Handling a Legal Crisis Overseas

The U.S. State Department cites there are about 2,000 Americans arrested and detained abroad every year. However, the actual number might be closer to 10,000 due to many unreported cases and other cases in which a bribe or other prompt action brought about a quick release. Unfortunately, travelers regularly find themselves unintentionally in legal trouble. Their violations are often culturally based, where the same activity might be perfectly legal in their home countries.

For example, in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, it is custom to take an individual into custody after a minor automobile accident. Possession or use of alcohol and drugs is a very serious offense in most Muslim countries. Additionally, some countries, such as Turkey, bring potential risk of violating antiquity laws.

If involved in a given situation, it might be natural to contact your attorney at home for assistance. However, a U.S. attorney might not have the appropriate resources or skill set to handle a criminal case or accidental injury. Although some people believe they can rely on their home country’s embassy, the best it might do is point you to a list of lawyers – some of questionable ability, and others, who might not speak your language.

Make That Phone Call Count
These types of situations can be resolved by planning for the worst and knowing whom to contact when ensnared in a legal crisis overseas. Most travel insurance and travel assistance programs provide a 24/7/365 legal (and medical) hot line. Without such assistance, you can hit dead ends and too easily lose money to unscrupulous lawyers who prey on foreigners. If you’re granted one phone call at the time of a legal incident, it is vital to make that call count and reach effective help immediately.

When an offense is more serious and cannot be resolved via conference call, the legal service provider should be able to draw upon a worldwide network of trustworthy and credible lawyers. A local lawyer who speaks your language and handles such matters on a regular basis could be the means to your success in regaining your freedom and livelihood.

Be Familiar with Your Plan
Before departing for your trip, you should be fully informed about the available assistance services of any plan you purchase, how to benefit from them, and the number to call in the event of an emergency. Be sure to carry a copy of the plan with you, and keep the emergency contact number with you at all times.

Be Protected
Criminal and civil laws vary from country to country, state to state, and province to province. Prior to your departure, the assistance company can provide crucial information specific to the country in which you will be traveling, such as unfamiliar practices, the current political environment, and other risks that could potentially lead to legal problems. This knowledge helps you stay alert and less likely to need legal services.


Dick Atkins
Member of USTIA through International Recoveries, LLC, has provided emergency legal services for thousands of travelers in foreign countries since 1980, mostly clients of assistance and travel insurance companies. He is a noted author and lecturer on foreign civil and criminal legal problems, appears on numerous network television shows and is recommended by various travel magazines and guides. "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE MAGAZINE" calls him "The Houdini of fast escapes from international prisons."