What to do if you are arrested while traveling or volunteering abroad

What to do if you are arrested while traveling or volunteering abroad

“You can be arrested and not charged. You can be arrested and have no right to counsel.”-
Harry Belafonte.

When traveling or volunteering abroad, your biggest hope is that nothing goes wrong during your experience while in a foreign country, but as fate would have it things can often go wrong, and most likely when you least expect it. It will help you a lot if you are prepared for some likely unfortunate circumstances that you may find yourself in.


Here are some guidelines in case you get arrested.

A traveler/volunteer can get arrested for a number of reasons, ranging in seriousness; one can be arrested for something as simple as a traffic offence, or something more serious like drug possession. Whatever the reason for your arrest, it helps for travelers/volunteers to try and not get arrested for blatantly breaking the law of the country you are in. While you are abroad you are subject to the laws of the country you are in, and therefore you have to obey them to the best of your ability.

There are some instances where as a traveler/volunteer you could be committing a crime and you don’t know you are breaking the law. In such cases you can’t tell the police officers that you didn’t know you are committing a crime, as ignorance of the law is not a defense. For example chewing of gum in Malaysia is a crime and the punishment is a few days in prison or a hefty fine. To avoid this from happening it is advisable to be properly oriented about the rules and regulations of a certain place. If you are not sure of the rules ask for some help from the locals who will guide you.

If you are in a country and you don’t speak the native tongue it will be hard for you to explain yourself. When you commit a crime, the police will arrest you despite of the fact that you are a foreigner and they won’t extend you the courtesy to try and speak to you in a language in which you understand. As most of the police officers won’t be able to communicate with you effectively and hence defending yourself could be an issue. In such extreme cases ask for permission to call one of the local people who is your friend and who would help with the translation.

If arrested, first thing you should do is contact your embassy or high commission office. Officers from your embassy will help get in touch with your emergency contacts, and in some instances help you get a local lawyer who understands and speaks your language. This is one of your rights, so do not be afraid to ask for legal representation.

Always try and be polite and not lose your cool while dealing with the local or arresting officers, especially if you have been arrested for a minor offence, this can help you come to a speedier and simpler resolution and release, also ask if you can be released on bond while the issue is being resolved.

If arrested abroad, ensure that proper documentation is provided for all the belongings that were in your possession when arrested, make sure nothing incriminating has been added to the list of your belongings, also ensure that you thoroughly check your personal effects when released to make sure that nothing is missing.

One more thing to look out for if arrested while traveling/volunteering abroad is to make sure you do not put your signature on anything that you have not thoroughly read, and if possible gotten some legal advice on, you do not need to make things any more worse for yourself.