Arrested or jailed overseas
If you're arrested or jailed overseas, you have the right to contact the Australian Government. We can't get you out of trouble or out of jail, though we'll do what we can to help.
We must work within limits set by local authorities, laws and prison system. We're bound by the Consular Service Charter. It outlines how and when we can help Australians overseas.
You're subject to the local laws and penalties of any country you visit. This includes laws and penalties that may appear harsh by Australian standards. This can include corporal punishment, life sentences and the death penalty.
Explore this page to learn:
- what to do if you're arrested or detained overseas
- what happens if you're convicted and sentenced overseas
- what happens when you're released from prison
- what to do if someone you know is arrested or jailed overseas
- how and when the Australian Government can assist prisoners overseas
What to do if you're arrested or detained overseas
1. Ask to speak with the Australian Government
If you're detained overseas, ask to speak to officials from the nearest Australian embassy or consulate.
Many countries, including Australia, have signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This means someone arrested or detained overseas can seek help from their government.
In a consular emergency, if you can't contact an embassy, call the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on:
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- 1300 555 135 in Australia
If you request consular assistance, an Australian consular officer will contact you as soon as possible.
If you travel to countries where the level of advice is 'do not travel' or 'reconsider your need to travel', we may be limited in the consular assistance we can provide.
If you're a dual citizen, we can't guarantee access to consular services if you're detained or arrested in the country of your other nationality.
2. Meet with a consular official
A consular official from the nearest embassy or consulate will visit or call you. They'll liaise with the local authorities and prison service to establish a communication channel with you.
The main focus for our consular officers is your welfare. It isn't to make assumptions about your guilt or innocence. They can't get you out of jail.
Consular officers will try to ensure you:
- have regular contact with a consular officer
- have access to legal advice
- are treated no worse than local citizens detained for similar offences
- are subject to humanitarian standards of prisoner welfare
- have your basic needs met
Consular officers may be able to help you find out about your prison's:
- local visiting, phone and mail rules
- censorship and privileges
- social and welfare services
- opportunities to do paid work in the prison
Consular officers will try to keep in touch with you. A few things will affect how often they contact you:
- your wishes
- prison regulations and/or local laws
- the location of the prison
- the length of your sentence
- the availability of other local support
3. Get local legal advice
Get legal advice. You'll need to choose a local lawyer. Consular officers can give you a list of local English-speaking lawyers to consider.
However, consular officers aren't lawyers themselves. They can't make representations to the court on your behalf. They can't give you or your family legal advice, or recommend which lawyer you should choose. You're responsible for choosing your own lawyer and staying up-to-date with your case.
If you need an interpreter, you'll need to organise this through your local lawyer.
4. Contact your family
While you're in detention, stay in contact with your family or friends. Tell them about your health and welfare needs.
We also recommend you let your family contact your lawyer directly. Then, your lawyer can keep them informed about your case.
If you can't contact your family, consular officers may be able to help. However, consular officers will only give information to your family if you agree and give consent. If you don't want us to tell your family or friends, we won't contact them.
If you want us to give information to your family and friends, make one person the point of contact. This will help us coordinate information and avoid confusion.
See how we protect and respect your privacy. Read our Consular Privacy Collection Statement.
5. Maintain your health and welfare
If you have health or welfare issues:
- you need to discuss these with the prison authorities first
- if you believe prison authorities haven't dealt with your concerns, talk to your consular officer
Consular officers and your lawyer can raise welfare complaints on your behalf. This includes complaints about ill-treatment or discrimination.
Complaints must be justified and serious. The Australian Government can generally only raise issues with local authorities if you're:
- being treated worse than a local prisoner
- experiencing unreasonable delays in your case, compared to similar cases for local prisoners
- not receiving medical assistance.
6. Address your finances
Prison systems in some countries make you pay for your stay. If you or your family can't pay, you may not get access to some basic services while in prison. Your consular officer can advise your family how to transfer money to you.
Travel insurance won't cover prison expenses. The Australian Government can't pay your way.
You'll also need to address your finances in Australia, especially if you receive welfare payments. Tell a consular officer if, before you were detained, you were:
It's important to tell the Department of Human Services (DHS) about your detention. Centrelink needs to know about your change of circumstance, to prevent you developing a debt. Consular officers can help you contact DHS.
7. Prepare for your trial
Your lawyer will help you prepare for your trial. In some destinations, it can take months or years before your case is heard.
The Australian Government will monitor your case. We expect procedural fairness. However, our actions may not achieve your desired outcome. The foreign government may not respond to us.
What happens if you're sentenced overseas
If you're convicted and sentenced to a prison term, you usually have to serve your sentence in that country.
Prison conditions and management vary between countries and prisons. You may need to learn new rules and routines. You'll need to adjust to the prison environment.
While you're in prison
You can ask prison authorities if and / or how you can:
- learn the local language
- send letters, and how often
- make phone calls, and how often
- undertake study in prison, or through an external educational institution
- participate in activities that may contribute to reducing your sentence
- take part in any sporting or creative activities
- work inside the prison, whether it's compulsory, and whether you can earn money
You may have difficulties communicating with the prison authorities or arranging activities. If so, discuss your options with a consular officer.
Pardons and clemency
If you seek a pardon or clemency, you, your family or lawyer must apply through the local legal system.
Consular officers can't get Australians out of prison. We also can't give the arresting authorities any written guarantees to get you out of prison.
However, if you request it, the Australian Government may support your application. Consular officials can contact the foreign government and express support, but only where:
- local laws and practice allow it
- you've already served a sentence similar to the sentence you'd have served for your crime in Australia
Whether the local authorities grant your pardon is entirely up to them.
Seek legal advice for information about pardons. A consular officer can provide you with a list of local lawyers that speak English.
