What could happen if I get involved with drugs abroad?

What could happen if I get involved with drugs abroad?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has released figures showing that 850 Britons are currently imprisoned overseas for drug-related offences.

‘Zero tolerance’ approach to drug offences abroad

What might be a cautionary offence in the UK will not necessarily be treated the same way internationally.

The ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs in some countries means that penalties for drug offences abroad can be considerable – ranging from lengthy prison terms of up to 39 years to the death penalty.

There are also reports of suspects being detained without trial for several months and, occasionally, in very harrowing prison conditions.

Consequences of drug offences overseas

  • Peru: in excess of 30 people from the UK are in prison for drug offences. A recent case involved Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, who eventually pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Peru in August 2013. The pair face imprisonment terms of at least six years and eight months
  • United Arab Emirates: possession of even the smallest quantity of illegal substances can lead to a minimum sentence of four years’ imprisonment as a drug trafficker
  • Thailand: possession of (or even testing positive for) a Class A drug (such as crack cocaine or ecstasy) can result in conviction as a trafficker, which can attract a death sentence
  • Indonesia: individuals caught with drugs in their possession face long prison sentences or the death penalty, more often than not following a protracted and expensive legal process.


Thailand and Indonesia aside, convicted drug smugglers can be sentenced to death in 31 countries worldwide.

Whilst the British Consul can provide assistance to Britons detained overseas on drug offences, it cannot interfere in the process of law. In other words, the Consul is unable to:

  • provide legal advice
  • secure release from prison
  • obtain prison conditions better than those experienced by locals or other nationals.

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