Start Today
Study Abroad Guide
FAQs About Study Abroad
Selecting the Right Study Abroad Program
Study Abroad Pre-Departure Guide
During the Study Abroad Program
Health Issues Abroad
Safety and Security
Women's Issues Abroad
Minorities Abroad
Legal Matters
Managing Your Money
Cultural Adjustment
Culture Shock
Intercultural Communication
Alcohol Use Abroad
What it Means to be 'American'
Handling Anti-American Criticism
Returning Home from Study Abroad
Study Abroad Resources
Student Testimonials

Call Us: (212) 321-0921 x(1)
Send us an e-mail

Legal Matters

There are a number of common legal matters you should be aware of. Some of them are much more serious than others, so please read each carefully so that you are aware of the liability involved.

Arriving at the Airport

Upon arrival in your host country, you will first go through an Immigration checkpoint in the airport. This may occur before or after you collect your luggage. The Immigration officer will ask for your passport and the entry form that was distributed on the airplane before your arrival. They want to determine WHY you are entering the country, HOW LONG you will be in the country, and WHERE you will be staying while in the country. Be prepared to answer these questions.

After you collect your luggage in the airport, you will go through a Customs inspection. The extent of this inspection is different in every country but the purpose is to check if you are bringing any illegal items into the country, or items that should be taxed. The airlines usually give you a Customs Declaration form that you can fill out on the plane and you will just hand this to the Customs officer. Sometimes your luggage will be subject to actual inspections.

Local Laws

It is critical to remember that you will be a guest in your host country and you are subject to all of their laws. Ignorance of the local laws will not excuse you from local prosecution and/or fines.

Working abroad and work permits

In most countries, foreign students are not allowed to work for pay. Despite rumors to the contrary, working in a foreign country on a student status can make you eligible for deportation. Do not accept the advice of fellow students about working in your host country. If you have questions about your eligibility for a work permit in your host country, ask your on-site program director about the laws in your host country.

Illegal Drugs

This is worth repeating.

NEVER, NEVER travel with marijuana or any other contraband drugs. The United States government can assume no responsibility if you are apprehended for drug use. Even in places where the use of drugs by local citizens is either ignored or treated very lightly, when American students are apprehended indulging in or in possession of contraband, they can be dealt with in a very harsh manner. You will jeopardize your experience abroad by taking such a risk.

If approached by someone selling drugs, walk away. Do not even talk to that person, because a conversation with a suspected narcotics pusher is seen as an act of intent to purchase by some countries. Penalties can be much more severe in than in the U.S. Conditions of imprisonment in a foreign jail are not something you want to check out. Remember that being a citizen of the United States does not matter. You are subject to the law of the country you are in, so the U.S. Consulate cannot negotiate your release if you are arrested. They can only help notify family and arrange for legal representation.

U.S. Customs

Upon returning home you will have to go through U.S. Customs. Returning residents and citizens are allowed up to $400 worth of foreign purchases. Duty ranging from 5-50% or more will be charged on anything over the $400. Make sure to keep all receipts for purchases, as you will need them when you go through customs upon your return. Under no circumstances will you be allowed to bring back fresh fruits, vegetables or meats of any type.

U.S. Consular Offices Abroad

The U.S. State Department and Bureau of Consular Affairs offers several helpful resources for American travelers. See their web site at:

What U.S. Consulates CAN do:
  • Visit the U.S. citizen as soon as possible after the foreign government has notified U.S. embassy or consulate of the arrest.
  • Provide the detainee with a list of local attorneys from which to select defense counsel.
  • Contact family and or friends for financial or medical aid and food, if requested to do so by the detainee.
What U.S. Consulates CANNOT do:
  • Demand the release of a U.S. citizen.
  • Represent the detainee at trial, give legal counsel, or pay legal fees or other related expenses with U.S. Government funds.
  • Intervene in a foreign country's court system or judicial process to obtain special treatment.