Never buy, use or travel with illegal drugs when overseas. You're subject to all local laws and penalties in your destination, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards. This can include the death penalty. Even small amounts of recreational drugs or some prescription medications can get you arrested or jailed.
If you make one bad decision, you could spend years of your life in a foreign prison. In 2017 and 2018, over a third of Australians in prison overseas were jailed for drug offences.
The Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
Harsh penalties exist for drug offences
Australians convicted of drug offences overseas can be sentenced to death.
Many countries carry out the death penalty for using, dealing or trafficking drugs.
These include places popular with Australian travellers, such as:
Several Australians in foreign countries have received the death penalty for drug offences.
The Australian Government can't override the laws and penalties of another country. It has limited ability to appeal for clemency — which is an appeal for lenient treatment — for Australians sentenced to death overseas.
The risks of using and trafficking drugs far outweigh any benefits.
Don't assume you won't get caught, or that you might avoid the death penalty because you're Australian.
The only way to avoid the death penalty for drug offences overseas is to never buy, use or carry drugs in a foreign country.
Small amounts of drugs can lead to prison
Many countries have stiff penalties for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. Even trace amounts of drugs on your body, clothing or luggage may lead to a possession charge.
Some countries also prosecute people carrying or using controlled prescription medications under their drug laws.
Courts in some countries, including China and the US, may treat juvenile drug offenders the same as adults.
Staying within the law
To avoid trouble with drugs overseas, never buy, carry or consume drugs overseas.
- Avoid mixing with people who use illegal drugs.
- If you've had trouble with drug addiction, think carefully about travel to places where illicit drugs are easily available.
- Foreign courts may not be as sympathetic to an addiction or impairment defence as an Australian court.
- Be aware of the contents of your bags, particularly when you cross international borders.
- Don't carry any items for someone else.
- Don't leave your bags in public areas or with a stranger.
- Lock your luggage to protect it from tampering and theft from carousels or hotel staff.
- Don't accept offers of new luggage or use bags that don't belong to you.
Suitcases won as prizes in online competitions have contained illegal drugs.
You may not be able to see the drugs, but security detection systems are likely to find them.
- In some countries, trace amounts of drugs found in blood or urine tests can lead to prosecution for possession — it doesn't matter where you took the drugs.
- Not knowing the local laws is no excuse.
- Research the laws that apply in your destination before you travel.
- If you're caught, you're subject to local laws, not Australian laws.
- Make sure your prescription or over-the-counter medicines aren't illegal in your destination countries.
- Check with the embassy of the countries you're visiting before you leave.
- Information on restrictions on medicines is often available in the travel advisory for each country.
If you're arrested for drugs
How we can help
Consular officers will do what they can to help Australians arrested and detained overseas, within the laws and processes that apply in that country.
If you or a member of your family is arrested for drugs, contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate immediately.
What we can do
- We can visit you with the permission of local authorities
- We can give general information about the local legal system and a list of English-speaking lawyers
- We can tell family and friends about the situation — with your consent
- We can help keep in contact with, and get money from, family and friends
- We can object to authorities if you get worse treatment than local citizens arrested for similar offences
- We can tell the prison about any medical issues
- We can attend the trial as an observer with the approval of the local authorities
What we can't do
- We can't give legal advice
- We can't organise for you to be released from jail
- We can't arrange bail, pay fines or conduct investigations related to an offence
- We can't organise better treatment than what local citizens or other nationals receive
- Understand what we can do if you're arrested or in jailed overseas for drugs overseas
- Read the Consular Services Charter
- Contact your destinations embassy or consulate in Australia for information about their laws
- Find an Australian embassy or consulate overseas