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3rd WORLD SURVIVAL: How Not To Run Afoul of the Law in the 3rd World

This Brazilian prison is probably not the accommodations your were expecting to stay in on your tour of Latin America

Each year over 2,500 Americans are arrested overseas for everything from spitting on the sidewalk to murder. One third of these poor fuckers get locked up on dope-related charges. Many of those arrested assumed that as U.S. citizens that they couldn’t be arrested or with the mindset that the U.S. Embassy would come pick them up with just a phone call.

From Asia to Africa, Europe to South America, U.S. citizens are finding out the hard way that smoking a bong with that “nice” local gal or committing (knowingly or unknowingly) criminal offenses equals’ “Prison Man Rape” in many foreign countries.

When you are traveling in the 3rd and Developing World it is on-you to know what the laws are in a foreign country before you go, because saying “I didn’t know it was illegal to give the finger to the Douchebag who almost ran me off the road” to the tribal court judge in Hellholeastan will not get you out of jail.

In most 3rd world countries you as a foreigner have Zero legal rights at all…Period. In many of these 3rd World countries your home, car and person can be searched by the police (or even by local citizens) for any reason without a warrant or probable cause.

And many activities that are completely legal or normal in your home country are considered serious crimes in the host country.

Things like holding hands or kissing in public, women driving a car, honking your horn at someone who cut you off, owning a GPS device or camera phone, owning certain books, speaking unfavorably about the local government, attending church at a friend’s home and having a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue on the backseat of your car are crimes in certain parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Meet your Thai Prison cellmate for the next 16 years – don’t drop the soap

In addition to “official laws” there are many “unofficial crimes” that could get you arrested. Many 3rd world and developing countries have a “ruling elite” that is unofficially (or even officially) above the law or a legal and social system that favors the local population above any non-citizens. In these countries something as simple as telling someone to “Watch where you’re walking!” if they bump into you can get you arrested for insulting someone.

And you may think that you will “have your day in court” and prove that you didn’t do anything. Think again, the court systems in many 3rd world and developing countries are barely above the Spanish Inquisition. Not being allowed to call witnesses, attend your own trial, have an attorney, access to your embassy, granted bail (or no bail system at all) and five figure fines for things as minor as cursing someone out are normal.

First off – If you do get arrested for the love of everything holy do not resist the officer. In many countries the police will have no problem with beating your ass (the Middle East) and then beating your unconscious body (S. Korea) for five more minutes after you pass out.

I have personally witnessed cops in Thailand and Qatar beat a resisting westerner until he pissed his pants. So you may think you are a “Tough Guy” – but when it is 14 Mutaween VS you don’t expect to win.

Do not expect Assistance from the US Embassy:

Basically the local US Embassy won’t do shit for you if you get arrested, the American consular officer has more important things like complaining about their maid than helping an American in need.

The only thing the consular officer will do is come and see you in jail to tell you that he can’t do anything but call your mom and dad, give you the number of a local lawyer that will bleed you dry and write a “strongly worded letter” if you are being tortured.


Depending on the Company/PMC you work for and what country you are posted in you may end up living or spending a lot of time off base. While off base you should attempt to avoid any conflicts especially with the local population and law enforcement.

You may think that as a civilian contractor working with the US Military you will be protected if you get into trouble or arrested while off base. Not true! In many countries that have US Military bases there is no “Status of Forces Agreement” with the host country.

And even if there is a SOFA you may or may not be protected under it as a contracted civilian working for a private company (consult the Company/PMC that you work for or the base legal office).

But no matter what happens expect to get fired, not offered a new contract or harassed off the contract, it won’t matter if you were found innocent or guilty, pay your fines or your case is dismissed.

Most PMC’s just don’t want to deal with someone that has been arrested and “embarrassed them” (in their opinion). Basically they will want you to just go away. Not all PMC’s will want to get rid of you especially if you were not at fault, many of the smaller PMC’s will not fire or otherwise try and get rid of you if you get into trouble and they will do everything in their power to help you.

Don’t expect the same consideration from larger PMC’s, if you are arrested you will probably be on your own with little or no help from them.


