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Drugs and UK law

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British Consulates

Your first port of call if you get into trouble abroad.

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Drug laws abroad

There are currently more than 1,500 Britons in foreign jails for drug offences. Before you pack that ounce, you may want to read on.

What's the worst that could happen?

  • Many countries outside the UK refuse to grant bail before trial and often detain people in solitary confinement
  • Being caught by UK customs with a small amount of class C drugs, for personal use only, may just get you a financial penalty rather than a court case, however you will get a customs record, and if caught again you will get a criminal prosecution. If someone you are travelling with is caught with drugs, you are likely to be searched and questioned too. If you are caught with drugs on you as well, no matter how small the amount, you will both get the same legal penalties.
  • You will still get a criminal record in the UK if caught with drugs abroad, which may effect future employment. This may also mean that you are refused a visa for the some countries including the USA.
  • If you've been caught with drugs abroad, you're unlikely to ever be allowed to visit the country again.
  • If you get injured or ill as a result of drugs, your holiday insurance may be invalidated and your tour operator can refuse to fly you home.

Countries with a hardline stance on drugs

Death penalty

Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Heavy prison sentences

Cyprus: zero tolerance policy towards drugs and possession will usually lead to a hefty fine or even life imprisonment
Greece: possession of even small quantities of drugs can lead to lengthy and even life imprisonment
South East Asia: sentences of 40 to 50 years are not uncommon

Harsh sentences

India: 10 years for smoking cannabis
Italy: Up to 20 years imprisonment
Jamaica: Drug offences result in mandatory prison sentences and large fines. Possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment
Morocco: Maximum of 10 years imprisonment plus a fine.
Spain: Sentences for carrying can be up to 12 years
Tunisia: Possession of even a small amount of drugs could cost you a term in prison, while more serious charges may even result in 20 years imprisonment plus a fine
Turkey: Up to 20 years imprisonment
Venezuela: Drug carriers face minimum 10-year prison sentences in harsh conditions

If you are arrested

If you are arrested and are carrying a British Passport, you have the right to contact the British Consul  immediately. When there's been an arrest or detention of a Brit, the local police are obliged to contact the nearest British Consulate or High Commission.

You have the right to confidentiality, however you may wish to inform mates and relatives before the media start knocking on their door.

If you do get arrested for drug-related offences, the British Consul can help, but they can't stop you from being prosecuted. Bear in mind that the British Consul CANNOT get you out of jail, get you better conditions than is provided for local or other nationals or give legal advice.

Protecting yourself from drug planting

  • Pack your luggage yourself, making sure it is fastened securely and keep your luggage with you at all times before check-in.
  • Carry a doctor's prescription for any medication you may need to avoid unnecessary delays at customs and immigration checks.
  • Be aware of approaches from people at airports, however innocent they seem. Also be cautious when accepting gifts from people abroad because it's easy to hide drugs in items such as trainers, cosmetics and children's toys.
  • Fairly obvious really - Don't allow yourself to be persuaded or coerced into carrying drugs either across borders or through customs. The money will mean little if you end up with a sentence for life imprisonment. For similar reasons don't cross borders with people you don't know or drive across borders with unknown companions, if they are found in possession, or the vehicle contains drugs, you could be charged as an accomplice.

Information provided by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Updated: 14/10/2008

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