Financial assistance for prisoners
In most cases, the Australian Government can't support you financially in prison. We can't pay your legal fees. Medicare, Centrelink or the DVA can't pay you benefits.
The Attorney-General's Department has 2 schemes for Australian prisoners overseas. You may be eligible for financial assistance through their:
If you need money, ask your friends and family. Your consular officer may be able to help you gain access to funds from family and friends.
Passport cancellation or refusal in relation to serious foreign offences
- a foreign country has issued a warrant for your arrest regarding a serious foreign offence
- you're prevented from travelling by a legal order or direction in the foreign country
The Minister may choose not to issue you a new Australian passport.
If the Minister cancels or refuses your passport, you're still an Australian citizen. You can still seek Australian consular assistance.
Learn more about passport services.
International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme
Some Australian prisoners can serve the remainder of their sentence in an Australian prison. This is under the International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme (ITP).
The International Transfer of Prisoners Act (1997) provides the legal framework of the ITP scheme.
Eligibility for transfer back to Australia
You may be able to transfer back to Australia if you meet all conditions.
- You're an Australian citizen, or an Australian permanent resident with community ties to Australia.
- Australia has a transfer agreement with the country where you're in prison.
- All parties have agreed to the terms of transfer. These parties include you; the Australian Government; the government of the country where you're imprisoned; and the government of the Australian state or territory you wish to transfer to.
- Your transfer won't prevent your extradition to another country if required.
- You have at least 6 months of your sentence remaining.
- Neither the sentence of imprisonment nor the conviction on which it's based is subject to appeal.
- The offence for which you're serving a sentence would also be an offence in Australia.
Some conditions can be waived or varied.
Applying for the ITP scheme
You, your family or your lawyer must complete and submit your application for the ITP scheme.
Consular officers can help you apply if you meet the eligibility requirements. Only once you've exhausted all your local appeal avenues.
Consular officers can give you an information pack on the scheme. You can ask your consular officer:
- if the country you're in has a transfer agreement
- about eligibility and transfer conditions
- for updates on your case
- for scheme details and an application form
Learn more about the international transfer of prisoners scheme (Attorney-General's Department).
When you're released from an overseas prison
Returning to Australia after a prison sentence
When you're released from prison, the Australian Government can provide consular support. We can help ensure you can return to Australia. This may include issuing you with travel documents if your passport is expired or cancelled.
Consular officers can give you the contact details of prisoner support organisations in your state or territory. These organisations may be able to help you to re-establish your life when you return to Australia.
Once you've been released and you return to Australia, consular officials close your case file.
Support for released prisoners in Australia
In Australia, the Department of Human Services gives information about:
- eligibility for the one-off Crisis Payment – Prison Release
- referrals to Employment Service Providers to help you look for work
- Centrelink payments, such as Newstart Allowance, Age Pension, Disability Support, pensions, family and parenting payments, and payments for carers
- Child Support services if you're making payments for dependent children, or if you're receiving child payments
- Medicare services, such as reissue of Medicare cards, and enrolment for Medicare
What to do if someone you know is arrested or jailed overseas
If you're concerned about a family member arrested or jailed overseas, you can contact
- the nearest Australian embassy or consulate
- the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305
If you're in Australia, contact the Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135.
How we can help friends and family members of prisoners
We can help you, and you can contact us at any time. But our primary client is the person who is in detention.
We may be able to give you updates. However, we can be limited in the details we can give due to privacy rules.
Visiting an Australian in prison overseas
If you'd like to visit your family member detained overseas, contact us before you leave Australia. We can tell you about prison visiting arrangements. These vary widely from country to country. We recommend you make arrangements before you depart.
Consular officers can also give advice and contact details of prison authorities. These authorities can give you:
- details on what you can send or take into prisons overseas
- the full postal address and phone number of the prison
- details of the prisoner's lawyer and information about court proceedings, subject to privacy considerations
Before you go, contact either:
- the Australian embassy or consulate in that country or
- the Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
Australian Government assistance for prisoners and families
The Australian Government will support Australian prisoners, and their families, as much as possible. However, we have to work with the local and international legal systems.
There's a limit to what we can do. We can't get Australians out of jail.
If you're an Australian dual national in your country of other nationality, the Australian Government may not be able to help you.
Understand how and when we can help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can visit you while you're detained
- We can explain the rules about having visitors
- We can help you with access to money or a telephone
- We can give you a list of local English-speaking lawyers
- We can if authorised, tell your family and friends about your welfare
- We can raise any unresolved medical issues with local authorities
- We can tell your family and friends how to send you money
- We can if eligible, arrange a small loan under the Prisoner Loan Scheme
- We can monitor your court trials
- We can discuss justified and serious complaints about you treatment, including discrimination
- We can where applicable, give you details about the International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme
What we can't do
- We can't get you out of jail
- We can't give local authorities written guarantees to secure your release
- We can't determine if you're innocent or guilty
- We can't conduct investigations
- We can't give you or your family legal advice
- We can't recommend which lawyer to choose
- We can't pay your lawyer's fees, start court procedures or interfere in local judicial processes
- We can't seek better treatment for you than what's given to the country's citizens or other nationals
- We can't arrange your bail or pay your fines
- We can't provide interpreter or translation services
This information has been prepared carefully. However, the Australian Government can't be held responsible if the information here leads to injury, loss or damage of any sort. 'Australian Government' includes employees, agents, and diplomatic and consular staff overseas.
- See our arrested or jailed fact sheet.
- See our advice for dual nationals.
- Understand how and when we can help you. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- See how we protect and respect your privacy. Read our Consular Privacy Collection Statement.
- Find the nearest Australian embassy or consulate (DFAT).
- See the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations for prisoners overseas (United Nations).
- Learn more about the international transfer of prisoners scheme (Attorney-General's Department).
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