~James G
Founder – Editor in Chief

James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long; he has traveled to over 50 countries chasing fortune and glory. He spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and running from the cops in Istanbul. James G. on FACEBOOK


  1. This is the first article in a new series about “3rd World Survival” taken from a book I am writing – hope you folks like it

    ~James G

  2. I can’t wait! Such a book is long overdue.

    Kind Regards
    Brian Kroon

  3. Good article Pimp. Had a buddy of mine who got locked up in Costa Rica for for just about all the stupid reasons you listed (Lets see how can I put this: Got a bunch of coke, beat up a local for stealing from him, which got him arrested, which he resisted). Embassy no help at all. Even with his very well connected father. It has long been rumored that his Dad worked for the Agency (Then again, he may have left him down there.) You know the type. Educated embassy type, but old school. His dad did the whole Everest thing in like the 60’s or 70’s. Anyway, I digress. Bottom line, beaten with pipes by Jamaicans, constant fights. Extorted by guards. Etc, etc. etc.

    Fuck foreign prisons…

  4. Always great info that I find myself passing off to my kids & other friends that travel. Looking forward to the book.

  5. Excellent stuff. I know that these days, with more muzzies controlling some areas, the local ‘shariah’ laws can be made up at the drop of a turban, but even back in my day – ancient prehistory – I met a lot of American kids who were totally amazed that they had **NO** rights when travelling in any third world hell holes. None!
    England, Germany and Italy were pretty much OK; Thailand was pretty much OK if you stayed in the right places. But much of South America and much of Asia back then seemed to be worlds of their own, governed in each square mile by a different Twilight Zone ‘sheriff’, ‘warlord’, ‘magistrate’ ‘commissioner’, or whatever. And the thing is, a lot of the kids I ran into were Americans who had heard how EASY they could score dope in some of these places… “like, KILLER Afghani Grey, man, brought a key home in my jock, it was soooo coooool!” – and they did not grasp that, just like you said, when the local slaps your ass in some stinking cell full of rat droppings, human vomit and piss, and four perverts being held for disemboweling a total stranger in an alley for five dollars and a cheap Timex, the US Embassy won’t do jack to get you out. You’re on your own, and you are f*cked! Why do people not believe?

    My only advice, if you absolutely positively HAVE to be in such a place is stay with a friend, if possible one who has been in-country longer; if possible, find a local ‘guide’ who is known to some of your buds, to steer you right and keep you out of the wrong places. Worst scene I recall was in a bar where a Cambodian gal was crawling all over a young American civvie, and he was digging it, had his hands in her clothes, she was rubbing her breasts against his face, really steamy stuff. Big guy and two friends came over from the bar and said hey, man, you’re touching my wife. Of course she was a hooker and it was a simply shakedown operation, a couple hundred US dollars would soothe the jealous “husband’s” ruffled feelings, but for a few minutes I had that cold, crampy feeling in the gut that accompanies very unpleasant events which are about to involve you..
    So like the saying goes – KYFHO of anything that ain’t yours.

    Looking forward to the next in the series, and I HOPE that any newbies are copying this stuff and taking it to heart. It ain’t just hot air, you are performing a seriously needed service!

  6. Interesting article; I’ll be sure to buy a copy of your book when it comes out.

  7. Very handy advice which can be summarised in one word;


    Put me down for a copy of your book, Mr. G!

  8. Told like it is, in my days I would kiss the tarmac on every return, and I still get a kick outta the wet kiddies who complaint how bad shite is in the states….make sure the book is offered here first so far the reads look right and thank you for this important topic hope the youngems heed the experienced view. Glad I came here.

  9. Another great Article that should be mandated for all Young, or first time travelers without Diplomatic passports! Being a westerner means shit overseas!

    • Actually, being a Westerner overseas means you’re a target.

      • You know I meant your life was worth Shit LOL!

  10. Bit extreme, many offenses like resisting a police officer or smuggeling dope are serious offenses in the US. There was a Canadian SciFi author who got stopped by the US customs 20 miles into the country just for the fun of it, he got out of the car and got beaten up. Mind you this is a guy in his sixties. In fact many things in the US make you wonder how civilised the LEO’s are and since 9/11 civil liberties seem to have taken a serious backstep.

