provided may at first glance seem quite straightforward. In many situations, however, it is difficult to answer such basic questions, as the group of people in need of assistance is becoming increasingly heterogeneous and they have increasingly high expectations of what they are entitled to.

4.1 Who is entitled to assistance

According to the Foreign Service Act, one of the functions of the Foreign Service is to provide advice and assistance to Norwegian citizens.1 This means that all Norwegian citizens should be able to expect assistance from the Norwegian authorities when they are abroad. There are, however, certain limitations in the case of Norwegians who are permanently resident abroad. This is discussed in more detail below.

Some categories of foreign citizens are also entitled to certain types of consular assistance. This applies to refugees and stateless persons resident in Norway who hold a Norwegian refugee travel document or an immigrant passport.2 In such cases it is required that the person concerned is both resident in Norway and possesses a Norwegian travel document. It is also required that he or she has entered the country in which assistance is requested on a Norwegian travel document. If the foreign citizen has been travelling on another travel document, for example one issued by the authorities of his or her country of origin, any request for assistance in a third country must be addressed to the authorities of the country that issued the travel document.

Foreign citizens who have been issued a Norwegian travel document and who use it when travelling back to their country of origin are indicating to the Norwegian authorities that they no longer need protection in Norway. In such cases, the Immigration Directorate will consider whether the person’s refugee status or other type of permit should be withdrawn and their travel document or immigrant passport revoked.

Foreign citizens who use Norwegian travel documents when travelling to their country of origin cannot expect to receive the same assistance they would be entitled to when staying in a third country, as it is highly probable that the authorities of their country of origin would consider such persons to be citizens of that country. If such persons should, for example, be arrested in their country of origin, they will be tried, convicted and sentenced on the same footing as other nationals of the country concerned. In such cases, any assistance provided by the Norwegian authorities will be contingent on the explicit consent of the authorities of the country of origin of the person concerned. Experience shows that, as a general rule, requests to make a visit or provide other assistance are not complied with. Correspondingly, the Norwegian authorities are very cautious about giving foreign authorities access to Norwegian citizens even in cases where they also have another nationality unless the person concerned so requests.

Boks 4.1 Which country should provide assistance?

A Chechen who has been granted permanent residence in Norway generally has or is entitled to a Russian passport. If he travels to Turkey on a Russian passport and finds himself in need of assistance, any request for assistance must be addressed to the closest representative of the Russian authorities.

4.2 Where and when assistance is provided

The assistance provided by the Norwegian authorities is also dependent on the country where the person happens to be and whether he or she is there on a short stay or permanently resident abroad.

The largest category of people who receive assistance from the Foreign Service is Norwegian citizens who are resident in Norway who need assistance in connection with short stays abroad.3 In practice the Foreign Service bases its assessment of where a person is resident on information in the National Population Register.

Boks 4.2 Payment of benefits to persons living/resident abroad

Every year approximately NOK 4 billion is paid to persons entitled to Norwegian benefits who are resident abroad. This sum includes all kinds of benefits that are administered and disbursed by the international office of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV International) to persons living abroad. Most of the disbursements are in connection with old age pensions, disability pensions and widow/widower’s pension.

NAV also pays benefits to other categories of persons who are staying abroad, such as:

  • Pensioners who commute between Norway and another country and spend up to six months abroad every year

  • Family members who are resident in the country of origin of labour migrants from EU countries. A number of them may be entitled to short-term benefits from the National Insurance Scheme, such as health services, child benefit and cash benefits for families with young children.

  • Labour migrants from EU countries who are entitled to sickness benefits. They may stay in their country of origin during the period specified in the doctor’s certificate. Such persons retain the pension rights they have accrued in the National Insurance Scheme.

  • Pensioners resident in Norway who provide for a spouse and children resident abroad

An increasing number of Norwegian citizens reside abroad. Many of them are in close contact with the Norwegian authorities on a regular basis.

Permanent residence abroad has a bearing on the need for assistance from the Norwegian authorities and sets limits to the assistance the Norwegian authorities can provide, both in the country where the person concerned is resident and in third countries. A Norwegian citizen who is resident in Spain has a different status under Spanish law from that of a Norwegian on a charter tour to the Canary Islands. A Norwegian citizen who is resident in France and on holiday in Thailand is not in the same situation as a Norwegian citizen who is resident in Norway and on holiday in Thailand.

The Storting has drawn attention to these differences in Recommendation S No. 265 (2004–2005) on the white paper on the tsunami disaster in South-East Asia and the central crisis management system (Report No. 37 (2004–2005) to the Storting), which reads:

“The Committee has noted, and concurs, that Norwegian citizens who are permanently resident abroad are a special case and that they cannot expect the same assistance as Norwegians who stay in a country for a short period of time.”

