When things go wrong with law overseas

When things go wrong with law overseas


It Was All Going So Well

You’ve saved and dreamed of this trip; you’ve forgone little luxuries and missed luncheons out to pay for this adventure you’ve always wanted.  You’ve researched all the tourist spots to visit, booked the hotel; you’re pretty sure you’ve thought of everything. You arrived at the airport queue early to check in, had your luggage all sorted to save time at the counter, and endured the long flight to your destination. And now that you’re finally here….disaster strikes. You carried something illegal into country, broke a local law or did something while intoxicated and now you’ve landed in jail.

Before You Leave Home

Before you ever step foot in the airport, while you are still in the planning  stage, perusing the internet for places to visit and theatre shows to attend, look up the laws of the country you are traveling to on holiday.  Many countries have banned items that are forbidden to bring within their borders; look up the government website of your destination and be aware of what is legal to bring, and what is not. It is a wise precaution to inquire on whether your prescription medication is allowed; what is permissible and widely used in your country may mean jail or prison time in another.

Ensure that your prescription or over-the-counter medicines are not considered illegal drugs in the countries you are visiting by contacting the embassy of the countries you are visiting before you depart.  General information on restrictions on prescription or over-the-counter medicines is often also available in the country travel advisories.” advises the Australian government on its Smart Traveller Guide.

Also advised is to carry a letter from your doctor, detailing what the medication is, who it is for (if it is for a child, make sure that is noted) and what the dosage is. It is far better to be over-prepared than to find oneself in an interrogation and not having the answers at hand.

Embassies should also be able to provide you with a list of contraband not allowed in your destination of choice; make it one of your first priorities in choosing your holiday local to get a hold of the embassy there. A list of Embassies may be found through your state department’s website.

While at the airport, do not under any circumstances, carry a bag for a stranger, nor leave your bags unattended. It is a wise precaution to also lock and secure your luggage so no one can tamper with the contents.

Another website that is advisable to check prior to planning your trip or embarking upon your journey is the Travel Advisory of the US State Department; while a few warnings may be particular to American tourists, the site offers a free resource for travels to check and verify safety conditions of numerous countries. You can easily find it by searching for “US State Department” through your favorite search engine.

Have a List of Emergency Contacts

Once you’ve arrived at your tropical destination, or perhaps to a high alpine retreat, make sure you keep your documents with you at all times. Carry your identification, visas as well as your passport, but have them separated on your person, so that if one should get stolen or lost, you will still have the other.  In case your passport should be stolen, travel with extra passport photos to expedite the process of getting a new one.

Have the address and phone number of your country’s local embassy with you; if you run afoul of the law, they will be the first ones you want to reach out for aid. Also keep phone numbers for your legal representative if you should have one, and of any emergency contacts such as next of kin.

Know the Local Customs and Laws

Part of heading to an exotic local is to experience new people, new cultures and new traditions; but sometimes those can get the unwary traveler into peril.  Make sure you are aware of the cultural norms for your destination; including if religious tradition plays an important role in society.  While in many cases, most countries will not prosecute a tourist for committing apostasy or blasphemy of the nation’s primary religion, there is still a danger in doing so. Knowing the religious customs and respecting them while in country will aid you in avoiding trouble.

Make sure you’ve read at least a summary of local laws before ever landing in country; while many laws are common sense, there may be cultural laws that you would not have thought of on your own. Doing research beforehand can save you the trouble, heart break and financial costs of dealing with a foreign judicial system.

Be Aware and Alert

Holidays are for fun and relaxing and everyone wants to have a good time. But don’t drink so much that you become unaware of where you are or what you may be doing, and do not partake of the local drug offerings.  If you are impaired, you have a greater chance of breaking the law, or being made into a victim of robbery or sexual assault.  When out traveling, avoid areas that look dangerous, and if possible, stay with a guide or in a tourist area; the security will be much greater.

How Much Help Can the Embassy Offer?

Contrary to what some movies or television shows might portray, should you run into problems with local law enforcement, the Embassy or Consular officer will not be able to override local legal jurisdiction.   The embassy does not conduct their own investigations and cannot prove your innocence or guilt to the local courts, nor can they assure you better treatment in jail than normal standards within that country.

According to the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website the Embassy or consulate officer“can offer the following aid:

  • visit you while you’re detained
  • assist you in getting information about visitor procedures or accessing money or telephones
  • provide you with a list of local English-speaking lawyers
  • if authorised, arrange for your family or friends to be contacted and informed of your welfare
  • provide information to your family and friends to enable them to send you money
  • discuss justified and serious complaints about ill-treatment or discrimination with the local authorities
  • raise medical or dental issues with local authorities, should you fail in your attempts to have these issues addressed
  • monitor your court trials
  • where applicable, provide you with information on the International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.”

Good planning and being alert are two ingredients to having a great holiday. Following just these few simple steps will greatly reduce your chances of having a negative experience with local law enforcement, or needing the help of your consulate.  Everyone wants to come back with a great story of fun and adventure; being locked up in jail shouldn’t be part of your travel exploits.

Date posted: 8th August, 2015

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