    In my experience staying clean is probably the best solution, staying friendly with police officers and/or customs officials helps a lot even if they are being jerks. And if you get caught smuggeling dope then it is your own dam fault. Can’t speak for Sharia countries but it also helps to understand the local laws to avoid hassles. Just because they market themselves as mordern countries their legal system might be archaic in our views (I’m not saying wrong because frankly I like the Singaporean way).

  11. Good article. Best solution is to stay out of trouble.

  12. In most countries they do not like the U.S. and neither the government nor the public will give you a fair break if you are ensnared in local problems. In some countries they will go out of their way to cause you problems.

  13. Get it written, published and on the shelves.

  14. Man, I can tell you guys from personal experience, when the chips are down, go to the British or Canadian embassy; don’t even bother with the US embassy. The quality of personnel is SO incredibly bad compared to other western embassies. They’re just locked into this do-nothing, “not my problem” bureaucratic mindset that paralyzes them. It’s really sad.

  15. Good points James. Got into a punch up with a Brit in North Africa then after that every time I looked into the window of the shop and checked my 6 there was boys in black packing black. In that part of the world you dont take a picture or any where near a police station, god knows what else they would have got me on not knowing the local laws. No no dope ect.

  16. Noted. The dude standing on the far left of the picture holding his John Henry looking at the sleepers! LOL

  17. First rule in travelling in these places is: don’t get involved in crime.

    A few years back I helped a friend of a friend get her little brother deported from the PRC. Kid was dealing pot for the Nigerians. Had he been caught by the Chinese cops they would have shot him after a brief trial. All it took was a short trip to his embassy. Note he was not a US citizen. The next day his visa was revoked. The day after he had a surprise visit from the local authorities. The day after that he was on an airplane out of the country and told to never apply for a visa again.

    Publish your book. I’m sure everyone here will buy three copies for friends and family.

  18. James first of all thank you sir this is a powerful piece also I am glad that you are turning this into a new series of articles and a book both of which are needed.

    While this article, series and eventual book is a necessary have for Civilian Contractors etc it should be a must read for every member of Generation X, XY (Net) and college student.

    I have seen too many of my friends and even family members pumped up on Starbucks coffee and Red Bull sitting around a table with a few video cameras talking about how they need to document the inhumane conditions in whatever the hot country is of the week.

    They may sign up with the Peace Corp or some other Aid and Humanitarian organization as a cover so they can sneak out and conduct interviews or document something they should not.

    Of course we all know there is nothing wrong with helping people but they are ways to do everything and for some reason many westerners believe the laws of another country do not apply to them.

    A very simple is example of this was when the iPad was first release it was illegal in Israel and yet it was almost comical how many Americans screamed bloody murder when their device was confiscated by customer officers.

    American temper tantrum + Israeli security official = something or someone getting smashed…

  19. wow great article bro , extremely eye opening on how easily you can get fucked over just for being stupid , im having second thoughts about going to costa rica 4 girls n stuff :S

    looking forward to more articles like this

  20. Before I head overseas to a new garden spot I check the state department website for warden messages (they call them something else now). Basically they put out a message every time a U.S. citizen gets victimized or jammed up in some petty crime. They don’t usually list idiots with drug offenses and other obvious shit, but you can get an idea what kind of shakedown scams the local dirtbags and po-po are running against foreigners.

    What I find even more helpful these days are the expat blogs and message boards. Lots of useful information on local customs and laws that will have you not making an ass of yourself in short order, or not overpaying the “fine” when you get pulled over for having a dirty car.

  21. Hmmmm….I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be better to let these thoughts, rules and advice go unwritten. That way the whole Darwin’s Theory thing may be the rule of the day, where the dumbasses simply weed themselves out by fucking up when they violate the rules of common sense while overseas….i.e. if you need to be told ‘not to buy a kilo of coke while in SE Asian or you might get the fucking death penalty’….then you probably don’t need to be leaving your home country, or even your couch for that matter….

    Fun article to read though,

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