by By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | April 01, 2009
Sadly, it happens: Once in a while an attendee gets taken into police custody. An arrest is no laughing matter, and when it happens outside the United States, the situation is even more difficult, as meeting professionals will need to comply with local laws and requirements. But first...

Before You GoThe top three foreign countries in which Ameri­cans get arrested are Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Before taking groups to these or any other country, planners should provide attendees with information about what one might confront in the destination, including tips on what to do or not to do.

The many ways attendees can run into trouble include violating drug possession and distribution laws, getting stopped at immigration or simply being involved in a traffic incident.

For the most part, foreign immigration officers are not constrained by concepts of due process. Their job is to keep undesirables from entering their country and rapidly dispatching them or incarcerating them until things can be sorted out. Also, not all police officers are required to follow the niceties of due process Americans are used to.

After an ArrestAny arrest is unsettling, but what can one do to minimize exposure? What are a U.S. citizen's rights if he is arrested or detained abroad, and how does a meeting planner deal with this?

An attendee who is arrested abroad should immediately inform the local authorities that he is an American citizen and would like to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In some countries this automatically triggers a treaty obligation to permit notice to and access by U.S. officials.

That's the good news. The bad news: Generally there is not much State Department officials can do on the attendee or planner's behalf except provide guidance or recommendations on how to extricate the attendee from the situation. State Department officials also can take steps to make sure the attendee is not mistreated or at least to protest it if he is.

Note: The arrested individual should ask U.S. officials in writing to notify his relatives and friends and to request money or other assistance. This written request serves as permission for the consulate to act, something required under current State Department privacy rules.

The U.S. Bureau of Con­sular Affairs website ( provides additional information about the services it can perform at such times. These include:

•  Visiting the prisoner as soon as possible once notification has been received;

•  Providing information about judicial procedures;

•  Maintaining communication and contact with the incarcerated individual and reporting these visits to the State Department; and

•  Helping to obtain visi­tation rights for family members, consistent with local regulations.

On the BorderSometimes a situation can stop short of an arrest, as I learned recently. While traveling from the Republic of Georgia into Azerbaijan, I arrived at the border a day early. Even though attempts were made by my local guide to expedite the situation, the guards at the border were steadfast in not letting us cross into Azerbaijan.

The guards did, however, provide a place for us to stay until the stroke of midnight, at which time we crossed the border in a scene that was out of a James Bond movie, complete with headlights in the dark, a river to cross and a narrow bridge with guards on either side armed with submachine guns. My saving grace: I had proper visas and cleared dates.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at [email protected]