What To Do If You’re Locked Up Abroad

What To Do If You’re Locked Up Abroad
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With the pandemic hitting across the globe, many travellers have gotten stuck while living or travelling abroad. And with worldwide protests erupting, those stuck people may feel called to participate in local demonstrations—which could possibly lead them to be arrested. Here’s what to do if you find yourself behind bars in a foreign country.

What can get you in trouble with the law abroad

It’s important to have a general idea of the types of conduct or speech that can land you locked up overseas. Going to jail seems like there must be a serious infraction that had to have taken place. However, you can land in jail for just about anything, if you’re not careful. Some examples:

  • Chewing gum (Singapore)

  • Speaking out against a foreign government/royal family

  • Dressing immodestly at holy sites or in modest-dressing countries

  • Driving in flip flops (Spain)

Familiarise yourself with local laws

Before you travel, it’s important to have a keen understanding of what is and is not allowed in the country to which you are travelling.

On a trip to Egypt, a cab driver told me that people are not allowed to speak against the government or government officials—people have been jailed for a very long time, as a result. Similarly, in China, free speech is not as free as it is in Western countries. It is better to understand the local rules of engagement as well as the justice system processes of the country you’re in before you run afoul of them. In some countries, you may have to wait for days, weeks or months before your case can be resolved.

Whom to call

If you’re able to do so, contact your local embassy or consulate located in the country you’re currently in. This is simply to notify them that you are a local citizen who’s in need of help. Unfortunately, most embassies cannot:

  • Assist in declaring your innocence

  • Give you any legal advice

  • Bail you out of jail

  • Help pay your legal fees

  • Provide you with legal advice

Typically, the embassy or consulate will provide you with a list of local lawyers you’ll have to contact on your own. These lawyers will typically speak English, if you don’t speak the native language. Give them as much information as possible about your present circumstances so that they can do the legwork while you are locked up.

Here’s are other ways they can help:

  • Contact family/loved ones with your written permission.

  • Give a general idea of the legal process in that country.

  • Make attempts to confirm jail officials provide you with adequate medical care, if needed.

  • Ensure you are able to engage with proper religious clergy of your choosing.

Engaging in protests abroad

Nearly 10 million Americans have expatriated to live in countries outside of the United States and may feel the need to participate in protests. As mentioned, countries outside of the US may not have the same rules or laws and protesting may be something that lands you locked up abroad.

  • Register for the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to travelling to help the US Embassy contact your loved ones.

  • Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times.

  • Have a local lawyer’s contact information on hand.


Infractions that will get you sent back to your country

In extreme circumstances, if you commit a crime abroad, you can be sent back to your country to be prosecuted. This process is known as extraterritorial jurisdiction.

According to Miedel & Mysliwiec LLP, these crimes may include:

  • Conspiring to commit a crime in your country

  • Attempting to commit a crime in your country while living abroad

  • Theft of federal property overseas. Counterfeiting money or forging federal documents overseas

  • Killing a foreign national abroad with the intent of facilitating a domestic criminal enterprise

  • Money laundering: taking illegal money and using various channels to obscure where the money originated and its illegality

Be vigilant in knowing when your visa ends, when your passport expires, what the local laws are, what is deemed as criminal or immoral, and always treat countries, the people, and its rules with respect.

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