Every year, Americans take 60 million trips abroad (according to the US State Department). And every year, 6,000 Americans are arrested by foreign authorities 3,000 of those end up being incarcerated. The odds are slim that you’ll be arrested while traveling overseas – unless you’re going with the intention to commit a crime, and then your odds may not be so hot. But, should you have the misfortune of getting arrested, don’t forget that you have a right to consular notification and representation.
The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), allows for individual arrested in a foreign country to receive aid from his or her consulate. Under its terms, not only must the consulate be informed of a foreign national’s detention “without delay,” but the consulate has the right to visit with and arrange for legal representation of the detainee. That is, of course, unless the detaining country ignores the VCCR.
Before traveling overseas, you should research the country on the State Department website where you’ll find Consular Information Sheets containing details on entry requirements, crime and security conditions, areas of instability and additional information pertaining to travel in a specific country. These reports are issued by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Overseas Citizens Services, which is responsible for the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens while visiting or living abroad.
It is highly suggested that you participate in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service to U.S. citizens traveling, living or studying in a foreign country. Once travelers enter their trip information, the government can communicate with them in case of emergency. It also allows U.S. citizens to have access to crucial information such as how to contact the nearest consulate or embassy.
We’ve all seen NatGeo’s Locked Up Abroad (if you haven’t, it’s a good show and will make you say “what were they thinking”) and no one wants to end up in a horrible situation like that. Most travelers will never have an encounter like those featured on Locked Up Abroad, but even getting arrested for something like a traffic violation can be scary. Make sure you know your rights and how to obtain them if you’re abroad.