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.

Foreign Laws

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

Persons violating local laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. In the Dutch Caribbean, laws against possession of controlled substances are enforced rigorously, including against tourists in possession of marijuana for personal use. If you break local laws, your U.S. citizenship will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is illegal wherever you go. If arrested in the Dutch Caribbean, a U.S. citizen must go through the foreign legal process including possible charge or indictment, prosecution, possible conviction and sentencing, and any appeals process.

Avoid getting arrested overseas by:

  • Understanding that you are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the country and that you must follow them.
  • Learning about how the laws in the United States might be different from the laws in the Dutch Caribbean. The State Department provides some information each island on our Country Specific pages for ArubaCuracaoSint Maarten, and the BES Islands.

Have you been made aware that a U.S. citizen was recently arrested/detained in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Saba, or Sint. Eustatius?

Please ask the local authorities to notify the U.S. Consulate General in Curacao immediately.

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.

The Consular Officer’s Role

  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English for each island (Aruba (PDF 282 KB), Curacao(PDF 283 KB), Sint Maarten (PDF 280 KB), and Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba “BES Islands” (PDF 280 KB))
  • 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
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Establish an OCS Trust, when no other means to send funds are available so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens

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 overseas

When the arrestee states his/her U.S. citizenship and requests notification to their U.S. consular representatives, local authorities will inform U.S. Consulate General Curacao of the detention of that American citizen without delay.  The Consular Officer will visit the arrestee as soon as possible after notification.  On the initial visit, the Consular Officer will check on the well-being of the detainee and the circumstances of the arrest, provide a list of attorneys, and ask for a Privacy Act Waiver to provide authorization for the consular officer to be in contact with others regarding the arrest.  If necessary, the Consular Officer will intercede with local authorities to ensure fair treatment of the U.S. citizen under local law.  If authorized by the citizen to do so, the Consular Officer will notify the arrested person’s family and relay requests for financial or other assistance.  Legal services will be at the U.S. citizen’s own expense. If a detainee in the Dutch Caribbean has no funds, the court will appoint an attorney to represent him.

More Information