Being arrested abroad is a nightmare that’s made it to the silver screen multiple times, and that no tourist wants to live. Sometimes, however, this isn’t a choice, and even the most careful traveler will end up in trouble.
So, if you end up being arrested abroad, what should you do?
Before you travel, always check for hidden legal catches you should be aware of. It is important to remember that when in a foreign country, you are subject to local laws and your rights may vary significantly from those in your homeland. Your status as a foreigner does not entitle you to an easier treatment, even if you were not aware of the country's laws.
The most common offenses committed by tourists relate to drugs, alcohol, smuggling and visas. Many countries have specific regulations (i.e. Singapore has a chewing gum ban) that aren’t as obvious as ‘universal’ offenses like theft and murder.
The arresting authorities have an obligation to advise you of your right of access to a consular representative (they are not obliged to inform a representative unless you ask them to, however). Ask them and if needed insist (always politely) to have your embassy or consulate notified and a visit from a consular officer arranged.
If your country has no embassy or consulate where you are, contact the embassy of a country your homeland has strong ties or shares free-movement or trade agreement with (NAFTA members in North America, European Union in Europe, CIS in Eastern Europe/Central Asia, ASEAN in Southeast Asia, MERCOSUR/L in South America and so on).
They can however advise you on the best choice of lawyer (a good lawyer can change the worst of situations around) and translator, and in some countries provide you monthly with some money for supplies like toothpaste (the Netherlands, for example, give citizens incarcerated abroad 30 euros).
Phone calls may or may not be granted: always ask, just in case. If allowed a phone call, contact a family member, friend or colleague immediately and inform them of your location, detainment conditions (and if possible, your prisoner number) and ask them to contact government officials. If you feel you have been wrongly convicted, ask them to make appeals to the media too. The information industry is not to be underestimated, and numerous cases have been turned around because of media exposure and pressure.
Be even more wary of anything written in a language you do not speak fluently. When being interrogated, request a translator and do not answer any questions unless you are absolutely sure about what is being asked. Your embassy or consulate is your best friend. If you feel you are being mistreated or any of your rights are violated, contact them immediately.
They can also act as a contact point between you and your family and friends, maintain immediate and regular access to you, press local authorities to process your case without delay, inform you, your family and your representative with information on the local judicial and prison systems (including bail provisions), arrange for the purchase (at your expense) of food, clothing and other items not available through the prison system, deliver letters, permitted reading and convey messages to you and facilitate transfers of funds from relatives or friends to you.
In certain cases, you may be able to serve your sentence in your home country. Before you travel, make sure you have the contact information of your country’s diplomatic mission in the countries you will be visiting, and carry that with you at all times.
May your next trip go smoothly and trouble-free - and if anything happens, you know what to do! Head over to Trekeffect and start planning your dream holidays!
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