Protecting Yourself Legally While Abroad
If she's innocent, What did she do wrong?
As an expat, it is likely that you are not altogether familiar with the laws and legal system you are living within. Many people aren't entirely familiar with the legal system they are born into. However, this is a vital aspect of leading a happy and safe expat life. From the bizarre investigation and trial of the American Knox in Italy, to much more mundane issues of visas, purchase of property, and the use and transport of drugs, expats and travelers should understand their rights and responsibilities wherever they go.
Basic Steps to Protect Yourself
Research Your Host Country
To follow the laws, you need to know them. Research your host country's laws and regulations. Some countries and cities have complete resources for people moving to the area, and even divisions to help recent immigrants. These resources are often built into the registration process of arriving in a new country.
Also check out the protections offered by your country of citizenship. For example, Americans can refer to US Department of State background notes on countries of the world. In general, if you plan to stay more than two weeks in one place, or if you are in an area experiencing civil unrest or a natural disaster, or if you are planning travel to a remote area, it is advisable to register at the Consular Section of the nearest embassy or consulate. Also watch for travel warnings and advisories and proceed with caution when forewarned of possibly dangerous situations.
Aside from official resources, other expats are also an excellent resource, especially for figuring out norms that are not exactly written rules. EasyExpat's forums and networks are great tools for finding expats and locals in your area. You should also research blogs in your area to follow other's experiences.
Follow the Law
This might sound obvious, but when abroad it is more important than ever to follow the local laws. It's your responsibility to know your country of residence's local laws.
Keep in mind:
- If something is illegal in your country of origin, it probably will be illegal in your country of residence.
- Don't think that local laws and authorities do not have jurisdiction over you- they do.
- Minor infractions in your country, may carry severe penalties in other countries
Alcohol & Drug Use Abroad
Alcohol & drug use are common areas of issue for foreigners that have issue with the law. In some parts of the world, drinking alcohol or the use of drugs is highly restricted or illegal. In other parts, enforcement is low or nonexistent. If you partake in alcohol or drugs when abroad, it is your responsibility to understand the laws concerning purchasing, use, distribution, and sale.
Avoiding partaking in illegal drugs is strongly recommended. Every year, thousands of foreigners are jailed - sometimes for life - for drug possession. In some places, it may be the case that police abroad specifically target foreigners. There is little that can be done if you have broken the law.
If you do decide to consume, even within the legal limits, remember that being inebriated in an unfamiliar country could lead to dangerous situations. If you imbibe, do so responsibly.
Possession of Firearms or Antiques
Firearms, even those legally registered within your home country, cannot be brought into a country unless a permit is first obtained from the embassy or a consulate of that country. Firearms must also be registered with foreign authorities on arrival. Failure to do so can result in arrest and serious punishment.
Purchasing antiques in foreign countries can also be a sensitive issue. Make sure to document reproductions, and secure the necessary export permits for authentic pieces.
As an expat, you cannot live everyday fearing your surroundings, but there are basic precautions everyone should take into account.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. If areas seem unsafe, avoid them.
- Don't attract unnecessary attention to yourself while in public. In high risk areas, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, electronic equipment, or excess amounts of cash.
- Use caution with alcohol and drugs; they impair your thinking and judgment. If you drink alcohol, be sure that you are with people you trust.
- If you travel independently, notify someone of your destination.
- Keep identification available, such as a passport. Also keep copies of important documents in a safe place.
- Be polite and respect other people's opinions, even if you disagree. Remember that people in your new country may have different values.
In Case of Trouble
If you do get in trouble with the law, it is very important to know how to contact your Consulate. You should register with the closest office upon arriving in a foreign country and they should be updated with your contact details every time you move. In return, you should keep their contact information with you at all times.
If you are arrested, it is mandated under international treaties and customary international law that you have the right to talk to your consul. Consular officers cannot serve as attorneys, give legal advice, or get you out of jail. But the consulate can provide a list of local attorneys, advise you of your rights, ensure that you are held under humane conditions and treated fairly, notify family or friends and deliver request for money or aid. The consulate can help you choose a local attorney to ensure you are receiving all of your rights under the law of your host country.
To find your nearest consulate, consult EasyExpat's City guides and the section on "Consulates".
International Legal Resources
- Global Legal Information Network
- Help for American Victims of Crime Overseas
- Legal Help Abroad for Citizens of the UK
- Guide to Legal Resources in Australia
- A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad
- EU Legal Aid
- United Nations: Office of Legal Affairs
- World Legal Information Institute