Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

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.

Avoid getting arrested overseas by:

  • Following the laws and regulations of the country you are visiting or living in.
  • Learning about laws there which might be different from the laws in the United States. We provide some information for each country on our Country Specific pages.  For further information on laws within the foreign country before you go, contact that country’s nearest embassy or consulate within the United States.

If you are arrested overseas or know a U.S. citizen who is:

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.

 We can help:

  • 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 and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Help ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care for you
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Inform the detainee of local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime that may be available to them
  • If they would like, ensuring that prison officials are permitting visits with  a member of the clergy of the religion of your choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens, when permissible under prison regulations

We cannot:

  • 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 for U.S. citizens overseas

Under the provisions of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, to which both Austria and the United States are signatories, an arrested person may freely communicate with the nearest U.S. Consular Officer.

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at Parkring 12a, 1010 Vienna, Austria, telephone number (Vienna area code 01) 313 39/ ext. 7535. The Embassy has consular jurisdiction of Austria’s nine Provinces. While Austrian authorities will forward letters addressed to the Consular Office named above, they will not normally permit a telephone call. In spite of anything you may have heard to the contrary, neither the United States Government nor its representative, an U.S. Consular Officer, can get a U.S. citizen out of prison. A U.S. passport does not entitle its bearers to any special privileges. While in Austria, U.S. citizens are subject to the same laws and prison rules as Austrian citizens. A U.S. citizen cannot and will not receive preferential treatment because of his nationality. U.S. Consular Officers can and do intercede on behalf of U.S. citizens imprisoned in Austria, but there are definite limits as to what they can do to help in any given situation. Neither arrest nor conviction, however, deprives a United States citizen of the right to the Consular Officer’s best efforts in facilitating the welfare and defense of that citizen or in protecting the citizen’s legal and human rights.

A Consular Officer can visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest in order to check on the treatment, which you are receiving and to monitor the state of your health and well-being. Visits also help the Consul determine whether his/her assistance is needed to help you adjust to the prison routine, such as purchasing soap, postage stamps, etc. The Consular Officer can give you a list of reputable local attorneys (see list of attorneys).

She/he is not permitted, however, to help you choose from the list nor is she/he permitted by consular regulations to give you legal advice.

The Consular Officer can intercede with local authorities to ensure that your rights under local law are fully observed and that you are treated humanely in accordance with internationally accepted standards. To do so, the Consul will follow the progress of your case in the judicial process and, where necessary and requested, act as liaison between you and your lawyer, the court, and the prosecutor.

The Consular Officer can protest mistreatment or abuse to the appropriate Austrian authorities.

The Consular Officer can notify your family and/or friends and relay requests for financial and other aid – if you authorize her/him in writing to do so.