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Note: Before you read the "official" stuff below, we've done a lot of int'l travel [and law breaking -- but unintentional of course] so first, here's some advice from us:

* The best way to deal with foreign problems is to smile / laugh a lot. Get pissed and pushy and you're in big trouble... No one likes an asshole... And, even though it certainly should, being an American does not induce instant adoration and genuflecting in most foreign officialdom [unless you're piloting a fully armed F-16]. Acting sheepishly lost, friendly and dumb [but adorably so] works much better;

* U.S. Consular staff are mostly nationals of the country your in and, having U.S. bosses, like Americans even less than most locals. However, they are often unsurpassed butt-kissers if they think you're important; otherwise don't expect too much.

* Most legal hassles are minor and easily dealt with if you stay cool, but if they arise from genuine serious criminal acts you better have lots of money and a few years to waste. The below info is absolutely correct in its view that almost all foreign jails REALLY Suck... even more than U.S. ones [which are not exactly fun] do;

* Remember, cops and bureaucrats are the same everywhere... Like most people, they want the most $ for the least work;

* The "under-developed" world's officials, even minor ones, sometimes have an amazing ability to invent new laws or void existing ones. These magical "judicial" powers are often predicated on the amount of cash they expect you have, or that you can produce -- however, one "gratuity" can also lead to many more. [We've never paid one, but we're naturally expert at acting dumb.];

* Official looking documents -- the more stamps, seals, signatures, etc., the better -- sometimes have magic powers -- IF you're a good BSer & the "opposition" can't read them. A parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence with a bunch of postage stamps pasted all over it has saved our butts more than once. Repeatedly jabbing at John Hancock's signature while chanting "govermento" and "importanto" over and over again, when combined with various incomprehensible babblings, good natured smiles and laughter, and lots of bizarre but non-threatening gestures, seems to lull many foreign officials into a state of non- hassledom. However, DO NOT use this tactic when accosted by anti- establishment "terrorist" type thugs [often indistinguishable from gov't type thugs] as it may produce entirely different results.

Have fun -- Staff

In early 1994, many Americans were shocked to learn that Michael Fay, an 18-year-old American boy convicted of vandalism in Singapore, was sentenced to a harsh punishment of flogging-six strokes on the buttocks with a moistened rattan cane that draws blood and leaves permanent scars on the skin. He was also sentenced to four months in jail and a $2,200 fine. President Bill Clinton protested Fay's extreme punishment and asked the government of Singapore for clemency in his case. His punishment was later reduced to four strokes in a concession to President Clinton.

Although Singapore's criminal laws appear severe to American ideas of human rights, this serves as a reminder that U.S. citizens residing or traveling in a foreign country are subject to its laws and it is their responsibility to learn about its laws and regulations and obey them.

Sometimes innocent actions such as selling personal effects, such as clothing, cameras, or jewelry may be a violation of local regulations. Learn the local laws and stick to them because the penalties you risk may be severe.

Although it is natural for tourists to photograph scenes from their trip abroad, some countries are particularly sensitive about photographs and a general rule would be to 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. You could be detained, your camera and film confiscated, and made to pay a fine.

For information on photography restrictions, check with the country's tourist office or its embassy or consulate in the United States. The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends that, once abroad, you should check with local authorities or at the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.


Americans should not take their basic rights for granted when they travel abroad. For example, in Japan there is no appreciation of the rights guaranteed to American citizens by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments to the Bill of Rights. Among other things, Japanese police can search citizens at will, an arrested suspect can be detained without bail for up to 28 days before a prosecutor must bring him before a judge, and suspects who insist on standing trial do not have a right to a jury.

About 3,000 Americans are arrested abroad each year. Of these, approximately one-third are held on drug charges. Many countries have stiff penalties for drug violations and strictly enforce laws.

Be warned! Americans are subject to foreign, not United States, laws overseas, and you have no U.S. constitutional rights. If arrested, you will find that: Few countries provide a trial by jury; pretrial detention is often in solitary confinement and may involve months of incarceration in prison conditions that lack even minimal comforts - bed, toilet, and wash basin; officials may not speak English and trials are conducted in the language of the foreign country; prison diets are often inadequate and require supplements from relatives and friends; and physical abuse or inhumane treatment is possible.

Drug convictions can result in life imprisonment or the death penalty in some countries. Persons required to take medication containing narcotic drugs should carry a doctor's certificate attesting to the fact and should keep medicines in their original and labeled containers. Commonly used medications such as amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, captagon, and many other substances that are not considered drugs in the United States may be considered drugs elsewhere. To avoid potential problems, the Bureau of Consular Affairs advises that travelers carrying such medicines should consult the embassies of the countries they will visit before leaving the U.S.


Unless you are rich and powerful, there is little that a U.S. consul can, or wants to, do for you if you encounter legal difficulties. What American officials can do is limited by both foreign and U.S. laws. For example, a consular officer cannot get you out of jail or intervene in a foreign country's court system or judicial process to obtain special treatment.

The U.S. Government has neither funds nor authority to pay your legal fees or related expenses. Although U.S. consular officers cannot serve as attorneys or give legal advice, they can help you find legal representation. However, neither the State Department nor U.S. embassies or consulates abroad can assume responsibility for the caliber, competence or professional integrity of the attorneys.

If you are arrested, 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. However, don't expect too much. If you are denied this right, be persistent and try to have someone get in touch for you.

When alerted, U.S. officials will usually eventually 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. Consuls can transfer money, food, and clothing to the prison authorities from your family and 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.

Wise travelers can avoid potential legal complications if they will learn and respect the laws and the cultural and moral values of foreign nations visited. Remember, it makes no difference that you are a citizen of the United States if you are arrested. Ignorance of the criminal justice system and its laws is not an acceptable excuse abroad.
2nd part excerpted from material by the U.S. State Dept.

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