Study Abroad Student Handbook
Australia Australia
Center for Global Education

How Foreign Laws Apply to You

In this section, you will find information on what you should know about Australia's legal system, and the legal system of the countries to which you will be traveling. If you are a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Australia is limited in what it can do to assist you if you should get into legal trouble abroad. As a foreigner in a foreign land, you are obligated to act in accordance with foreign law.

1. General Information

Not knowing local laws can get you into serious trouble. Just because something is legal in the United States doesn't mean it is legal in Australia. Most students who study abroad do not break the law on purpose; instead, they end up doing something illegal without knowing it. Even as a foreigner, you must obey all Australian laws and the laws of other countries to which you are traveling.

gavelIf you break local laws while in Australia, the U.S. government can do very little to help you. You are granted no special privileges or rights, and will be dealt with according to standard procedure of the legal system of Australia. The U.S. and Australian governments encourage all visitors to Australia to become familiar with local laws before they visit. Upon arrival in Australia, you may also wish to ask an Australian official about local laws and procedures. Remember, most students who study abroad wind up breaking the law unintentionally, and alcohol or drug use has been associated with law–breaking in many cases.

For more complete information on Australian laws and the Australian legal system, visit the official website of the U.S. Department of State.

  • warningKnow the Relevant Laws: Make sure you know the relevant laws for Australia and each country to which you plan to travel. Foreign laws apply to visitors, regardless of the visitor's country of citizenship.
  • Travel Warnings and Country-Specific Information: Read the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets for information on the legal system in Australia and in the countries to which you will be traveling.
  • Embassy or Consulate Assistance: If you find yourself in legal trouble in Australia (arrest, car accident, etc.), the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (or that of the country where you are a citizen) may only be able to assist you in the following ways:
    1. Visit you in jail after your arrest
    2. Give you a list of local attorneys
    3. Notify your family and friends and relay request for money and other aid
    4. Intercede with local authorities to help ensure your proper treatment under the law and in accordance with internationally recognized standards
    5. Protest mistreatment
  • jailLegal Representation: You will be responsible for bearing the financial burden of your legal representation as well as the outcome of a trial.
  • Constitutional Rights: You cease to be protected by U.S. law and Constitutional rights once you leave the country.
  • Unfair Imprisonment: If you feel you have been unfairly imprisoned by another country's government, the U.S. State Department can provide some assistance. It may be necessary to hire a local attorney as well.
  • Kidnapping/Terrorism Situations: If you are taken hostage or kidnapped by a terrorist organization, the U.S. State Department may help negotiate for your release. Check with your insurance provider to see if you can purchase additional kidnapping, terrorism or emergency assistance insurance for Australia and the other countries to which you plan to travel.

2. Relevant Questions

  • Do you know how the legal system works in the country of your choice and in the countries to which you will be traveling ("innocent until proven guilty" or "guilty until proven innocent")?
  • What kinds of laws do students from the United States break in the country of your choice and other countries (perhaps, unknowingly)?
  • What are your program's specific set of rules to be followed, in addition to any local/national laws?
  • Is consumption of alcohol legal in the country of your choice and in the countries you will visit? If so, what is the legal age for alcohol consumption?
  • What are the penalties for drug use in the country of your choice and in the countries you will visit?
  • How do locals and local laws deal with harassment and sexual assault (a cultural norm, supportive of victims, blame victims, prosecute, etc.)?
  • What kinds of legal assistance can the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate provide you?

3. Checklist

  • I am familiar with the basic social laws of the countries to which I will be traveling, including laws related to drug and alcohol use.
  • I am familiar with how the legal system works in each country I plan to visit.
  • I know the location of the U.S. Embassy in each country I plan to visit.
  • I have registered/will register with the U.S. Embassy in the country of your choice.
  • I have proper insurance (see the insurance guide section) and a personal lawyer in case I should need legal counsel.

4. Resources

Country Specific
Student Handbooks
Center for Global Education
IES Abroad
  • CIEE
    Study Abroad
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