Travel Risk Strategies: Advice to Follow if Arrested Abroad

Interacting with security and law enforcement officials in another country can be a nerve-racking experience, and in the event a visitor is accused of committing a crime, the situation can be even more stressful. It can also be difficult for organizations to plan and prepare for the possibility of having a traveler detained or arrested in another country because these situations often require a unique approach depending on a number of variables. Nevertheless, it is imperative that organizations with international travelers consider the prospect of international arrests as they develop and revise their emergency management strategies.

To start, it is important to understand that most international arrests need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, and the appropriate response is largely dependent on the destination country and the specific charges and circumstances. For example, there are significant differences between a U.S. citizen arrested in Canada as compared to a country like Iran. Depending on the traveler’s citizenship, their reason for being in the country, and the geopolitical relationship between their home country and the country they are visiting, an individual may be treated differently by the host country’s law enforcement officials.

Keeping in mind that each instance of an international arrest often requires a customized response, there is still some basic information organizations can share with their constituents to help them prepare for the unlikely event they are arrested or detained in a foreign country.

First and foremost, it’s important that travelers remain cognizant of the fact that they are guest in another country and, as such, are obligated to follow the laws and rules in that country. The most effective step a traveler can take to prevent an arrest in a foreign country is to abide by the laws in their destination. Before heading abroad, each traveler should research and understand how the laws in their host country differ from laws in their home country. However, even if a traveler has the best intentions and plans to abide by all of the host country’s rules, there are still instances where individuals may find themselves in trouble with the authorities. If that becomes the case, here’s some basic advice organizations can pass along to their travelers:

  • If arrested or detained in a foreign country, travelers should fully cooperate with the local authorities. They should not fight or attempt to resist arrest in any way as this will only make matters worse.
  • Although cooperation with authorities is important, if arrested or detained, the individual should NEVER admit guilt or sign anything that is presented to them before consulting with the State Department and/or personal legal counsel (not legal counsel provided by the arresting entity). Admitting guilt (even if it is blatantly obvious the individual committed the crime) can severely limit the options available to support the detained individual.
  • Travelers should respectfully ask the local authorities to speak to a U.S. embassy representative. If this request is not fulfilled in due course, they should remain patient and continue to respectfully inquire for consular assistance. One of the top priorities of the U.S. Department of State is to provide assistance to citizens arrested abroad. They will be able to provide the arrested or detained individual with numerous resources, including helping to connect the individual with a local English-speaking legal service, notifying schools/family members/employers of the situation, and helping to ensure the traveler is receiving appropriate care while incarcerated.
  • Travelers should always register with the State Department’s STEP Program or their corresponding government’s embassy program where available. Once the embassy is notified of an arrest, this will help to streamline the identification process and expedite connecting them to the appropriate local resources. The U.S. State Department representative will ask the arrested party to sign an information release in order to help assist with the arrest which allows them to exchange information with friends, family or organizations for assistance.

In sum, advice for travelers comes down to a few simple steps: cooperate, don’t admit guilt, kindly and repeatedly ask to speak with a U.S. Embassy representative.

Although these steps can help ensure travelers don’t get themselves in more trouble, the reality is that handling an international arrest can be a complex and costly undertaking for an organization. Therefore, it’s important that administrators and risk professionals consider international arrests in the context of their organization’s risk management policies and procedures. Organizations that plan to operate extensively in a foreign country will want to have a thorough understanding of the local laws and regulations and should also form a relationship with the U.S. embassy in the country.

Furthermore, any organization that is planning to send travelers to a country or region where rules vary significantly from their home countries should consider if the nature of their work could make travelers a target of local authorities. Travelers should be educated on these risks and trained on what to do if confronted by local law enforcement officials. At a minimum, a country report that details the local laws, however; as an added precaution, it may also be prudent to preemptively identify international legal services that could assist if needed.

These nuances may be hard to discern and evaluate, and if your organization has specific concerns around sending travelers to a certain country or region, it is a good opportunity to engage with your travel risk management provider to help better understand the geopolitical dynamics and the modus operandi of local law enforcement officials.

Want to learn more? Contact us today for more information on travel security and holistic risk management.