I’ve never, knock on wood, been in trouble in a foreign country. I did have a friend who got arrested in Mexico and told me it was pretty sketchy.
Let’s all live vicariously through these AskReddit users who talked about their experiences getting in trouble while abroad.
1. Holiday in Cambodia
“Rented a scooter in Cambodia, got pulled for having the headlight on before 6pm. I got taken in to a room and was told why I was there, they then asked for my international driving license (which you don’t catually need for a scooter) I lied and told him I lost it in Australia.
He started shaking his head and telling me this wasn’t good…first the headlight issue and now no license…
This is when he asked if I wanted to do things the easy way or hard way, i said easy and he gave me a little speech about lights in Cambodia and then proceeded to ask me how much I thought the info about light in Cambodia was worth.
I paid him 10 bucks and went on my way.”
2. Murder plot
“When I landed in Nepal this German guy accused me of plotting to kill him while on the airplane. I was sitting a few rows behind him reading from a tablet. He told the police I had a laser pointer and insisted I was an assassin. He was hysterical. I was scared in this new country and was put in a room while the police searched my bags for a laser pointer. I had none. The guy turned out to be very mentally unstable and was sent away.
The airport police chief gave me his own phone number and told me to call him if I needed tourist recommendations.”
“Imagine being a forienger in Tanzania in the dark kneeling in the dirt in a circle of armed police officers.
I was in Tanzania doing research on the Maasai language. I was working in the city of Arusha, and my first trip I didn’t have time to do anything fun like go out to any parks to see wildlife. I was alone, so I’d just talk to everyone. One night, I was coming back from the bar that had reliable internet, when a young man struck up a conversation with me. We were walking down the road talking, when I saw a hedgehog run across the road. I ran after it to get a picture–the only wildlife I’d seen (except a monkey from the train) was a hedgehog in a ditch. It was the one time I’d forgotten my camera, and I was determined to get a picture of one before leaving. Confused, the young man caught up with me standing disappointed by a black plastic bag that had blown across the street. I told him that I just wanted to get a picture of a hedgehog. He told me to meet him the next night (they’re nocturnal)–he’d find out where they are commonly seen.
I assumed he didn’t mean it (though in Tanazania if someone says they’ll call you, they call. If they say you should come meet my family sometime, you go meet their family (even if you were strangers before you sat down at the same coffee stall). The next night I was returning from the bar, and my new friend was waiting.
He took me a bit south of the city to an abandoned or rundown school. We squeezed through the gate, but then a dog chased us out. Did we give up? No. He led me down a dusty street. We peered through dusty grass in the light of my dim phone flashlight.
Suddenly we were illuminated in the blinding light of seven or eight armed police officers with powerful flashlights. In the dark I hadn’t realized we were trespassing in people’s yards. Wide-eyed I explained in my best Swahili that I was just trying to take a picture of a hedgehog. One guy with an intimidating rifle screamed at me. It took me a second to translate, “I just saw one!” as he ran down the road and dove under a car. He shook his head–it was gone. The police talked briefly too quickly for me to understand and then they were all fanning out with their flashlights. Some crawled on their hands and knees through the bushes and shrubs.
And damn if they didn’t find one. Picture me on my knees in the dark in the dust surrounded by a semicircle of armed police officers. They used their feet to herd the hedgehog toward me so I could snap a picture. They realized their lights were scaring it, so they turned them off. My flash kept scaring it, so I never did get a good picture.”
4. Road trip!
“In the 1980s, my father and 2 of his friends decided they’d go on a road trip through some US states. This was the first time my father had gone on holiday to another country, so he was pretty excited. One night, they stop at a bar near the Utah/Nevada border, and get talking to this guy, as one does. The guy (an older gentleman who my father later assumed had served in Vietnam) invited my Dad and his friends to his house for moonshine. The trio took him up on the offer. My Dad and one of his friend’s (who we’ll call John) get in their car, while the other friend (Harry) got in the car with the guy, the pretense being they’d follow them to his house.
So, as they are following this dude, he crashes his car into the side of a bridge. My Dad said had the guy missed it the car, and Harry, would be at the bottom of a canyon, and probably dead. So, Harry leaps out, jumps in the other car and they speed of into the night, because they’d be stuffed if the police saw how drunk they all were.
They camped in the desert that night, and in the morning, while my father was eating his second hard-boiled egg (something that, due to this incident, my father still has trouble eating), a lot of police cars pull up, and place them all under arrest. So they all get shoved into a police car and taken to the local police station. They are then told that “a guy is coming down from Salt Lake City to interview you guys.”
The ‘guy’ turns out to be FBI Special Agent Joseph ‘Joe’ Cwik (that was apparently his real name, my father still has his business card, which he recently found and showed me). Imagine what you think a FBI special agent looks like. My Dad said he looked exactly like you imagine a FBI man to look like, with the sunglasses and everything (I imagine him looking like Hudson from CoD: Black Ops). So naturally, my father and his friend’s were pretty scared that an FBI special agent was going to be interviewing them separately.
