Susan Michelle's Compass
Arrested Abroad? Minimize Your Stay At The Behind Bars Inn
By Susan Michelle
Feb 22, 2009 - 11:59:05 PM

Last week, the U.S. State Department listed the top 20 foreign cities where Americans get arrested.  If you were expecting this list to be filled with incidents of gum-chewing in Singapore and showing skin in Saudi Arabia, think again.  The list is actually full of “civilized” destinations like London (#2), Hong Kong (#4), and Frankfurt, Germany (#14); Mexico holds six slots, with Tijuana coming in at #1.  One-third of these arrests are for anything but unusual law-breaking: just plain-old drunk and disorderly conduct and drug charges.  

Yes, Americans can be arrogant idiots abroad, and sometimes, whether they were actually breaking the law or not, they get arrested.  I hope this never happens to you, but what should you do if it does?  Forget everything you learned in the movies, and follow these instructions:

”¢    PLAY STEVE CARRELL: Most of the characters Carrell plays are really dumb, but really likeable—that should be you.  Don’t try the, “But I’m an American!...Do you know who I am?!"...or, "I demand to be released,” shtick.  Pissed and pushy only pushes the wrong buttons.  Stay calm, friendly, and clueless, and officers just might take pity on you.
”¢    NUDGE FOR A PHONE CALL”¦AND NOT TO THE EMBASSY: If you’re thinking your first call must be to the U.S. Embassy, let me ask you: Have you ever tried calling an embassy?!  It’s red-tape-o-rama, and your one call just might get lost in the shuffle.  You’re entitled to prompt consular notification in most countries, per the 1963 Vienna Convention, but if you only get one shot, use it to call the one person you trust with your life back home; explain quickly, and in detail, what happened, and have them start the ball rolling for you: International Legal Defense Counsel, local lawyers, Embassy—whatever they determine seems best.   
”¢    DO NOTHING: Admit nothing, volunteer nothing, sign nothing, barter nothing.  Suspect everyone of having ulterior motives.  As much as you might want this to be over, just try to buy time and wait for the cavalry to arrive”¦if you truly believe it will after your phone call.  If you don’t, remember”¦
”¢    BRIBES ARE ILLEGAL”¦RIIIIIGHT?: I certainly can’t condone bribery, but, truth is, many “third-world” police officers supplement their incomes with very greasy palms.  You contact the U.S. Consul, the cops then have to do more work, make your charges stick, and make less money for the effort.  In such locales, it’s up to you and your cavalry to decide what path to take; in Western countries, don’t even think about it.
”¢    DON’T COUNT ON AMERICA: You think just because you’re American, you’re excluded from the laws of the country you’re visiting?  Nope!  If arrested, you have to stand trial there just like one of its citizens.  U.S. Consuls can visit you, suggest local attorneys, contact your family, make sure you’re being treated humanely—but they cannot advise or help you legally.

If all goes well, you’ll find yourself checking out early from the Behind Bars Inn”¦and definitely not returning.

About the Author: A former Hollywood producer and now 2nd-generation travel professional, Susan Michelle travels the planet as the “face” of the fashion-forward Compass travel lifestyle brand. For more articles, tips, and hot spots from Susan write her directly at



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