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State Dept. offers advice to students going abroad for break

When setting foot on foreign soil, it may be tempting for a student, feeling no connection with the host culture, to assume immunity to local laws and customs.

“Although most students will have a safe and enjoyable adventure, for some the trip will become a nightmare with a serious impact on the rest of their lives,” according to a State Department press release.

The State Department’s Web site collects a bevy of information for Americans traveling to foreign countries, including students traveling over spring and summer breaks. Several pamphlets and press notes published by the Department note the mistaken belief of many traveling Americans that they are exempt from local laws and would be sent home in the event of legal trouble.

“A lot of students expect that when they’re traveling abroad, they have American soil in a circle around them,” said Rene Sanchez, program coordinator in the Study Abroad office. “They believe they bring their country into the country they’re visiting.”

However, in a pamphlet titled “Travel Warning on Drugs Abroad,” the State Department stated that any American leaving the country forfeits the protection of U.S. laws and constitutional rights. An American arrested internationally is subject to the laws of the host country.

Therefore, the State Department and the Study Abroad office both urge students to heed the following advice.

Before departure, it is crucial to research the laws and customs of the country being visited, along with its crime rates and political circumstances.

This information is readily available on the State Department’s Web site in the form of Consular Information Sheets. The Study Abroad office has many books describing the countries visited for their programs, as well.

In order to remain in close contact with American authorities abroad, students should register online with the consulate before departure. Always keep the telephone number and address of the U.S. Embassy on hand.

Under no circumstances should traveling students buy, sell, carry or use drugs while abroad. Neither should they accept parcels from anyone to ferry through customs. Even a relatively minor amount of an illegal substance can land a traveler in a foreign jail.

“In some countries, anyone who is caught with even a very small quantity for personal use may be tried and receive the same sentence as the large-scale trafficker,” the State Department pamphlet stated.

The U.S. Consulate cannot force a foreign government to exonerate detained Americans, nor fund their defense with federal cash. It can, however, visit them in jail, communicate with family members back home and ensure that Americans are treated according to internationally accepted standards.

The Study Abroad office advises students to keep a low profile, avoid crowds and demonstrations, dress conservatively, blend into local culture and be fully aware of local laws and customs beforehand. Students are also advised not to drink to excess or consume drugs, and avoid people who do.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires all American citizens who re-enter the country from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda by air to have a valid, non-expired passport. The regulation was enacted per the counsel of the 9/11 Commission and requested formally by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

“The goal is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate international travelers,” the State Department’s Web site stated.

Previously, American citizens were required to verbally declare citizenship and present a valid driver’s license or birth certificate to re-enter the U.S. from the countries mentioned.