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Rules and Regulations Abroad

While you are visiting another country, you are subject to the laws of that country. You should make sure you know the laws and obey them scrupulously. Refusing to obey local laws, especially those that concern alcohol and the use of illicit drugs, can get you dismissed from your program, arrested and placed in prison. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate has no authority when its citizens have violated the laws of their host country. Many of the legal protections you may take for granted are left behind when you leave the U.S. Embassies and consulates are very limited in the assistance they can provide should you get caught up in the legal system of your host country. They can give you the names of competent attorneys and doctors, but not any financial assistance in paying for legal or medical services. They cannot intervene on your behalf in the administration of justice in the host country.

Avoid involvement with drugs and all other illegal substances. Do not assume that buying or carrying small amounts of drugs cannot result in your arrest. Drug laws vary, but in many countries they are extremely severe, regardless of whether the drug in your possession is for personal use, for sale to others, or if you unknowingly had drugs in your possession.

Bail provisions as we know them in the U.S. are rare in many other countries, and pre-trial detention without bail is not uncommon. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not necessarily a tenet of legal systems abroad. Bail is often not granted for drug-trafficking cases. Pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement, can last for months. Many countries do not provide a jury trial, and in some cases you may not even be present at your trial. The average jail sentence in drug cases worldwide is about seven years. Americans have been jailed abroad for possessing as little as three grams (about one-tenth of an ounce) of marijuana.

You could be in a country where prison and law enforcement officials do not speak English, the significance of which you may not fully appreciate until you are confined and feeling helpless. 

The Bureau of Consular Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of State, is responsible for protecting the interests of US citizens abroad.

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Overseas Citizens Services
Telephone: +001 (202) 501-4444 (Overseas daytime and evening)

Contact this office regarding:
Arrest/detention of an American citizen abroad
Robbery of an American citizen abroad
American citizens missing abroad
Crisis abroad involving American citizens
Death of an American citizen abroad