You and Foreign Law Enforcement


Traveling overseas is an exciting adventure: seeing new places, speaking a different language, learning about a culture. However, having a run-in with the law is one kind of excitement you don’t need. Even if you have done nothing wrong, the possibility of being arrested or detained in a foreign country is a risk you need to take very seriously. By understanding what you should do before you leave, knowing your rights, and keeping in mind the limits on what U.S. officials can do for you, you will be more likely to quickly resolve any problems you might encounter and return home safely.

There are a number of important steps to take before you travel abroad. First, check the U.S. Department of State’s travel warnings and alerts (International Travel ( ). These notifications alert travelers to possible threats, political unrest, or violence in specific areas of the world. You should also consider registering with the Department of State. Registering can be done online for free (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ( and ensures that if there is an emergency, either back home or at your destination, American officials can easily contact you. Lastly, before you go, leave copies of your travel documents and passport with a family member or friend. That way, if something does happen, someone back home will have your identification information.

Then, when you are traveling, remember that you are subject to the laws of the country you are in, which may be different from those back home. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse. If you are arrested abroad, try to remain calm. Once you are taken into custody, you should immediately ask to speak to a consular officer at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Many countries have agreements with the United States to ensure that you have this right (and the citizens of those countries have the reciprocal right in America). If your request is turned down, you should keep asking, politely, but continually.

American Embassy and Consulate officials are valuable allies for citizens arrested abroad; however, it is important to note that they can’t provide a “get out of jail” card. Still, although American officials usually cannot represent you in court, they can provide you with a list of qualified attorneys, contact your family, and help get you money from your family back home. American officials will also monitor your health and safety and will protest any abuse or maltreatment. So remember: Your best protection when traveling abroad is to do the necessary research ahead of time, understand the rules of the host country-and keep your wits about you!

Tips For Parents-What To Do When Your Child is Abroad

With the summer moving into full effect, many teens and college students are getting ready to spend the summer traveling abroad, or packing and preparing for an upcoming semester abroad. For the kids, these opportunities are exciting times filled with learning and fun. For parents, these can be times of stress and worry. You can help your child prepare for any international travel by ensuring that your son or daughter understands how to respond to interactions with foreign law enforcement. The following list outlines some important topics and tips:

  • Get the Information: Make sure you have all of the information about your child’s trip, ncluding flight information, hotel accommodations, any planned side-trips, and the names of all ravel companions. Have your child makes copies of all necessary travel and identification ocuments (passports, tickets, credit cards, etc) and leave a copy of them with you. Your child hould also bring extra copies of any travel documents in case something is lost.
  • Help Your Child Get Informed: Work with your child to research the destination country. Has the Department of State recently issued any travel alerts? It will be helpful for your child to learn at least a couple of key phrases in the destination country’s language including: “Help!” “I need a hospital” and “Please call the American Embassy.”
  • Talk About Safety: Without being overly alarmist, have an open and frank discussion with your child about the dangers of traveling abroad. Be sure to mention the old adage “there is safety in numbers” and outline the dangers of alcohol and other intoxicants. Some countries may have relaxed laws on alcohol and drugs as compared to the United States; others have much harsher laws. Even if your child is unlikely to engage in such activities, you should still consider having an honest discussion about the dangers.

In the end, remember, this is a once in a life time experience for your child: let him or her go and experience the world and have faith that you have prepared your child as well as you can.


This article does not constitute legal advice but presents only a general overview of common legal principles. Those principles may vary by jurisdiction. You should consult legal counsel with regard to your specific situation. No attorney-client relationship is formed by the publishing of this article.