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Department of State Publication 9980
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Revised August 1992


Things You Should Know Before You Go Abroad


During 1991, 3,050 Americans were arrested in 105 foreign countries.  Of 
these, 1,271 ended up in jails abroad because they assumed they couldn't 
get arrested for drug possession.  From Asia to Africa, Europe to South 
America, Americans are finding out the hard way that drug possession or 
trafficking equals jail in foreign countries.

There is very little that anyone can do to help you if you are caught with 

It is your responsibility to know what the drug laws are in a foreign country 
before you go, because "I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of 

In 1991, there was a 55 percent increase in the number of women arrested 
abroad.  The rise is a result of women who serve as drug couriers or 
"mules" in the belief they can make quick money and have a vacation 
without getting caught.  Instead of a vacation, they get a permanent 
residence in an overseas jail.

Of all Americans arrested abroad on drug charges in 1991, marijuana was 
involved in 77% of the cases.  Many of these possessed one ounce or less 
of the substance.  The risk of being put in jail for just one marijuana 
cigarette is not worth it.

Once you're arrested, the American consular officer CANNOT get you out!

You  may say "it couldn't happen to me" but the fact is that it could happen 
to you if you find yourself saying any of the following:

..."My family has enough money and influence to get me out of trouble."
..."If I only buy or carry a small amount, it won't be a problem."
..."As long as I'm an American citizen, no foreign government will put ME 
in THEIR jail."

The Citizens Emergency Center of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, 
Department of State, provides emergency services pertaining to the 
protection of Americans arrested or detained abroad, the search for U.S. 
citizens overseas, and the transmission of emergency messages to those 
citizens or their next of kin in the United States.  Assistance at the Citizens 
Emergency Center is available Monday through Friday, 8:15 am to 10:00 
pm at (202) 647-5525.  For an emergency after hours or on weekends and 
holidays, ask for the Citizens Emergency Center duty officer at (202) 647-

If you are arrested on a drug charge it is important that you know what 
CAN and CANNOT be done.

The U.S. Consular Officer CAN

--  visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest

--  give you a list of local attorneys (the U.S. Government cannot assume 
responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of these individuals 

--  notify your family and/or friends and relay requests for money or other 
aid--but only with your authorization

--  intercede with local authorities to make sure that your rights under local 
law are fully observed and that you are treated humanely, according to 
internationally accepted standards

--  protest mistreatment or abuse to the appropriate authorities

The U.S. Consular Officer CANNOT

--  demand your immediate release or get you out of jail or the country!

--  represent you at trial or give legal counsel

--  pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds

If you are caught buying, selling, carrying or using any type of drug -- from 
hashish to heroin, marijuana to mescaline, cocaine to quaaludes --

--  Interrogation and Delays Before Trial including mistreatment and solitary 
confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions

--  Lengthy Trials conducted in a foreign language, with delays and 

--  Two Years to Life in Prison some places include hard labor and heavy 
fines, if found guilty

--  The Death Penalty in a growing number of countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, 
Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand)

Although drug laws may vary in each country you visit, it is important to 
realize, before you make the mistake of getting involved with drugs, that 
foreign countries do not react lightly to drug offenders.  Anyone who is 
caught with even a very small quantity for personal use may be tried and 
receive the same sentence as the large scale trafficker.

--  A number of countries, including Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and 
the Dominican   Republic, have enacted more stringent drug laws which 
impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing 
even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use

--  Once you leave the United States, you are not covered by U.S. laws and 
constitutional rights

--  Bail is not granted in many countries when drugs are involved

--  The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to prove his/her 

--  In some countries, evidence obtained illegally by local authorities may be 
admissible in court

--  Few countries offer drug offenders jury trials or even require the 
prisoner's presence at his/her trial

--  Many countries have mandatory prison sentences of seven years or more 
without parole for drug violations

--  If someone offers you a free trip and some quick and easy money just for 
bringing back a suitcase....SAY NO!

--  Don't carry a package for anyone, no matter how small it might seem

--  The police will be waiting for you at the airport

--  If it's in your suitcase, you will be caught

--  You will go to jail for years and years and may even lose your family

--  Don't make a jail sentence part of your trip abroad

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