How To Avoid Getting Arrested Overseas

How To Avoid Getting Arrested Overseas

Earlier this week, we looked at cultural mistakes that Australians often make when travelling overseas. Most of them only result in embarrassment, but if you go right off the rails you might just find yourself in a foreign prison cell. The chances are slight, but the problem is easy to avoid.

Picture by Chris Streeter

First and foremost: the odds of your being arrested as an Australian travelling overseas are, frankly, slight. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in the 12 months to June 2011 1069 Australians were arrested while overseas. Given that there were 7.6 million departures by Australians over that period, the odds of ending up in prison are very slight indeed.

It’s also worth noting that just 311 of the people arrested actively sought consular assistance (which suggests that they dealt with the issue themselves, which is sensible if you’ve done something minor like getting drunk). Indeed, the total number of “cases involving Australians in difficulty” reported by consulates over that period was just 24,186. That makes it very unlikely that you’ll have an issue. That said, you don’t want to be one of those 1069 people.

The most important point: know the local laws and cultures and respect them. As we noted in that earlier post, your guide for behaviour should be the way other locals behave — not the sometimes over-the-top behaviour of other tourists.

You also shouldn’t second-guess what the relevant laws are, or rely on hearsay. In that context, a little research goes a long way. The DFAT Smart Traveller web site includes not just warnings about travel safety, but also outlines of laws in major destinations, including simple details such as whether you need to carry identification with you at all times.

Take note of the relevant regulations in your destination and you should be able to dodge any problems. Enjoy your trip! And if you’ve got your own advice to share on avoiding trouble overseas, we’d love to hear it in the comments.

(You can also check me out discussing this issue on Ten’s Breakfast program here.)


  • That’s some good advice, however how about in situations like on that’ banged up abroad’ show?
    Sure, you’re always almost certainly f*cked if you deliberately start to smuggle drugs for unknown people of that particular country, but how about the dad and his son who were just taking money out of an ATM, and they got accused of tampering with the ATM by some savvy local who thought he could get a few bucks from the corrupt police force, and they both got sent to prison for 7 years?

    • Well, that’s really more in the “What to do when you get arrested” category than the “How to avoid getting arrested”. Unless you are suggesting some tips on bribing local corrupt law enforcement.

  • try to avoid taking photos of sensitive places. be careful of other people’s religions and governments.
    A friend and I walked around the mountain in Seoul. tried a quicker way back going over the top. a sign we could not read looked awesome so we turned back. next a police car arrived who took us well on way back to our hotel…. obviously we were in a sensitive place…. So easy to go wrong

  • ‘something minor like getting drunk’

    ha ha ha

    not if you’re in Saudi… you forefeit your life, you actually have to sign a paper that says so!

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