When we go on vacation we never go with the intention of spoiling our own fun by running into trouble with the law of the land. You may do your best to stay out of legal trouble, but there might be that odd time when your holiday seems ruined because you had a run-in with the law. Such occurrences do inadvertently happen when we least expect them, and are usually due to misunderstandings that result in tourists getting caught up in a problem and incarcerated. When you travel overseas you become subjected to the laws and regulations of your host country. Many Americans make the mistake of thinking the laws of their country will protect them wherever they go. The fact is, the further away from the U.S. you travel, the more the laws differ. It is best to do everything in your power to avoid legal trouble while in a foreign country, but here is what you should know and do if you are arrested or detained by local authorities.
What You Should Know
1. An American Consulate, Department of State or a United States Embassy exists in almost every country throughout the world. These offices are there to, among other things, provide advice for American citizens traveling through that country.
2. The Citizens Emergency Center is a branch of the American Consulate that has the responsibility of assisting American citizens who may unfortunately have to deal with emergency situations while in a foreign country. Emergency situations can occur due to injury, a crime committed against a foreigner, or serious illness. The Consulate is there to assist in any such situation.
3. All American citizens should make it their priority to know exactly how to contact the Consulate in the country they plan to visit. The relevant information can be obtained through a little research. Ensure that you know where the Consulate office is located in whichever country you plan on visiting. Jot down information such as their contact number(s) and address in a little pocketbook or something you can take around with you all the time. Searching for such information during a time of crisis is simply not a good idea. You can print out the information and place it in your purse or your wallet so you will have it with you at all times. Here is a government website from which you can obtain a link to the American Embassy, Department of State and Consulate in each country. http://usembassy.state.gov.
4. There are limits to just how much the American offices can exert their authority, as they must act in accordance with international laws.
What You Should Do
1. If you are arrested, immediately inform the arresting authorities that you wish to contact your Consulate. If your wish is granted, call the office and speak to a consular officer right away. If it is not granted, continue to ask in a polite, but persistent manner.
Breaking the law in a foreign country may attract penalties that are more severe than what you would face for breaking a similar law in the United States. Once arrested, you will have to go through the foreign legal process that could result in charges being laid or see you being indicted, prosecuted, maybe convicted and sentenced. The process also facilitates the appeal process if it comes to that. The American consular officers provide a number of services within this framework as a means of assisting U.S. citizens. You can expect to serve jail sentences and pay fines for breaches such as the possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs. Penalties for these offenses are very strict.
It must be noted that the level and nature of service the consulate is able to provide for its citizens will vary from country to country, and will also be determined by the circumstances of individual cases.
With all that has been said so far, comes the assumption that you had already signed up with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This will allow the State Department to give you better assistance if you get arrested. The process simply requires that you use STEP to inform the authorities of your travel plans. STEP is a free online service that can be found at athttps://travelregistration.state.gov.
The information you share with the authorities will serve as a resource they can use to help/contact you or other family members if the need arises. Be sure to include your travel information.
2. This is an entirely personal choice, but if necessary you can consider giving the authorities permission to reveal particular information about you. They are bound by the laws of the Privacy Act not to do so without your consent, but there are times this restriction prevents them from giving residents all the assistance they can give.
The U.S Embassy and Consulate offices are your point of contact and source of assistance if you get into trouble with the local authorities while traveling abroad. You should equip yourself with the right information so that contacting the locally based U.S. authorities will be easy if you need their assistance. As Americans travel the world and experience various cultures, they need to bear in mind that while we cannot always foresee trouble on the horizon, we can certainly take measures to ensure we get the assistance we need.