Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

We are here to help

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

Avoid getting arrested abroad by becoming familiar with local laws and regulations. For example, laws related to knives, pepper spray, firearms and alcohol may be different than in the United States. Visit Travel.State.Gov to learn about some notable local laws.

What we can do to help

We understand that U.S. citizens arrested abroad may be confused and disoriented, especially as they might not know the local legal system or customs. We can:

  • Contact family, friends, and employers if the detained U.S. citizen provides us with written permission (Privacy Act Waiver DS-5505).
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process and a list of English-speaking local attorneys.
  • Help ensure that prison officials are facilitating necessary medical care and visits by appropriate religious clergy if applicable.
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements where appropriate.
  • Give information about local and U.S. resources to assist victims of crime, if applicable.
  • Establish an OCS Trust for friends and relatives to transfer funds if permissible under prison regulations.

There are things that embassies and consulates cannot do to help U.S. citizens if they get into trouble abroad:

  • We cannot get U.S. citizens out of jail.
  • We cannot provide legal advice, represent U.S. citizens in court, or assert guilt or innocence.
  • We cannot serve as official interpreters or translators.
  • We cannot pay legal, medical, or any other fees for U.S. citizens overseas.

How to inform the U.S. Embassy/Consulate that a U.S. Citizen has been arrested abroad

If a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, they should ask the prison authorities to contact the closest U.S. embassy or consulate to report the arrest.

You can contact the embassy or consulate if you think that law enforcement officials have been unable to report the arrest of your relative, or if you have concerns that are not addressed on this webpage. Please click here for embassy and consulate contact information.