OZZI Global Safety

What to do if you find yourself in legal hot water while traveling

November 29, 2022

Author: Marissa Kozma

It is hard to imagine landing in legal hot water abroad, but you do not have to rob a bank or engage in physical violence to find yourself in trouble with the law on vacation. It does happen — and often unintentionally. Travel insurance does not typically cover legal fees or civil damages, so it is best to avoid any mix-ups. To be prepared for these situations, use OZZI to take the proper precautions and make sure you contact the right people who can help. Here are some simple tips in the event that things go awry.

Research Local Laws and Offensive Gestures or Behaviors in Your Destination

Giving a thumbs-up or shaking hands with someone you meet are considered friendly gestures in America, but do not assume people in other countries will understand your intent. In 1985, five Americans were arrested outside the Vatican after making the gesture for the Texas Longhorns college football team — an obscene hand signal in Italy. It is illegal to drive in flip-flops in Spain, carry common over-the-counter medications like Sudafed in Mexico, chew gum in Singapore, and stop on the autobahn in Germany. And those are just a few examples. 

Many countries, especially in Asia and the Middle East, have local laws, attire requirements, or customs that might seem unusual to Americans, so make sure you do some research on do’s and don’t’s at your destination. OZZI Travel PROs save time and hassle by offering consolidated guides for gestures and customs in whatever country or location they visit.

Before the start of your trip, make sure the State Department is aware of your itinerary. By enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), the U.S. embassy or consulate in your destination will know when you are visiting, where you are staying, and who to contact in case of an emergency. If U.S. officials know of your whereabouts, they will be able to help if you are detained or arrested, become sick or injured, or need to be evacuated on short notice by offering translation services, English-speaking attorneys, overviews of the country’s judicial system, and check-ins to make sure you are receiving proper treatment.  

Do Not Try to Communicate With Police in Another Language

If you are approached by a police officer trying to communicate with you in another language, you may want to take out your phone to help with a translation. Even a slight misunderstanding can frustrate vacation plans, so it is better to get translation help from someone you know. If you are arrested or fined it can be difficult to find help after the fact, so let police officers know that you only speak English and make a phone call to your contact that can help translate. Contacts could include your family, friends, or even the hotel concierge.

Keep Your Emotions in Check

If you are approached by a police officer or been told you have done something illegal, do not panic. Crying hysterically, arguing, or rolling your eyes in frustration will not diffuse the situation. It is better to stay calm and level-headed. Finding a way to respectfully apologize for any miscommunication will usually get you on your way. When traveling it is best to have a low profile to avoid drawing any attention. If you have drawn attention, it is best to keep emotions settled.

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