This guidance explains what to do if you, or a friend or relative, are arrested or detained (including in prison) abroad.
What you should do
If you are arrested or detained by the authorities in another country, you should:
- ask the local authorities, such as the police or prison, to notify the local British embassy, high commission, or consulate that you have been arrested or detained. You can say that you would like consular assistance
- 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. You can contact us by phone from anywhere in the world, 24/7
- consider carefully whether you want legal representation. You can get legal advice by consulting a local lawyer. In some countries, you may be able to get legal aid. You should discuss costs before making an agreement
- inform the police or prison authorities about any physical or mental health concerns you have, and any medication you take
How we can help
We will aim to contact you as soon as possible after being notified that you have been arrested or detained. We will then provide assistance according to your circumstances and local conditions. We can:
- provide lists of local English-speaking lawyers and translators and intepreters
- provide you, and your friends or family, with a Prisoner Pack for the country you are in. This contains information about the local legal system, including whether legal aid is available. It also contains practical information about detention conditions and what to expect
- tell your family and friends you have been detained, if you want us to. We can help you understand the benefits of contacting your family, if you’re unsure
- explain to you, or your family or friends, whether they can call or visit you, and whether they can send money, books, or other items directly to you. In many countries, mail sent or received by someone in detention will be opened and read by the authorities. Phone conversations may be monitored
- pass on messages from family or friends, and update them on your welfare, where phone or postal services are not available
- sometimes help friends or family send money to you, but sometimes there may be a charge for this service
- put you, and your family, in touch with a prisoners’ welfare charity called Prisoners Abroad
- keep in regular contact with you, either by visiting in person, or by telephone or letter. This will depend on local prison conditions and your personal circumstances
- monitor your welfare and consider approaching the local authorities if you are not treated in line with internationally accepted standards
- help you to inform a police or prison doctor about your medical or dental problems
- if international prison transfers are possible, explain how to apply to transfer to a prison in the UK
give you information about any local procedures for early release in exceptional circumstances. This is generally known as pardon or clemency. We will only consider supporting pardon or clemency pleas:
- if 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
- put you in touch with non-government organisations such as The Death Penalty Project or Reprieve if you are charged with a crime that that carries the death penalty. The UK government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. We will normally raise your case at whatever stage and level we judge to be appropriate
- get you out of prison or pay your fines
- get you special treatment because you are British
- give or pay for legal advice, start legal proceedings on your behalf, or interfere in local judicial procedures
- investigate a crime
- forward letters or parcels to you if the police or prison do not allow this
- prevent the local authorities from deporting you at the end of your sentence, even if you previously lived in the country
Confidentiality and UK law enforcement
We will not normally pass on information about your case to a third party, including family members, without your consent. However, if you are arrested for certain serious offences, such as child sex abuse or drugs crimes, we must tell other relevant UK authorities.
Transfer to a UK prison
There may be a transfer agreement between the UK and the country where you are in prison. Find out if an agreement exists, if you are eligible, and how the process works, in the Prisoner Pack for the relevant country.
For more information, you can ask:
- the prison authorities where you are
- the nearest UK embassy, high commission or consulate
You can also contact the relevant authorities in the UK:
- HM Prison and Probation Service (England and Wales)
- Scottish Prison Service
- Northern Ireland Department of Justice
Torture and mistreatment
We take all allegations or concerns of torture and mistreatment seriously. We will follow up with action appropriate to the circumstances of the case.
We will do our best to ensure that you are safe. This could include:
- visiting you more frequently
- helping you to get access to medical treatment
- considering support for a transfer, if you wish to move to another wing or facility
Although we cannot investigate torture or mistreatment allegations, with your permission we can raise them with the local authorities. We can seek an end to the mistreatment and ask for it to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
If you do not want to raise the allegations immediately, we can help you do this later – for example, after you have returned to the UK.
We will put your best interests first. We will avoid any action that might put you, or any other person that may be affected at risk.
Organisations that can help
UK charity Prisoners Abroad provides information, advice and support to British citizens in detention and their families. This includes:
- limited financial assistance, for example for food and other essential items where these are not provided
- reading material for example handbooks
- support for families
- freepost envelopes you can use to write to people free of charge from most countries
Prisoners Abroad works with the FCDO to provide services to British citizens held in detention overseas. They can keep in touch with you and your family throughout your time in detention and on release. We recommend that you contact Prisoners Abroad and authorise us to share information about your case with them.
Prisoners Abroad can also support resettlement for returning prisoners who already use their services. They cannot guarantee this for everyone and they cannot assist if you only contact them when you are back in the UK. You must keep Prisoners Abroad informed of your release date.
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.
Reprieve is a charity that provides legal and other forms of assistance to people facing human rights abuses around the world.
Fair Trials is a human rights organisation that works to improve respect for the right to a fair trial in criminal cases. It cannot respond to individual requests for help, but its website provides a range of information on various countries’ legal systems and useful sources of support.
We welcome your views on the support we provide, to help us to identify what we do well and what we could do better. Contact us using our feedback contact form.
Alternatively write to us:
Consular Feedback Team
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Or telephone +44 (0)20 7008 5000
You can read the disclaimer relating to this guidance.