Joe Cwik asked the standard questions, who are you, what are you doing here, where are you going, etc. He then left the room, and came back holding a pillowcase with something inside it. He showed the thing to me father.
That thing, my dad later realised, was a machine gun.
Joe asked my dad if he knew what this was. My dad said no, and agent Cwik explained that the person they had had drinks with the night before was known to have a lot of guns in his possession. And, as it turned out, was a bit unstable.
My dad suddenly realised, Oh my God, this dude was taking me and my friends to his house to kill us, and no one would know, and thought that he was being interviewed as an eyewitness or something.
No, he was being interviewed as a suspect. For, you see, this person also sold guns, and apparently had been under surveillance by the FBI. And my dad and his friends were heading west, towards California. Know what was happening in Los Angeles at the time?
The 1984 Summer Olympics.
The FBI saw these three, 20-something, fit, Northern Irish men talking to a man known to sell guns while heading towards LA, and assumed they were a Paramilitary hit squad, going to attack the LA Olympics.
My father and his friends, of course, denied everything. They had never been affiliated with any paramilitary organisation, especially ones that would have the need or resources to hit the Olympics. Afterwards, as they were all waiting outside the station, Joe Cwik came up to them, lit a cigarette, and pointed it to them individually.
“Harry, you can go. John, you can go. Andy (my father)… you need to stay.”
My dad said he made a noise he could only describe as like a parrot being hit by a car.
“Just kidding,” said FBI special agent Joe Cwik. And with that, they were free to go. They drove all the way to Las Vegas in utter silence. One of the worst days of his life.
To this day, my father is still anxious when going to the United States, as it probably says under his name, “Investigated by the FBI for links to terrorism.”
I like to think he and his friends were the most talked about people in the Western intelligence community that day, as Joe Cwik probably called his HQ in Salt Lake City to see if they knew any of the names, who then asked the CIA, who then asked MI5/MI6, before coming back with, “We don’t have these names on any of our files.” “
5. Drinkin’ in Germany
“On our school trip to Germany, our teacher made us sign letters saying we wouldn’t drink as we were all below 21 but above Germany’s legal drinking age of 16. So of course, immediately when we got there my friends and I started sneaking off to bars after we were done sightseeing. We started off small: like one beer each at a bar very far from our hotel. We probably would’ve been fine if we stopped there, but we kept upping the ante. Eventually we ended up with bottles of absinthe and Jägermeister in our hotel, along with a bunch of kids we met from Texas who were even crazier than we were. Naturally we got caught and had to make the very awkward “Hey, I’m a terrible son” calls to our parents.
Looking back though it’s a hard thing to regret.”
“I was travelling across Kazakhstan for work. One thing I failed to notice on my visa / landing card was that after x number of days in-country, I had to go check in with immigration. Whoops.
So when I went to leave the country, the passport control official noted that there was no appropriate stamp, pointed this out to me, and eyeballed me like his life depended on it. While I was being coldly stared at, I was shitting bricks, and I thought “oh, I’m going to spend a few nights in the cells before being fined and deported”.
THANKFULLY he said “In future, when you visit our country, you must comply with the law” and let me go. I apologised profusely and got on my flight out.
I haven’t been back, but certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Just don’t go during winter – Kazakhstan is pretty damned cold in November.”
“I was visiting Montenegro a few years ago with my girlfriend (at the time) and another couple. We stayed in this awesome villa in the mountains, our own private pool/garden and not another soul for miles. It was bliss, and we had the best vacation I had ever had.
We were flying home from Dubrovnik in Croatia, however the journey was only a short taxi ride from Montenegro over the border. Our taxi driver wasn’t an “official” licensed cab, but the brother in law of the guy we rented the villa from. It was slightly dodgy, but he offered to do the trip for about 50 Euros less than the other cab company so we agreed. We had met him a couple of times during our holiday and whilst he spoke virtually no English, he seemed fine.
The other couple were flying home from another airport, so it was just me and my girlfriend in his cab. It’s about a 45 minute journey, basically in silence just looking at the breathtaking scenery out of the window. When he gets in the airport and we’re taking our luggage out of the trunk, he indicates to me (in very broken English) that his wallet is missing. I was sat in the front seat next to him, so he obviously thought I had taken it from the dashboard or something. I explain to him that I hadn’t stolen his wallet, had actually just paid him 20 Euros more than he asked for as a tip, and even helped him search his car for his wallet for a good 10 minutes.
Eventually I got tired and said “look, sorry you lost your wallet but we have a flight to catch. Good luck.” As we walked off, he started getting angrier and angrier, and actually followed us into the airport terminal. He grabbed a Croatian police officer who was just standing around, and started talking to him in their local dialect, so we had no idea what they were saying.
The police officer pulls me into a room with my luggage and asks me to open my case. I do as he says, he takes a VERY quick peek and says “okay, you’re free to go.” I was like “Umm…there’s about four other compartments you haven’t looked in. I can unzip them if you want to look properly?” He just smiled and said “no, I know you’re not a thief. That guy is an idiot, don’t worry. Have a safe flight.”
