One of the most important things when traveling is to make sure you’re aware of the laws of the country we’re traveling to. Every country has their own unique laws, and what might be totally normal in your part of the world could be strictly forbidden somewhere else.
Foreign countries don’t care how law-abiding you are back home. If you violate their laws, they’re likely to penalize you. So it’s incredibly important to read up on the laws of the country you’re traveling to.
For instance, public displays of affection can land you behind bars in Saudi Arabia, and it’s illegal to chew gum in Singapore. Drugs are something you don’t want to touch in any country, and in countries like Malaysia, China, and Iran, some drug crimes could land you with the death penalty.
Being arrested overseas can be very traumatic, distressing and frightening. But if you do find yourself in this situation, the following general advice should help you.
What to Do if You’re Arrested in a Foreign Country
Things That Could Get You Arrested
There are a huge range of reasons tourists might be arrested overseas, from dressing immodestly in conservative nations, to making inappropriate hand gestures, and having tattoos that are considered to be obscene.
Arrests can happen either at the border, say if you bring in banned medications like this woman who was jailed in Mexico over Sudafed, during your actual vacation, or when you go to leave, let’s say you overstayed your visa.
If you’re road tripping through Germany, it’s illegal to stop on the autobahn. If you’re in Italy, you’re not allowed to jump into city fountains. In Thailand it’s a crime to insult the Royal Family, and if you’re in Brunei, disgustingly enough, homosexuality ends in death by stoning.
And then there’s free speech. You may not think that this is worth worrying about, but many travelers have been arrested overseas for commenting on political issues, forgetting that free speech is not a right in every country.
This isn’t to scare you – it’s generally not that hard to abide by a country’s laws and avoid being arrested. But it is to stress the importance of doing your research before you travel, so you know how to behave appropriately.
Whether or not the crime you committed was on purpose, it’s important not to panic or run away from the scene. Stay as calm as you can, and cooperate with law enforcement. Panicking or running away will strengthen their case against you.
If you’re agitated or aggressive towards police, they’re likely to be agitated and aggressive towards you. Cooperate as much as you can without incriminating yourself, remembering that “anything you say or do, can be used against you as evidence.”
Travel insurance is always a sensible thing to have with you when you travel, and while it may cover you for medical expenses in an accident, or third party expenses if you’re in a car crash, it typically won’t cover any legal fees or other expenses associated with being arrested.
Get Legal Representation ASAP
It’s important to get legal representation ASAP, especially if you’re in a foreign country. Stay away from making any incriminating statements, and DO NOT sign any documents without legal advice. Especially if the statement is in another language.
This is very important. Law enforcers are trained to coerce you into making confessions. Galveston criminal lawyer Tad Nelson says that you should maintain your innocence, and think about questions you’re being asked before responding. Ultimately though, you should wait until you have a lawyer.
This is especially important in a country with a language barrier. Instead of communicating with a serious language barrier in the heat of frustration, your attorney will able to speak with the police in their language.
If there is no lawyer available, at the very least, make sure you have a translator until a lawyer is present, so you have a full understanding of what is being said.
We reiterate again … DO NOT sign ANY documents without legal advice. DO NOT sign ANY documents that are in a foreign language unless you’re fluent and can 100% comprehend it.
Talk To Your Embassy
Helping arrested or detained citizens is one of the top priorities for your embassy. While they can’t get you off the hook, or provide you with legal advice, they can give you a list of local English speaking attorneys, and contact your friends and family.
Embassy staff can also visit you on a regular basis to make sure that your rights are being upheld, and that you’re being treated well. This can be really huge for keeping your spirits high if your family and friends haven’t been able to visit you.
It’s a good idea to travel with the number for your local embassy – write it down on a piece of paper and keep it with your passport as part of your pre travel research. Knowing where your embassy is is also a good idea, if you’ve committed a crime but haven’t yet been arrested.
It’s also a good idea to register with your government pre departure. Most countries have a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program where you can lodge your travel plans and this is especially important if you’re heading to an area where you’re worried about terrorism or unrest.
It’s harder for the government to help if it doesn’t know you’re in the country, and doing this means the government knows which of its citizens are at risk in an emergency event.
Talk To Your Family
Nobody will hear you out better than your family. Call to tell them where you are being held and what charges you are facing. Give them complete details about your case, so they can arrange for your release.
Your family might not be able to get you off the hook, but they can provide an incredible amount of moral support to get you through the ordeal. They can arrange lawyers, pay your legal fees, and liaise with the government / embassy about making sure you’re treated well.
These might not get you off the hook, but they should help you from unknowingly making the situation worse.
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