Legal Tips When Traveling Overseas

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 29th, 2010

Obey Foreign Laws

When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. It helps to learn about local laws and regulations and to obey them. Try to avoid areas of unrest and disturbance. Deal only with authorized outlets when exchanging money or buying airline tickets and traveler's checks. Do not deliver a package for anyone, unless you know the person well and you are certain that the package does not contain drugs or other contraband.

Before you think about selling personal effects, such as clothing, cameras, or jewelry, you should learn about the local regulations regarding such sales. You must adhere strictly to local laws because the penalties that you risk are severe.

Some countries are particularly sensitive about photographs. In general, refrain from photographing police and military installations and personnel; industrial structures, including harbor, rail, and airport facilities; border areas; and scenes of civil disorder or other public disturbance. Taking such photographs may result in your detention, in the confiscation of your camera and films, as well as the imposition of fines. For information on photography restrictions, check with the country's tourist office or its embassy or consulate in the United States. Once abroad, you can check with local authorities or with the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Legal Aid

Because you are subject to local laws abroad, there is little that a U.S. consular officer can do for you, if you encounter legal difficulties. As stated previously, a consular officer cannot get you out of jail. What American officials can do is limited by both foreign and U.S. laws.
Although U.S. consular officers cannot serve as attorneys nor give legal advice, they can provide a list of local attorneys and help you find adequate legal representation. The lists of attorneys are carefully compiled from local bar association lists and responses to questionnaires, but neither the Department of State nor U.S. embassies nor consulates abroad can assume responsibility for the caliber, competence, or professional integrity of the attorneys.

If you are arrested, you should ask the authorities to notify a consular officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Under international agreements and practice, you have the right to talk to the U.S. consul. If you are denied this right, try to have someone get in touch with the U.S. consular officer for you.

When alerted, U.S. officials will visit you, advise you of your rights according to local laws, and contact your family and friends, if you wish. They will do whatever they can to protect your legitimate interests and to ensure that you are not discriminated against under local law. U.S. consuls can transfer money, food, and clothing to the prison authorities from your family or friends. They will try to get relief, if you are held under inhumane or unhealthy conditions or treated less favorably than others in the same situation.

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
Joined: April 29th, 2015
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