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Legal Tips When Traveling Abroad


When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. Learn about local laws and regulations and obey them. Avoid areas of unrest and disturbance. Deal only with authorized outlets when exchanging money or buying airline tickets and travelers checks. Do not deliver a package for anyone unless you know the person well and are certain the package does not contain drugs or other contraband.

Before you sell personal effects, such as clothing, cameras, or jewelry, learn the local regulations regarding such sales. Adhere strictly to local laws because the penalties you risk are severe.

Some countries are particularly sensitive about photographs. In general, refrain from photographing police and military installations and personnel; industrial structures including harbor, rail, and airport facilities; border areas; and scenes of civil disorder or other public disturbance. Taking such photographs may result in your detention, in the confiscation of your camera and films, and the imposition of fines. For information on photography restrictions, check with the country's tourist office or its embassy or consulate in the United States. Once abroad, check with local authorities or at the Consular section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.


About 3,000 Americans are arrested abroad each year. Of these, approximately one-third are held on drug charges. Despite repeated warnings, drug arrests and convictions are still a common occurrence. Many countries have stiff penalties for drug violations and strictly enforce drug laws. You are subject to foreign, not U.S. laws overseas, and you will find, if arrested, that:

If you are convicted, you face a possible sentence of:

Do not get involved with illegal drugs overseas. It can spoil more than your vacation. It can ruin your life!


Because you are subject to local laws abroad, there is little that a U.S. consul can do for you if you encounter legal difficulties. For example, a consular officer cannot get you out of jail. What American officials can do is limited by both foreign and U.S. laws. The U.S. Government has neither funds nor authority to pay your legal fees or related expenses.

Although U.S. consular officers cannot serve as attorneys or give legal advice, they can provide a list of local attorneys and help you find adequate legal representation. The lists of attorneys are carefully compiled from local bar association lists and responses to questionnaires, but neither the Department of State nor U.S. embassies or consulates abroad can assume responsibility for the caliber, competence, or professional integrity of the attorneys.

If you are arrested, ask the authorities to notify a consular officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Under international agreements and practice, you have the right to talk to the U.S. consul. If you are denied this right, be persistent and try to have someone get in touch for you.

When alerted, U.S. officials will visit you, advise you of your rights according to local laws, and contact your family and friends if you wish. They will do whatever they can to protect your legitimate interests and to ensure you are not discriminated against under local law. Consuls can transfer money, food, and clothing to the prison authorities from your family and friends. They will try to get relief if you are held under inhumane or unhealthy conditions or treated less favorably than others in the same situation.

Excerpted from:U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. U. S. State Department Publication 9926. February, 1992. pgs 27-29 Note: As of July, 1997 this was the latest non-internet-published U.S. State Department document pertaining to this topic.

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