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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/arrest-or-detention/arrested-abroad-advice-for-british-nationals
What to do if you’re arrested abroad
If you’re arrested in another country, you should:
- ask that the local British embassy or consulate are notified (the local authorities must do this)
- ask family or friends to contact the local British consulate or the Global Casework team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500
Consular staff will do what they can to help you but they can’t get you out of jail or help pay for a lawyer.
The prisoner pack tells you about the local system, including how family and friends can send money for essentials such as food and bedding.
How the British consulate can help
Upon notification of your arrest, Consular staff will do what they can to help you and your friends/family but they can’t interfere with the local justice system or pay for any services.
- contact you in prison and visit you if you’d like us to
- tell your family and friends you’ve been arrested, if you want us to – we can also help you understand the benefits of contacting your family if you’re initially unsure
- pass on messages from family/friends in places where phone or postal services aren’t available
- give you information about the local legal system, including whether a legal aid scheme is available
- tell you about prosecution, remand, bail and appeal procedures (it’s important to consider carefully whether you want legal representation and to discuss all costs beforehand)
- provide lists of local lawyers and translators
- explain the local prison or remand system, including visiting arrangements, mail and censorship, privileges, work possibilities, and social and welfare services
- put you in touch with a prisoners’ welfare charity called Prisoners Abroad
What the Consulate can’t do
The British consulate’s role is to look after your welfare while you’re detained. However, we can’t:
- get you out of prison or pay your fines
- get you special treatment because you’re British
- give or pay for legal advice, start legal proceedings on your behalf or interfere in local judicial procedures
- investigate a crime
- forward letters/parcels to you on behalf of other people
- prevent the local authorities from deporting you at the end of your sentence, even if you were previously resident in the country
Other organisations that can help
Prisoners Abroad is a UK charity providing information, advice and support for British citizens in prison and their families. It can also provide limited financial assistance in certain situations, translations, reading material, and support for families.
Prisoners Abroad works collaboratively with the FCO to help British citizens held in prisons overseas. They can keep in touch with you and your family throughout your time in prison and help you on release. We recommend that you contact them and authorise us to share information about your case with them.
Prisoners Abroad can provide resettlement services to returning prisoners who are existing clients, but they cannot guarantee a service for everyone and they cannot assist a returning prisoner who only contacts them once back in the UK. It is important that you keep Prisoners Abroad informed of your release date.
Prisoners Abroad can only support you overseas if you are in custody. You will not be eligible for support if you are, for example, released on bail or parole but have to remain overseas.
89–93 Fonthill Road
London N4 3JH
Tel: 00 44 (0)20 7561 6820
UK freephone: 0808 172 0098
Fair Trials is a human rights organisation that works to improve respect for the right to a fair trial in criminal cases. Fair Trials cannot respond to individual requests for help, but it has produced a range of materials containing information on various countries’ legal systems and useful sources of support. This information is available on Fair Trials’ website (www.fairtrials.org/need-help).
If you would like this information, ask your consular official. You can also write to Fair Trials directly:
5 Castle Road
London NW1 8PR
If you’re serving time in prison abroad
If you are detained for a longer period of time, the prisoner pack for the country you’re serving your sentence in explains how family and friends can contact you and send you money for essentials like food and bedding - see help if you’re arrested abroad.
- visit you in prison and keep in touch by phone or letter
- explain to your family/friends how the visiting system works and whether special arrangements apply for parcels, and that in many countries, mail sent or received by the prisoner will be opened and read by the authorities and phone conversations may be monitored
- ask the prison if we can pass on money from your family/friends to buy essential items, including telephone cards (there may be a charge for this service)
- monitor your treatment and consider approaching the local authorities if you’re not treated in line with internationally accepted standards
- ensure that any medical or dental problems are brought to the attention of a police or prison doctor
- explain how to apply to transfer to a prison in the UK if prison transfers are possible
- take up justified complaints about ill-treatment, personal safety or discrimination with the police or prison authorities
- help you raise allegations about your treatment after you’ve been released or transferred to the UK if you don’t want to do so right away
- give you information about any local procedures for early release in exceptional circumstances (known as pardon or clemency) if there are compelling compassionate circumstances, in cases of minors imprisoned overseas, and/or where we have evidence that points to a miscarriage of justice
Being in prison abroad can be difficult, but there are things you can do to make life easier.
Learn the language
Prison guards may be more helpful if you make an effort to learn the language. If you can’t get the books you need from the prison, contact the consulate. Prisoners Abroad may also be able to help by sending a dictionary.
Find work within the prison
Most people find that work helps to pass the time more quickly, although you may not be able to work while on remand.
Keep in touch with friends and family
The local prisoner pack will tell friends and family how they can write to you. Prisoners Abroad provides freepost envelopes which you can use to write to people free of charge from most countries.
Make sure you ask how many letters you’re allowed to send. It’s important to get your affairs in order before a trial. However, in some countries there are restrictions on sending mail after sentencing.
Keep healthy in prison
Prisoners Abroad has lots of information about how to stay healthy in prison. They will send you a handbook and may also be able to fund vitamins (in certain countries) or help with some medical bills. If you are ill, or have ongoing medical problems, contact the prison doctor. If you think you’re not getting adequate treatment, contact the consulate or ask someone to contact the consulate for you.
Confidentiality and UK law enforcement
We won’t normally pass on information about your case to a third party without your consent.
However, if you’re arrested for certain serious offences, such as child sex abuse or drugs crimes, our staff must tell other relevant UK authorities.
Please note that this information is provided as a guide only. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides lists of lawyers and translators for general information purposes only. The FCO accepts no legal responsibility in respect of such material, or for the consequences of any choice you make to take any such lists into account when instructing a local lawyer or translator. Our aim is to provide British nationals with relevant information to help them to make better informed decisions, but our lists are not recommendations and should not be treated as such. ↩