What to do if you get arrested overseas

Man handcuffed from behind.
What do you do if you get locked up overseas? Photo credit: Reuters.

It's not something anyone would expect to have to plan for, but sometimes getting arrested while on holiday happens.

Take the case of Paul Brasch, for example. He was on holiday in Bali when he was arrested for what police described as 'pornographic dancing'.

Within a couple of hours, Brasch went from being just another Kiwi having a good time overseas, to being locked up in a police cell with no idea what to do or what his rights were.

Brasch is now safely back in New Zealand, but it highlights the importance of knowing who to turn to if this happens to you.

A woman sits alone in a jail cell after being arrested.
A woman sits alone in a jail cell after being arrested. Photo credit: Reuters.

The first thing to know is that regardless of the fact you're a citizen of the relatively free country of New Zealand, that doesn't protect you from the laws and penalties in the countries you visit.

The New Zealand government can help you if you get into trouble overseas, but they can't put in a call and get you off the hook.

But there are a few key things you should know to protect yourself from unknowingly making the situation worse.

First off, it's your right under international law to have the New Zealand authorities contacted on your behalf to assist you in finding an English-speaking lawyer, and to inform your family of your situation.

Don't sign any documents without legal advice.

A New Zealand consular officer can arrange for money to be transferred to you from your family or friends to cover the cost of any legal fees or bail.

Consular officers can also assist with arranging any help with medical treatment you may need.

Getting in touch with New Zealand officials is by no means a get out of jail free card.

New Zealand consular officers cannot:

  • Protect you from the laws of another country or transfer you to a prison in New Zealand
  • Investigate on your behalf or pay for any legal fees, fines or bail
  • Intervene in immigration issues
  • Arrange your deportation bookings and necessary visas.

Just to be safe, note down the number of the New Zealand embassy in the country you're planning to visit.