What to do if in trouble with the law

Before travelling to a new country, it is advisable to have a basic understanding of local laws and regulations to avoid any trouble, as well as to have an enjoyable and hassle-free holiday. Local laws differ from country to country and you could find yourself in a tricky situation for a minor offence in some countries. For example, laws relating to alcohol and drugs differ greatly worldwide, with some Muslim countries issuing harsh punishments for the possession of the smallest amount of alcohol. Some places will have strict laws relating to the taking of photos and dissemination of video footage from rallies and public gatherings, whilst drink driving laws often vary from state to state and country to country.

If you find yourself in trouble with the law (whether innocent or not), it is important to remain calm. The first and most important course of action is to request contact with your local consulate or embassy; a basic right that should not be denied. Consulate or embassy staff should be able to make contact with your family at home, arrange a loan, if necessary, or other items needed, and may help to organise legal representation, if required. It will be their primary function to ensure that you are being treated correctly and that your rights are respected in accordance with local law, however, you should note that this may vary dramatically from what you may be accustomed to in your home country. Be mindful that the powers of the local embassy stop there.

If you are found guilty of an offence, or often even charged with a crime, you may have to endure an unpleasant stay in a foreign jail with varying standards of cleanliness and safety. Therefore, it is best practice to take heed of all local laws and behave accordingly. Know the basic rules of the road, speed limits and drink driving legislation, if you plan to hire a car. Ensure that you will not be putting yourself at risk by carrying drugs, no matter how small or insignificant the amount, and under no circumstances should you transport anything for anyone else. You should also be able to identify yourself at all times, so carrying a photocopy of your passport is good practice, and registering with your home government’s travel authority before you depart will ensure that you can be easily located in the case of an emergency.

The embassy is there to provide support, but they cannot, on most occasions, have you removed from jail, so do follow local laws to the letter.

(Image by hawksanddoves on Flickr)

Date posted: 7th September, 2011

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