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Traveling Abroad? Know the Laws
Traveling abroad is a fun, rewarding experience as long as all goes according to plan. This article isn’t about how not to lose your luggage. Lost luggage may be an unpleasant inconvenience, but it is a joyful experience compared to being arrested and tossed in a foreign jail or prison. Keep reading to learn how to avoid breaking of the law in a foreign country.
Every country has unique laws. There are many laws that are generally universal throughout the world. Laws against murder and thievery are two examples. Then there are laws that you may not be familiar with. For example, if you are American, you might be surprised that in Thailand, it is illegal to insult the King. Since insulting the United States President is almost a national pastime, you may not think twice about writing a blog post saying what you really think of Thailand’s king or telling your buddy while you are out for drinks that you are not pleased with the king’s recent decisions. Doing either of those things can land you in a Thai prison. Before you know it, that month-long vacation can turn into a five-year prison term.
Spend a bit of time before you travel researching the laws and customs of the country you are visiting. There are many resources online that you can use. You can also call your country’s consulate in that country and ask about laws that citizens of your country seem to commonly have trouble with.
The punishment for crimes vary widely between countries. Actions that are legal in your country, such as the example about Thailand, can carry harsh penalties in a different country. Additionally, if you commit the same crime in Germany and in the U.S. the punishment would be very different. For example, drug possession of a certain type and amount in the U.S. can result in spending the rest of your life in prison. The same offense in Germany would result in a short time in jail or prison, and the same offense in Singapore can result in the death penalty. It is important to be aware of these differences. If you are a German national who is accustomed to carrying a small amount of marijuana without penalty, you need to know that in the U.S. you can be arrested, convicted, and jailed.
Americans especially seem to think that if they get in legal trouble in a foreign country, the U.S. government will come to their rescue. This is a myth perpetuated primarily by television shows. In actuality, the government in your home country is unlikely to intervene if you are arrested or even sentenced to a long prison sentence in a foreign country.
There are prisoner transfer programs that make it possible for a foreign national to be sent to his home country to serve out his prison sentence. However, not all countries participate, and even if both countries involved do participate, the country in which you were convicted must agree to the transfer. Even between countries that are political allies, these transfers are often denied.
For example, there is a German national currently imprisoned in Florida, U.S. for committing a murder. He and the German Consulate have been requesting that the U.S. transfer him to a prison in Germany under this program. Although both countries participate in the program and are not at odds politically, the transfer is continually refused by the U.S. government.
Knowing the laws of the country you are visiting helps you avoid problems. This is such a simple thing, and will prove very valuable. Enjoy your vacation, and avoid unpleasant encounters with law enforcement.