Spring vacation is here, making it a popular time for taking trips.
In the second part of writer David Kelly’s About.com travel advice series, he interviews Lawyers.com Editor-in-Chief Larry Bodine on how to handle legal trouble, while in a foreign country. The article, which originally appeared in About.com, is republished below.
“More Legal Tips for Business Travelers”
By David Kelly, About.com Guide
I’ve traveled overseas frequently, but luckily, I’ve never had any legal problems. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good to be prepared. Business travelers heading to any other country should definitely be aware that things are not same (at least legally) in other countries as they might be in a traveler’s home country. If you end up in legal trouble in foreign country, it can be a much more serious situation.
To help business travelers gain an understanding of the implications of legal troubles while traveling, About.com Business Travel Guide David A. Kelly interviewed Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief of Lawyers.com, a legal solutions website that provides free resources on legal issues for individuals and small businesses. While you think of them for choosing or evaluating a lawyer or investigating legal topics, the site also has information relevant to business travelers.
In part one of the this two-part series on business travel legal issue, I talked with Mr. Bodine about some of the basic legal issues that business travelers need to be aware of. In this article, we explore what the implications are for legal trouble in other countries.
What should you know if you break a law in another country?
Be aware that ordinary activities like littering, drinking in the street, or forgetting to pay for public transit, are crimes in other countries.
Let’s use Mexico as an example, because 3 million Americans will visit South of the Rio Grande every year. Believe it or not, marijuana is illegal in Mexico and so is carrying a pocket knife. If you are arrested, you are guilty until proven innocent. You will spend 48 hours in a Mexican jail before you get to make a statement in court. If you are charged, you can be held without bail for a year before your trial. Prison conditions are terrifying and you will have to pay for food and protection from other inmates, and rent your cell.
Immediately call the U.S. embassy or consultant when you are arrested in a foreign country. They can provide information about the local legal system and furnish a list of local attorneys. U.S. Consular officials cannot arrange for your release, but they can notify your friends and family back home.
Before you go to a foreign country, investigate local laws and customs with a travel agent and in guidebooks.
What should travelers do if they are a victim of a crime while abroad?
First, avoid becoming a crime victim. Go online and check the State Department’s list of countries that are too dangerous to travel in. You’ll find the usual suspects – North Korea, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia – but may be surprised to find that Mexico (added in November 2012), the Philippines, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Honduras and El Salvador are on the danger list. There are detailed profiles of countries online, and even specific cities and highways to avoid.
Use your head: don’t wear flashy jewelry or display a roll of cash in public. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t venture out by yourself at night outside of tourist areas.
If you are a crime victim, find witnesses, get their contact information and take pictures with your cell phone camera. Contact the local police and the U.S. embassy or consulate. Do not rely on the hotel or restaurant to make the report, because they have a financial interest not to report crime. The State Department can help you understand the local criminal justice system and help you find a local lawyer, but ultimately the local authorities are responsible for investigating the crime. “Under the best of circumstances, prosecution is very difficult, a fact some assailants appear to exploit knowingly,” warns the State Department online.
What about alcohol, local food, and other products that travelers may want to bring home as a souvenir? What items are illegal to cross country lines?
There is a duty-free exemption of $800, including one liter of an alcoholic beverage, for U.S. citizens, which allows you to bring plenty of souvenirs, clothes, bakery, cheese and chocolate. Be sure to keep your receipts. Before you leave home, bring receipts showing that you own any camera or expensive gear you are taking along, in case there is a question when you are returning to the U.S. Under no circumstances should you try to bring firearms, weapons, and ammunition or illegal drugs into the U.S. – including narcotic medications. No fruit, meat, dairy or poultry is allowed. Further you can’t bring fur, feathers or leather from an endangered animal. You can import a dog or cat you but you have to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. There are heavy restrictions on importing a parrot because of the illegal trade in birds.
What should business travelers know about encountering potential legal problems in other countries/while traveling?
Before you go, sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that the State Department can assist you in an emergency. Go to travel.state.gov and describe your travel plans so that the State Department can contact you if there is a family emergency in the U.S. or if there is a crisis where you are traveling. The information will be kept private. Leave copies of your itinerary and a copy of your passport data page with friends, family and co-workers. Consumers should know the rules of international travel and check out the Lawyers.com blog for safety tips.
To read this article as published in About.com, click here.