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Top 10 Travel Emergency Tips

An Arrest Abroad

The Scenario:

If you’ve ever sat through a nerve-racking episode of Locked Up Abroad (on the National Geographic Channel), you’re already frighteningly aware of the potential pitfalls surrounding brushes with the law abroad. Perhaps being unwittingly turned into a drug mule or committing a seemingly minor infraction – like jaywalking or spitting on the ground in Singapore – has landed you behind bars.

The Preparation:

• Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to legal issues abroad, so research local laws before leaving home. The U.S. Department of State lists penalties and regulations by country.

Keep a keen eye on your belongings. According to the State Department, several hundred Americans are arrested each year for drug trafficking – some of whom were offered free vacations in exchange for carrying a small package across the border. If you’re caught, however, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether or not you're savvy to the package's illegal contents.

• Use caution in situations where violence or mobs are likely to break out, such as political protests or even celebratory riots after major sports wins. In such cases, it’s easy for an innocent bystander to get caught in the crossfire or inadvertently detained.

The Solution:

Contact the local U.S. embassy or consulate immediately. Consuls can assist in a law-related travel emergency by providing a list of attorneys, contacting your family, and ensuring that jail conditions and your personal health are in acceptable condition. Note that the Privacy Act prohibits the consulate from sharing information about incarcerated citizens, even with close family members – so you’ll have to explicitly give consent if you want that information revealed to loved ones or even congressional representatives working on your behalf.

Molly Fergus

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