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If a traveller - for whatever reason, is arrested on charges (valid or otherwise), what steps should he/she take to ensure their safety, local and home legal aid and security? How can one make sure your family and country knows about the situation? What if you don't understand the language, or what the charges are?

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It heavily depends on the country you got arrested. –  RoflcoptrException Oct 5 '11 at 11:20
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How so? I would assume there are still steps you will try to achieve to secure oneself. Sure, some countries may not permit all of these steps, but you would still try... –  Mark Mayo Oct 5 '11 at 11:21
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@xpda: Come on, that's like telling somebody who is vomiting and asking for a doctor "Well you shouldn't have eaten that kebab" instead of helping them find a dcotor. This site is not for tut-tutting but for helping. –  hippietrail Oct 6 '11 at 7:55
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It would be tut-tutting if Mark was already in jail, but he's not and I added it as advice. You should consider that there's going to be a lot more to it if you're arrested in a foreign country than if you're arrested at home. –  xpda Oct 6 '11 at 14:26
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As well as the useful and non-obvious advice of not getting arrested may I also contribute some other strategies you might not have considered: a) Don't break the law if you intend to go to a foreign country. b) Don't go to a foreign country if you intend to break the law. c) Don't get caught if you choose to ignore my advice in a) and b). –  hippietrail Oct 7 '11 at 8:55
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2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The level of support offered by embassies will vary widely from each foreign embassy / consulate to another. A couple of standard support measures provided though are:

  • Contact family members to pass messages along
  • Provide details on contact information on local lawyers, and interpreters if needed.
  • Depending on whether such a support system is available for your nationality, get you in touch with charities or provide loans for financial aid.

Probably more important than what they do provide is what they don't provide. Embassies do not directly provide legal assistance, immunity, or evacuation just because someone is in trouble with the police. If caught in such a situation, it's necessary to manage expectations on what an embassy can do realistically.

While it isn't always possible to know the local laws of a country, not knowing you did something wrong is rarely ever a valid excuse. Use common sense - and as a rough yardstick don't do anything illegal in your own country - for starters. This is especially problematic if you're travelling in regions police officials are known to be corrupt as they could use legitimate less-known laws or made-up charges to shake you down. Embassies will rarely, if ever, provide assistance in these situations unless something seriously goes wrong.

Another thing that can help you receive assistance quickly is your country's embassy offers any form of registration programme, so that they know your details. Probably not very useful or even necessary for short-term travellers though.

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We already have a question with answers on what your embassy can do for you (admittedly in focuses on US embassies). Other things that would apply for this question might include when you're arrested in a country that has no embassy of your own country. What if they just have a consulate? What if you're from a Commonwealth country and there's a British embassy? –  hippietrail Oct 6 '11 at 7:57
    
what if you DON'T have an embassy in said country? –  Mark Mayo Mar 16 '12 at 1:03
    
In situations where a country does not have an embassy in another country, what usually happens is that a different country's embassy acts as a stand-in. For instance I think this is the case with Iran-US relations. –  Ankur Banerjee Mar 16 '12 at 10:22
    
Just nitpicking but all that is called “consular services” and is provided by consuls and consulates, not necessarily embassies per se. Knowing this terminology might help find relevant information. –  Relaxed Oct 10 '13 at 9:35
    
@MarkMayo It would depend on the specifics. As Ankur Banerjee explained if the two countries officially don't have diplomatic relations, they sometimes set up an “interest section” through a third country's embassy that might be able to provide consular services. Otherwise, an embassy/consulate might be designated to cover several countries and should hopefully be able to assist from a neighboring country. Finally, if you are an EU citizen, you can contact another EU country's diplomats if yours does not maintain representation in that country (France and the UK have extensive networks). –  Relaxed Oct 10 '13 at 9:45
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During the Cold War (and probably continuing to this day), Russian spies were taught to say, "Call the the Soviet Consulate," or "Call the Soviet Embassy," when caught. While undergoing training, they were tortured to induce them to say more than that. If they said "more," they flunked the course, were kicked out of the program (and lost their main chance to travel abroad). Instead, they were supposed to go on and on with the one theme like a broken record.

That's a bit melodramatic, but that's the basic idea. A prisoner of war is not supposed to give out more than his name, rank, and serial number. Under the circumstances, you are a "prisoner," and not of war. Just state your citizenship, particularly if American, Chinese, Russian, or that of any other superpower, and call for the "cavalry" (your embassy or consulate). Try not to say anything else, your name, local address, or ever admit that you were at such and such a place at such and such a time. The one exception is a if a "policeman" stops you, and says, "pay a small fine, and I'll let you go."

Your consulate/embassy can't "spring" you from captivity. It can, however, make sure that you have access to (local) legal representation, and are treated "fairly" in accordance with the laws of the country and the facts of the case. It will also set up a line of communication with your family and friends at home.

The arrest, trial, conviction, and recent release of American Amanda Knox in Italy illustrates the importance of following these rules. She almost got herself "put away" for 26 years, making (admittedly coerced) "confessions."

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Oh and don't forget to watch out for the "attempting to bribe an officer" trap. –  hippietrail Oct 6 '11 at 8:00
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always ask if there's an 'on the spot fine' you can pay ;) –  Mark Mayo Oct 6 '11 at 19:19
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