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Getting Arrested in a Foreign Country: What You Should Know

January 10, 2014

Man in handcuffs

Although no one anticipates being arrested while traveling, it’s important to know what to expect and what steps to take if you should find yourself facing legal charges abroad.  Every country varies in terms of their laws and legal procedures, as well as how foreigners are handled by the authorities.  Be prepared for the unexpected by knowing a little about the country you plan to visit and what your rights are before you go.

Research the Nation You Plan to Visit

Whenever you are traveling to a foreign country, it’s a good idea to do a little research to know how laws differ in that country.  While it’s not possible to know every law in a foreign country, checking up on basic laws such as those governing travel, controlled substances including alcohol, and general public behaviour can be helpful in avoiding arrest for breaking a simple law.  A travel book focused on the nation you plan to visit will often contain warnings and information regarding the laws visitors should be aware of before arriving.  Remember that when you are in a foreign country you are subject to all of the laws of that nation, and you may find that your rights differ from those at home.  Ignorance of the law in a foreign country does not excuse a criminal act.

If You Are Arrested

If you find yourself facing arrest in a foreign country, it’s important to follow a few basic steps in order to have the best chance of dealing with the arrest and charges smoothly.

Cooperate Fully

Whether or not you believe you are guilty of the crime of which you’ve been accused, it’s important that you cooperate with foreign authorities if you are arrested.  Resisting can result in greater charges against you and make it more difficult for you to obtain assistance.  The severity of the charges will likely have some impact on how your arrest is handled as well as on what freedoms you may be allowed.  Even as a foreigner, you are subject to the procedures laid out by foreign law.  Treat foreign authorities with the same respect that you would treat authorities at home, and follow the legal procedures as outlined for you.

Contact the Embassy or Consulate

When you have been arrested, you should contact the Canadian Embassy or Consulate as soon as possible.  While the Embassy can not assist you in fighting the charges, they can help you to contact a lawyer, notify friends and family at home, and ensure that you are being treated humanely and are aware of what your rights are while being detained or facing trial.   They may also be able to help you with a translator if you do not speak the language of the country in which you are arrested.  Embassy representatives can not intervene with the legal procedures of a foreign country, but will provide assistance as much as possible.  They can arrange for money and necessary items provided by family and friends to be transferred to you

Hire a Lawyer

Unless the charges are simple and you feel confident in the outcome or are willing to accept the sentence, you should hire a lawyer to help you through the trial process.  This is especially important in countries where the laws differ significantly from the Canadian legal code, and where you will need more help in understanding them.  The more serious the charges against you, the more important it is to find and hire the right legal help.  You should seek a lawyer who is familiar with the nation’s law and has experience in situations like yours; a Canadian lawyer may not be able to assist you even if you have used that attorney’s assistance at home in the past.

Trial and Sentencing

The trial procedures will vary greatly from country to country.  Most nations outside Canada and the US will not have a trial by jury, but may simply use a judge.  The steps in your trial can also vary greatly depending on where you have been arrested.  Your legal counsel and embassy representative can help you to understand how your trial will proceed.  If you are found guilty, you will be required to face the consequences as laid out in the law.  This can include jail time, fines, and in some nations even corporal punishment.  Your lawyer can outline for you the possible sentences for the crime in question and what you are likely to face.

Long Term Consequences

Once you have served your sentence you will be permitted to leave in accordance with the laws of the country.  This means you can return home.  In some cases, certain crimes on your record may bar you from re-entering the country in question, or may affect future travel plans.  The long-term results of arrest in a foreign country depend greatly on which country you are in and the type of crime for which you have been arrested. Always watch your back while travelling abroad and make sure to travel safe.