In Thailand, it’s illegal to throw your used gum on the sidewalk. In Zimbabwe, it’s illegal to make an offensive gesture to a presidential motorcade. In Italy, punching someone is technically considered a felony. The point? Sometimes you can get in trouble for things you hadn’t even considered in your wildest dreams as being illegal. Admittedly, these examples are a little extreme, and it’s unlikely a tourist is going to get arrested for throwing gum on the sidewalk. That said, even the most innocent traveler with the best of intentions might find himself looking out at a new country from behind bars. If you have the unfortunate experience of being arrested in another country make sure to follow these steps in order to resolve the situation as quickly and diplomatically as possible.
Familiarize Yourself with Local Law
While theft and murder are pretty universally acknowledged as acts that will land you behind bars, every country has its own unique legislation. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the laws of the region you’re visiting. Comply with visa regulations, take it easy on the alcohol, be respectful, and–please–don’t try and smuggle anything in or out of other countries. I know you’ve always wanted a pet crocodile, but leave it in the river for others to enjoy.
I know, easier said than done. However, it’s important to remain calm and not exacerbate the situation by losing your head and doing or saying something that could get you in more trouble. Contact your consulate and follow their advice.
Contact Your Consulate Immediately
The U.S. Consulate is dedicated to helping U.S. citizens abroad and your consulate officer should be the first person you contact in this situation. In the event of an arrest, immediately request to have a consulate officer notified. While most countries are required to do this, others will not notify the U.S. consulate unless asked to do so. Under the Vienna Convention, this is an international right so don’t be shy about demanding it.
Request a Phone Call
This may or may not be granted, but always request it. Contact a family member or friend immediately, alert them of your location, your detainment conditions, and ask that they get in contact with government officials as well as make appeals to the media if you feel you’ve been wrongly convicted. Never underestimate the power of international press.
Do Not Sign Anything
Do not admit to anything and do not sign anything. Regardless of any pressure being applied, do not sign or admit to anything until your Consulate Officer arrives. Especially do not sign anything written in a language that you do not understand or do not speak fluently.
Ask for a Translator
Accessing a lawyer and translator are things that your consulate should be able to help you with. If you do not speak the language very well, request a translator immediately and do not try to answer any questions unless you are absolutely clear what is being asked.