Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

If arrested, American citizens should immediately ask permission to notify the U.S. Embassy. If authorities refuse your request, politely insist to call the Embassy. Local authorities may offer to release you if you leave your passport as a bond. If surrendering your passport is the only means of securing your release expeditiously, be sure to obtain a receipt with the passport number, date of issue and place of issue, plus the name of the person holding the passport and his official title. You should notify the Embassy immediately after your release.

Upon notification of an arrest, Consular staff will make every effort to visit the police station or prison within 48 hours. During the visit, Consular officials will provide information on the American citizen’s rights according to local laws, offer a list of attorneys willing to assist Americans, and (upon request) contact friends or relatives to arrange for the transfer of money, food, and clothing. Consular employees will continue to monitor the case throughout the duration. In addition, Consular staff will visit on a regular basis until the American is released.

The Department of State is committed to ensuring fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas. We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority in accordance with international, domestic, and foreign law.

Avoid getting arrested overseas by…

  • Following the laws and regulations of the country yin which you are visiting or living.
  • Learning about laws there which might be different from the laws in the United States. We provide some information for each country on our Country Specific pages.  For further information on laws within the foreign country before you go, contact that country’s nearest embassy or consulate within the United States.

If you are or know a U.S. citizen who is arrested overseas:

  • Ask the prison authorities to notify the U.S. embassy or consulate
  • You may also wish to reach out to the closest U.S. embassy or consulate to let us know of arrest.  Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas can be found here or by going to our individual Country Specific Information pages.

Consular Assistance to U.S. Prisoners:

When a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, he or she may be initially confused and disoriented.  It can be more difficult because the prisoner is in unfamiliar surroundings and may not know the local language, customs, or legal system.

 We can help…

  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen with their written permission
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Help ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Inform the detainee of local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime that may be available to them
  • Ensure that prison officials are permitting visits with  a member of the clergy of the religion of the detained citizen’s choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens, when permissible under prison regulations

We cannot…

  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail overseas
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court overseas
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees for U.S. citizens overseas