Break the Law Abroad? Don’t Count on the Embassy


“Use common sense when traveling,” said Laurie Simmons, a retired cop who spent 20 years with the Australian Federal Police and now volunteers with the ‘Tourist Police’ in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Suicides, bar brawls and road accidents are what he specializes in.

“The law’s the law, but sometimes it’s interpreted differently here,” Simmons said. “And there’s always the language barrier. That’s where I help out the most.” (He speaks Thai as well as the distinctively rounded vowels of his native Australia.)

“Everything’s fine until you’ve done something,” he said. “Suppose you rent a car or a scooter in Thailand. You might think it’s insured, until it’s stolen, or you have an accident or you hit somebody. Then you’re not covered.”

Consider the accident rates. In 2012, Thailand had 7,784 deaths resulting from vehicular accidents.

According to the World Heath Organization, in 2010 there were 1.24 million deaths world wide from traffic accidents. And if you’re really into road-accident data, here’s a country-by-country breakdown of traffic mishaps in a lengthy PDF from the WHO.

The stats are bad enough to make you pack a helmet and never rent a car.

But Simmons, the tourist cop, deals with way more than tourists involved in traffic accidents. Most times his job is helping arriving people deal with disasters that have happened to family members on vacation in Thailand.

“For some reason, a lot of people come to paradise to commit suicide [no available numbers],” he said. “Often it’s the result of booze, failed dreams and broken hearts. When the family arrives to recover the individual, that’s where I help out.”

And then there’s crime. Not the tourist-as-victim kind, but rather the crimes committed by tourists. Barroom fights, drug use, theft and a surprising amount of insurance fraud.

“Often a visitor wants a police report for a stolen laptop or camera,” Simmons said. “They want to make a claim on their travel insurance. If we’re suspicious, we search their backpack or room and often find the electronics.

“Don’t think you’re smarter than the police.”

Embassies and consulates offer assistance to their citizens when they get in trouble. The  U.S. State Department helps American citizens and their families “within the limits of our authority, in accordance with international law.”

The bottom line is you’re not going to Hail Mary your way out of trouble when traveling the world anymore than you can back home.

“If you’re involved with drugs, theft, even shoplifting and get arrested, you’re entitled to call your embassy or consulate,” Simmons said. “They can help you find a lawyer. But don’t think the embassy is a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Use common sense.


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Comments (Showing 3 of 3)

  • CyberNomad at 12:34am May 16, 2013

    Anyone who is involved with drugs, especially crossing borders, in most countries in Asia, is asking for absolute disaster. In Thailand people think it’s cool to some a joint by the beach, but it’s only cool until the guy who sells the drugs calls up his cousin who is a police officer. The foolish tourist will need to get his relatives to wire him thousands of dollars to get out of Thai prison. The police and drug dealer will share the proceeds from this. Gambling is also strictly illegal in Thailand and often crooks, working with friends in the police, will set up a sting on foreigners.

    Don’t mess around. These countries may seem relaxed and disorganized, but as soon as a law is broken, it’s an opportunity to profit, and the foolish tourist will discover that they magically become extremely organized and thorough when they have a profit opportunity.

  • ontheway at 12:24pm May 28, 2013

    I have heard two horror stories of how the U S Embassies do nothing at all. One was when I was in Italy and two women traveling from Rome to the Cruiseport were robbed at the train station. The embassy did nothing for them. They had to find someone kind who allowed them to call a relative, etc. and they had to handle it on their own.
    The second story was a dear friend was on a cruise, in port in Hong Kong. Her husband died and they did not know what to do. The embassy did nothing at all to help them….thankfully they found a rabbi who took over and handled everything for them. As far as I am concerned we spend billions on the embassies that are simply to have a presence on foreign soil, but do not ever serve Americans.

  • subordinateflyer at 3:59am August 28, 2013

    If you want to hear about a first hand experience with dealing with law enforcement and the Embassy abroad check out Doug Stanhope’s podcast.

    He has a very good & entertaining interview with Goosekirk (Episode 2) who did time abroad.

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