When travelling overseas, you're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards.
This page provides information and advice on:
- learning the local laws
- extraterritorial jurisdiction
- obeying the laws overseas
- what happens if you break the law
This page is for Australians planning to travel overseas. If you're overseas and in trouble with the law, see our arrested or jailed page.
Learn the local laws
It's your responsibility to research the local laws in your destination – and obey them.
Like in Australia, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. Local police are unlikely to accept 'I didn't know' as an excuse.
Don't assume a country that's culturally similar to Australia has the same laws. Still research your destination.
- Local laws may reflect the local religion and customs. Learning about, and respecting, the local religion can help you stay within the law.
- Your medication could be illegal. Even with an Australian prescription, you could be arrested for carrying or using drugs.
- Authorities may apply the law inconsistently. This may depend on who you are, or the situation when you broke the law.
- Some local laws discriminate against certain populations. This is particular the case for women and LGBTI travellers in conservative countries.
- Bribery, under any name, is illegal. Don't give anything to an overseas official in return for special treatment.
Local laws for dual nationals
If you're a dual national in your destination, local laws may impact you differently. For example:
- if you're in trouble with the law, authorities in your destination may not allow the Australian Government to assist you
- local laws may state you must do military service in the country of your other nationality
See our general advice for dual nationals.
How to find out about local laws
- Read the travel advisory for the destinations you're travelling to, or through. Each has a section called 'local laws' with some key ones to consider.
- Contact your destination's embassy or consulate in Australia.
- Get independent legal advice. You may need to find a lawyer in your destination.
- For international legal advice, including legalising documents, some Australian lawyers can help. Find an Australian Notary Public.
Extraterritorial jurisdiction gives government the authority to extend its laws beyond its borders. Some Australian criminal laws apply to Australians even when you’re overseas, such as those relating to:
- money laundering
- bribery of foreign public officials
- human trafficking
- modern slavery
- forced marriage
- child sex offences.
You also risk prosecution under Australian law if you engage in hostile activity overseas, or if you travel with the intention of engaging in hostile activity overseas. For more information, see the Australian National Security website.
The provision of consular assistance doesn’t protect you from the consequences of actions that are prohibited under Australian law. Consular officials have to report serious criminal misconduct of this kind to the Australian Federal Police.
Obey the law
Obey the laws of the country you're visiting even if these appear harsh or unfair by Australian standards.
It doesn't matter if you agree with the law, or you think it isn't fair. Their laws are their laws, you just have to obey them.
Stay within the law. If you don't, local authorities could arrest or jail you.
If you break the law
If you break the law, you could be arrested and jailed. You'll have to work with the local legal and prison systems.
The Australian Government is committed to bringing Australians to justice when they commit crimes overseas.
- Don't expect to be treated differently by authorities just because you're Australian.
- Being underage may not get you lighter treatment from local authorities. Some countries charge and convict young people the same as adults.
- Australian authorities could arrest you when you return home for a crime you committed overseas.
The Australian Government is limited in how and when we can help. We can't get you out of trouble, out of jail, or pay your legal bills or fines for you. Read the Consular Services Charter.
Stay within the law and you won't need our help.
See our information about what happens if you're arrested or jailed overseas.
Bribery of foreign officials
Bribery is illegal. You could be arrested or jailed overseas.
Bribery can include:
- cash payments
- extravagant gifts
- employment for friends or relatives
- school fees paid for friends or relatives
Cash payments in the form of a 'tip' or 'facilitation payment' are still bribes.
Make sure you know the local slang before you go. If an official asks you for a bribe, in any form or under any slang name, don't do it.
Some slang names for bribery include:
- 'baksheesh' in India and Egypt, in Greece its 'baksissi'
- 'tea money' in Cambodia and Thailand, in many countries it's a translation of this
- 'kickback' or 'sweetener' in the US and many western countries
Read more about foreign bribery (Attorney-General's Department).
Information about specific offences overseas
Also see our pages on specific offences. These are:
These pages are not just for potential offenders. They're also for people who are concerned an Australian may travel overseas to commit an offence.
- Read the 'local laws' section of the travel advisories for all destinations you're travelling to, or through.
- Local laws may impact dual nationals differently
- See our information about what happens if you're arrested or jailed overseas.