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.
Read more about what happens to U,S, Citizens arrested or detained abroad:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Persons violating Mexican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mexico are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If you break local laws in Mexico, your U.S. citizenship will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is illegal wherever you go. If arrested in Mexico, a U.S. citizen must go through the foreign legal process including possible charge or indictment, prosecution, possible conviction and sentencing, and any appeals process.
Avoid getting arrested overseas by:
- Understanding that you are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the country and that you must follow them.
- Learning about how the laws in the United States might be different from the laws in Mexico. We provide some information for each country on our Country Specific pages.
Have you been made aware that a U.S. citizen was recently arrested/detained in Mexico?
Please ask the local authorities to notify the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate immediately. You may also wish to reach out to the closest U.S. Embassy or consulate to let us know of arrest.
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.
The Consular Officer’s Role:
- 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 (In pre-trial status once every month. For convicted prisoners, visits are scheduled every six months) and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
- Help ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
- Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process, and local legal process
- Establish an OCS Trust, when no other means to send funds are available so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
- 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 overseas
When the arrestee states his/her U.S. citizenship and requests notification to their U.S. consular representatives, Mexican authorities will inform U.S. Embassy or consulates of the detention of that U.S. citizen without delay. The Consular Officer will visit the arrestee as soon as possible after notification. On the initial visit, the Consular Officer will check on the well-being of the detainee and the circumstances of the arrest, provide a list of attorneys, and ask for a Privacy Act Waiver to provide authorization for the consular officer to be in contact with others regarding the arrest.
The U.S. Embassy and consulates are obliged to bring evidence of maltreatment or discrimination to the attention of Mexican authorities if the citizen so requests.
One of the latest extortion techniques, known as the “grandparent scam,” involves calls placed by persons alleging to be attorneys or U.S. Government employees claiming that a person’s relative – nearly always a purported grandchild – has been in a car accident in Mexico and has been arrested or detained. The caller asks for a large sum of money to ensure the subject’s release. When the recipient of the call checks on their family member, they discover that the entire story is false. If the alleged detainee cannot be located in the U.S. and the family has reason to believe that the person did, in fact, travel to Mexico, contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate for assistance in determining if they have been detained by authorities. Further information on international financial scams is available on the State Department website.
To learn about the consulate that can assist you, please visit our Mission Mexico’s Consular District.