Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations.

Laws and regulations may sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the same protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Persons violating the law in a foreign country, even unknowingly, may be expelled, fined, arrested, or imprisoned.  If arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process to be charged or indicted, prosecuted, and possibly convicted and sentenced.

Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone who enters regardless of nationality. A U.S. passport does not entitle the bearer to any special privileges or preferential treatment in the Netherlands. Neither the U.S. government nor its representative, a Consular Officer, has the authority to get U.S. citizens released from foreign jails. However, a Consular Officer will:

  • insist on prompt access to an arrested U.S. citizen
  • provide a list of attorneys
  • information on the host country’s legal system
  • offer to contact the arrested U.S. citizen’s family or friends
  • visit the prisoner
  • protest mistreatment
  • monitor jail conditions
  • provide dietary supplements if needed
  • keep the Department of State informed

Family Members
The Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. is the point of contact for family members in the United States who are concerned about a U.S. citizen family member who has been arrested abroad. You can reach OCS by calling 1-888-407-4747. Family members in the Netherlands who are concerned about a U.S. citizen arrested in the Netherlands can reach the Consulate General via the ACS Navigator.

Arrest of a United States Citizen in the Netherlands
An arrested citizen should hire an attorney as soon as possible. If the case involves a charge more serious than a minor traffic violation, we recommend retaining a Dutch defense attorney familiar with Dutch law and legal proceedings in Dutch courts. The Dutch attorney is the primary source of legal council.

Legal services will be at the expense of the arrested citizen. The U.S. government does not provide funds for legal fees.