How this is followed up will in practice depend on whether it is a matter of ordinary assistance in individual cases or assistance in connection with a crisis.4

Norwegian citizens who are permanently resident abroad often contact the Foreign Service and ask for assistance vis-à-vis the local authorities in the country of residence. As a general rule, Norwegians who are resident abroad should be on more or less the same footing as others who are resident in the country as regards both rights and obligations. Correspondingly, foreign citizens who are lawfully resident in Norway are increasingly being accorded the same treatment as Norwegian citizens. This means that Norwegians who are permanently resident abroad will be given lower priority than Norwegians on a short stay abroad if they need assistance. Thus, Norwegian diplomatic and consular missions will refer Norwegians who are permanently resident in the host country to the local authorities where it is possible and natural to do so.

Boks 4.3 Unrealistic expectations

A young man on a weekend trip to a major European city calls the Foreign Service Response Centre. He had been out on the town with some friends and became separated from them. He is noticeably under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and wonders whether the Response Centre can help him find his way back to a hotel whose name he cannot remember. The staff at the Response Centre try to explain that he has to call his friends so that they can find each other. He gets upset and asks why the Response Centre can’t use the GPS on his phone to guide him in the right direction. Finally he manages to contact his friends and they help him back to the hotel.

There is also an increasing number of Norwegian citizens who are permanently resident abroad who have a greater need for assistance or are suffering from a mental illness and who have rights under Norwegian legislation. It can be difficult for such persons to deal with the many different authorities in Norway, and they often have considerable need for assistance from the diplomatic and consular missions. For this reason, the Government will give priority to the work being done to make it easier to contact the appropriate authorities in Norway and to coordinate the various services.

Boks 4.4 Mental illness

The Foreign Service has to assist Norwegian citizens who are, or become, seriously mentally ill outside Norway more and more frequently. Persons suffering from serious mental illness are often particularly vulnerable and it may be difficult to help them. Therefore a special scheme, administered by the County Governor, has been established for assisting and repatriating Norwegians abroad who are suffering from such illness. An assessment of whether the person concerned should be repatriated is made by medical personnel, and repatriation is conditional on the consent of the person concerned. In recent years, 15–30 mentally ill Norwegian citizens have been repatriated to Norway. Persons suffering from a serious mental illness who are unable to take care of themselves abroad may be denied a passport or have their passport revoked when they return to Norway. As a general rule, this is only done in cases where a person has been in this situation on more than one occasion.

The assistance provided will also vary according to the country concerned. In the Nordic countries, assistance is provided by the local authorities, for example on the basis of the Nordic Convention on Social Assistance and Social Services5 and the Nordic Convention on Social Security.6 Within the EEA, there are a number of rules that affect what kind of assistance the Norwegian authorities may provide.

Occasionally there have been allegations of differential treatment in consular cases on the basis of ethnic origin or social status. Such differential treatment is not acceptable. Consular assistance is provided in accordance with requests for such assistance and within the framework provided by international, local and Norwegian legislation. At the same time, it is important to be aware that no two consular cases are the same and that it is not possible or appropriate to deal with all cases in the same way.

4.3 Openness and information to the general public

Some Norwegians have an unrealistic idea of what kind of assistance they can expect from the Norwegian authorities if they should encounter difficulties abroad. Some seem to believe that the level of assistance is the same as that provided in Norway, regardless of national and local legislation and Norway’s consular representation at the place in question.

In the Foreign Ministry’s view, it is important to reduce the gap between the consular services offered and the public’s expectations. An effort is being made to do this by actively disseminating general information to the public and practising openness in relation to the various consular cases being dealt with within the limits imposed by considerations of privacy.

Proper preparation is important for a successful trip abroad, regardless of the destination and the duration of the stay. Experienced travellers will generally have obtained information about the destination and thought through what they would do if a difficult situation should arise. It is important to have valid insurance that covers all eventualities, as well as up-to-date information about what assistance can be expected from the Norwegian authorities.

The Foreign Service publishes information and practical advice, as well as official travel advice, on The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will seek to ensure that the travel advice is useful and up-to-date and that it is coordinated with the information provided by the other Nordic countries. The website has links to the websites of the various diplomatic and consular missions, where more country-specific information can be found. These webpages are updated on a regular basis and the introduction of new services is being considered. The Ministry is also considering the possibilities offered by new technology and social media to facilitate dialogue and disseminate information quickly to a larger number of people.

An information brochure on the assistance Norwegians can expect when abroad has been published, which also includes travel tips. The brochure is distributed via the diplomatic and consular missions and will be made available to the general public by other means as well. It can also be downloaded free of charge from the Internet.7

Boks 4.5 Official travel advice

There are two main types of official travel advice in Norway: the travel advice provided by the Foreign Ministry, and the information for travellers on health issues provided by the Norwegian health authorities.

The Foreign Ministry publishes official travel advice in cases where there is reason to caution Norwegians against travelling to a specific country, area or region, or advise them to leave that place. This is generally because of war, war-like situations or other forms of unrest that, on the basis of an overall assessment, indicate that Norwegian citizens should not travel to the place in question or stay there. Official travel advice is issued and withdrawn on the basis of a concrete assessment of the individual situation.

The Norwegian health authorities publish advice on health issues to Norwegian citizens travelling abroad on their websites. There are links to these websites on This gives an overview of advice and information from the Norwegian authorities designed for Norwegians who are travelling abroad or who plan to do so.

