How the British embassy or consulate can help, including contacting family, UK prison transfers, money transfers and complaining about mistreatment.
What you should do
If you’re arrested or in prison in another country, you should:
- ask the local authorities, such as the police or prison, to tell the local British embassy or consulate you’ve been arrested or put in prison and want consular assistance. It is not obligatory for you to ask for consular assistance
- if you are concerned that the local authorities have not informed us, you can also ask family or friends to contact the local British embassy, high commission, or consulate, or call the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) on +44 (0)20 7008 5000, from anywhere in the world, 24/7
- get a local lawyer – this is highly recommended. In some countries, you may be able to get legal aid. You should discuss costs before making an agreement
- tell the police or prison about any physical or mental health concerns you have, and any medication you take. With your consent, the embassy or consulate can help raise health concerns with the local authorities if needed
You can read further information specific to the country you are in.
How the British embassy or consulate can help
The support we can provide may vary depending on local prison arrangements and your personal circumstances. If you are arrested or held in custody or prison abroad, the authorities in that country should ask you whether you want them to contact the British embassy, high commission or consulate. However, you can also ask the authorities to do so directly.
Once we have been informed about your detention, the British embassy or consulate will aim to contact you as soon as possible to assess your situation. Our ability to contact you and the speed with which we are able to do so may depend on the local authorities. We will aim to keep in regular contact with you and do what we can to support your health and welfare while arrested or in prison abroad. Our contact could be by telephone, video-call, letter, email or visiting you in person.
If we receive reports that you have been detained and consular access is delayed or denied, we may raise our concerns with the local authorities before we have spoken to you. You can still choose not to receive consular assistance once we have made contact.
If appropriate, we will consider approaching the local authorities if you are not treated in line with internationally-accepted standards. Local conditions may differ significantly from those in the UK.
The embassy or consulate cannot:
- get you out of prison
- pay for lawyers, interpreters or any other costs, including fines
- provide translation services
- offer legal advice or represent you
- start legal proceedings on your behalf
- investigate a crime or respond to one
- interfere with the local justice system
- prevent you from being deported after release, even if you previously lived in the country
- get you special treatment because you’re British
Contacting family or friends
With your consent, the British embassy or consulate can tell your family and friends you’ve been arrested or are in prison.
You can read the arrested or in prison abroad guidance for the country you’re in for information on visits from family or friends and receiving money, letters or parcels. Local authorities may open mail and/or monitor phone conversations.
If phone or post are not available then the British embassy may also be able to pass on messages from family or friends, and, with your consent, update them on your welfare.
Finding a lawyer
The embassy or consulate provides a list of local English-speaking lawyers. You can also ask for a paper copy of this list.
FCDO strongly recommends getting a local lawyer if you are arrested or in prison abroad. They will be able to explain your rights and how the legal system works where you are. You should discuss all the costs beforehand with them.
Check the arrested or in prison abroad guidance for the country you’re in to find out whether court-appointed lawyers or legal aid are available.
Finding a translator or interpreter
FCDO strongly recommends getting a translator if you need help reading documents about your case. You should not sign any documents if you do not understand them.
You might need an interpreter to help you communicate with your lawyer or at your trial. You should discuss all costs with them in advance.
The British embassy or consulate provides a list of English-speaking translators or interpreters. You can also ask for a paper copy.
Money transfers from friends and family
Each country has its own rules about how friends or family can transfer money to you in prison. Check the arrested or in prison abroad guidance for the country you’re in. If no other options are available, the British embassy or consulate may be able to help transfer money from friends or family. There may be a charge for this service.
Sharing information about your case
The British embassy or consulate will not usually share your personal information with third parties, including with your family, without your consent. However, in certain circumstances we may need to share information without your consent, for example to tell the UK authorities if you’re accused of certain serious offences like sexual assault or drugs crimes. This might appear on a criminal record check.
Transferring to a UK prison
The British embassy or consulate can advise on whether there is a prisoner transfer agreement between the UK and the country where you’re in prison. This means some prisoners can apply to serve out their sentence in the UK.
You do not have an automatic right to a prison transfer. You may not be eligible to apply. The UK and the country you’re in both need to agree before a transfer can happen and there may be minimum time you will need to spend in prison.
The process can be slow and complicated. Read arrested or in prison abroad guidance for the country you’re in to find out how the process works and how to apply. You may need to appoint a local lawyer to help you with the process.
Complaining about torture and mistreatment
The British embassy or consulate takes all complaints about torture and mistreatment seriously. They will put your best interests first and not do anything that might put you, or anyone else, at risk.
The British embassy or consulate will do its best to check you’re safe. This may include:
- visiting you more often to check on your welfare
- discussing your complaint
- explaining the local authorities’ complaints procedures and supporting you to make a complaint
- telling you about any organisations that can help you
- supporting your request for a transfer to another wing or facility
- helping you get access to medical treatment
The British embassy or consulate cannot investigate torture and mistreatment allegations, but with your consent it can raise the allegations with the local authorities and request an investigation. If you do not want to raise the allegations immediately, the British embassy or consulate can help you do this later if you wish – for example, after you have returned to the UK. The local authorities may ask you to provide evidence, such as photos, medical reports or witness statements, to help them investigate a complaint.
Other local procedures: clemency, pardon and death penalty
The British Embassy or consulate may be able to give you information about pardon or clemency, and any local procedures for early release. Where domestic appeals have been exhausted, the FCDO can consider supporting pleas for pardon or clemency in cases such as:
- where there are compelling compassionate circumstances
- where a minor is imprisoned overseas
- as a last resort, where there is evidence that points to a miscarriage of justice
The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. If you are facing trial for a death penalty offence, or have been sentenced to death, we can work with your legal team and non-government organisation partners to support you. This can include raising your case with the local authorities at whatever stage and level we judge to be appropriate.
Other organisations that can help
The British embassy or consulate can put you in touch with other organisations that might be able to help you.
Prisoners Abroad helps British nationals in prison abroad, and their families. They can usually help with:
- information about your rights as a prisoner
- health issues
- transfer to the UK
- getting magazines, newspapers and books
- phrasebooks, learning the local language and translating documents
- funds for essential medicines and toiletries if you do not have enough money
- preparing for release, and support when you return to the UK
- support and advice for your friends and family
UK Helpline +44 (0)20 7561 6820 or 0808 172 0098
Monday to Friday 9:30am to 4:30pm (UK time)
Reprieve is a charity that provides legal and other help to people facing human rights abuses around the world.
Fair Trials is a charity with a range of information on various countries’ legal systems and useful sources of support.
The Death Penalty Project
The Death Penalty Project is a UK-based charity. It provides free legal representation, advice and assistance to people facing the death penalty around the world.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army supports prisoners and their families. They work with former prisoners to help them reintegrate into the community.
The Prison Fellowship
The Prison Fellowship is a Christian organisation supporting prisoners and their families, including emotional and spiritual support. They work with people of all faiths and no faith.
FCDO welcomes your views on the support it provides, to help identify what it does well and what it could do better. Contact FCDO using the feedback contact form.
Read the disclaimer relating to this guidance.