Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

The Department of State is committed to ensuring fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas. We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority in accordance with international law, domestic and foreign law.

Avoid getting arrested overseas by:

  • Following the laws and regulations of the country you are visiting or living in.
  • Learning about laws there which might be different from the laws in the United States. We provide some information for each country on our Country Specific pages.  For further information on laws within the foreign country before you go, contact that country’s nearest embassy or consulate within the United States.

If you are arrested overseas or know a U.S. citizen who is:

  • Ask the prison authorities to notify the U.S. embassy or consulate
  • You may also wish to reach out to the closest U.S. embassy or consulate to let us know of arrest.  Changes to “Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates” overseas can be found here or by going to our individual Country Specific Information pages.

Consular Assistance to U.S. Prisoners:

When a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, he or she may be initially confused and disoriented.  It can be more difficult because the prisoner is in unfamiliar surroundings, and may not know the local language, customs, or legal system.

 We can help:

  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen with their written permission
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Help ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care for you
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Inform the detainee of local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime that may be available to them
  • If they would like, ensuring that prison officials are permitting visits with  a member of the clergy of the religion of your choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens, when permissible under prison regulations

We cannot:

  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail overseas
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court overseas
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees for U.S. citizens overseas

Please notify the American Citizen Services Unit at 011-507-317-5000 or in Panama 317-5000 when you or a friend or family member is arrested or detained.  Detained Americans will generally be visited by a U.S. Consul within 48 hours.

Living conditions in the prisons are usually below the expectations of Americans.  Prisoners live in close quarters and have limited access to telephones.  Typically, family members send money to the attorney representing a prisoner who will purchase toiletries, comfortable bedding and personal articles for him or her.

The Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., is the point of contact for family members in the United States who are concerned about an American citizen family member who has been arrested abroad. You can reach OCS by calling 1-888-407-4747. Family members in Panama may call the ACS Unit at 317-5000 or e-mail us at Panama-ACS@state.gov.