The Foreign Ministry has also developed an online form to be used by Norwegians travelling abroad to register where they are staying abroad. This can be accessed via (click on reiseregistrering for the online form – Norwegian only). This will make it easier for the Foreign Service to get in contact with Norwegians in the event of a crisis. The Foreign Ministry is also planning to develop a system for registering email addresses that can be used to send information to Norwegians in non-crisis situations. It is recommended that everyone who is planning to travel to countries outside Europe and North America should register their whereabouts. Those who plan to stay abroad for a longer period, such as students and other persons permanently resident abroad, are also advised to register. The information provided will be dealt with in accordance with the Personal Data Act.8 It will not be disclosed to third parties, and will be deleted soon after the person’s stay abroad has ended. Those who have registered their personal data have full access to this data and may change it at any time. Such registration is extremely important to enable the Foreign Service to provide rapid and effective assistance in a crisis situation. At the same time it is important to note that such registration alone is not sufficient in the event of a crisis. Other information channels will also be used should a crisis arise.

Boks 4.6 The Foreign Ministry’s travel tips

  1. Do not set out on a trip abroad without a valid passport and travel insurance

  2. Register your destination

  3. Show respect for local customs

  4. Listen to experienced travellers

  5. Be equipped to deal with a crisis

  6. Remember your visa and vaccinations

  7. Keep away from dangerous situations

  8. Turn back in time

  9. Save money and obtain new funds if necessary

  10. A well planned trip can be the experience of a lifetime.

Have a good trip!

It can be difficult to provide adequate, correct information to the people who need it most. The Government therefore intends to intensify its information efforts in the time ahead, for example by expanding the existing cooperation with other organisations that deal with Norwegians abroad, such as the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA) and the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund. The Government will also increase its contact with other actors and organisations, such as the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), Finance Norway (FNO) and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, and will consider the possibility of making greater use of new technology and social media in its information efforts.

There has been close cooperation between the Foreign Service and the Norwegian Church Abroad for a long time, but this cooperation was not formalised until 2008, when an agreement was concluded between the two. This agreement was recently extended and expanded and provides a good basis for further cooperation in consular cases.

This has not affected the annual operating grant provided by the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs to the Norwegian Church Abroad. According to the agreement between the Foreign Ministry and the Norwegian Church Abroad, the two organisations are to cooperate with a view to safeguarding the welfare of Norwegian citizens abroad. The two organisations have different roles and they supplement each other. The Norwegian Church Abroad is an NGO affiliated with the Church of Norway. It has approximately 50 churches/missions in more than 80 countries on all continents. There are a number of examples of cases where the Foreign Service and the Norwegian Church Abroad have joined forces to provide assistance to Norwegians in connection with a disaster, for example when the Air France aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on its way from Rio in 2009, and in difficult individual cases, such as that involving two Norwegians sentenced to death in Congo and the students in Budapest after the tragic murder of a Norwegian citizen in August 2010.

Boks 4.7 Services and assistance provided by the Norwegian Church Abroad to Norwegians abroad in 2010:

Solemnisation of marriage*


Social welfare cases**


Visits to sick Norwegians in hospital and at home


Visits to Norwegians in prisons


Funerals/memorial services


* In addition to this is the service of blessing on marriage after a civil wedding ceremony in places where the chaplain is not authorised to perform marriages.

** Many of these cases are dealt with in cooperation with and at the request of the Foreign Service.

4.4 Notification of suspected benefit fraud

The diplomatic and consular missions occasionally become acquainted with information that gives grounds for suspicion, for example, of benefit fraud. This may be in connection with an application for a new passport where it transpires that the person concerned has not been in Norway for a long time, and is receiving benefits from the Norwegian authorities that he or she is thus not entitled to. The missions are not authorised to investigate such cases. At the same time information about such cases is of great interest to the competent Norwegian authorities, particularly NAV. The provisions of the Personal Data Act do not prevent the authorities from obtaining information from a diplomatic or consular mission under the National Insurance Act.9 At the same time the relationship between the missions and the people requesting assistance must be one of mutual trust. In the light of this, the Government will continue to encourage the missions abroad to inform the competent Norwegian authorities in cases where they have reliable information that gives grounds for suspicion of benefit fraud.



Cf. section 1 of the Foreign Service Act.


Cf. Chapter 8 of the Foreign Service Instructions.


In section 2.1 of the National Insurance Act, “resident in Norway” is defined as follows: a person who intends to stay, or has stayed, in Norway for at least 12 months. A person who moves to Norway is deemed to be resident in Norway from the date of entry into the country. A condition for membership of the National Insurance Scheme is that the person concerned is lawfully resident in Norway. In the event of a temporary absence from Norway for a period that is not intended to exceed 12 months, the person concerned is still deemed to be resident in the country.


Cf. Chapter 7.


Nordic Convention of 14 June 1994 on Social Assistance and Social Services.


Nordic Convention of 18 August 2003 on Social Security.




Act of 14 April 2000 No. 31 relating to the processing of personal data.


Cf. section 21.4 of the National Insurance Act.

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