We thought that was the end of the matter, so we check in and we’re waiting in the departure gate. The same police officer comes over to us and says “Sorry, I wanted to let you go…but the guy has made an official complaint so I need to bring you in. Sorry, it’s gone above my head now.”
Now, I’m slightly panicking because I don’t know if this is some sort of scam and we’re going to be asked for some ludicrous amount of money to make this problem “go away”. After what felt like an eternity (probably about an hour, in real time), he brings me and my girlfriend in to see his boss.
My preconceptions about being scammed were totally unfounded. They couldn’t have been nicer. They spoke good English and handled the whole thing very professionally. They did a more thorough search of our bags, cracked a couple of jokes and then escorted us to our flight home which we made with about 4 minutes to spare.
With the ordeal finally over, just as we were stepping onto the plane, the original police officer called my name with a serious sounding tone. I turned around thinking “Christ, what now???” and he just looked at me and said: “You have Facebook?”
He never added me as a friend, sadly, but I’ll forever be grateful that we didn’t get thrown into a Croatian prison for no reason at all.”
8. Spring break!
“Back in 2010, when I was 18, me and 4 of my friends went on our first all-inclusive vacation to Cancun.
We stayed at Oasis Cancun, which at the time was one of the known spring break/party hotels.
We met a local dude who we befriended hooked up an ounce of pot for a ridiculously good price.
After about 30 minutes, there’s a knock on the door. We open it and 3 of the hotel’s security guards barge in. The first thing they see is all of that pot sitting on the table in plain sight.
I was nearly s****ing my pants. One of my friends told them we got it from a taxi driver and he said it was legal in Mexico – quick thinking.
The security guards took half the weed and left. That was the end of it.
We’re honestly extremely lucky. They didn’t extort us (besides taking like 40$ worth of pot), or call the cops.
Some other friends who were there at the same time also got caught smoking pot in their room and each had to give the security guard 200$ for him to let them off, so we are very very lucky.”
9. Replica pistol
“Not me but someone we were travelling with. Our school based in Australia had a high school trip across Europe as part of a history/art tour. The jock of the group bought his father some unique gifts, one of which included a replica flintlock pistol. We all told him that this idea was completely and utterly stupid, but gosh damn he wanted it and buying it for his fathers birthday was his perfect excuse.
He seemed to get away with it through the airport and eventually we boarded our plane back to Australia (departing from Rome) Eventually we are waiting for an extended period of time after some announcements I didn’t pay attention to, and I look out the window as I see a few members of the police, a customs representative, a baggage handler and the guy from our group. They literally unpacked his bag on the apron just because of his stupid cemented pistol. To this day I don’t know how it came to be confiscated at the last possible second, but I’ll never forget him standing there looking like an idiot in front of a whole 747 of delayed passengers.”
10. Left bag
“Visiting Heidelberg Germany taking the bus into town after getting off the plane with a few friends. Inside was my passport, laptop, charger, wallet and several other valuables which I so conveniently and dull headed of me decided to take off my back as it was sore. I lay it infront of my seat on a small platform, and when the time came for me to get off, yes, I hopped right off with my bag still on that bus. It must have been an hour after I arrived at our hotel and unpacked when I realized shit. I don’t have my bag with me.
Lucky for me my friends relatives live in Heidelberg and managed to call up the public transport company in hopes of getting my valuables back. At this point I was wondering how I was to possibly find a Korean embassy to make a new passport let alone replacing the rest of the things I had lost. But around 2 hours later the driver let me know the bag was there and that he would drop it off to be collected if I waited by the same stop, which is how I managed to get everything back. How lucky I was that someone didn’t happen to just take it, or perhaps it speaks of how nice people there are.”
11. Ear infection
“Two weeks into a seven month backpacking trip around South America, my girlfriend got a severe ear infection when we were in Puerto Madryn in Argentina. The pain was so bad she could barely stand and said it felt like her head was about to explode.
Obviously I knew I needed to get a doctor involved ASAP in case her eardrum ruptured, but I’d only been learning Spanish for two weeks at this point. I could about handle formal greetings, but hadn’t yet covered medical emergencies.
I sprinted from clinic to clinic, and using the Google Translate app eventually was able to find one that would take her in. After basically carrying here there, the doctor and I basically communicated using Google Translate, passing my phone back and forward as he asked questions and I answered them. It was weird at first but it worked well, the doctor was pretty cool about it (especially considering he was about to leave for the day when we rocked up).
He gave her a STRONG painkiller and a prescription for antibiotics and sent us on our way. My girlfriend was high as a kite and went straight to sleep. I went into the kitchen and drank a bottle of wine.”
12. You need a passport, dude
“I was a research assistant in an ecology lab when I was 20. My lab group was flying from Seattle to our research site in the remote Canadian arctic, with a stop in Edmonton to change planes. I’d driven across the Canadian border multiple times and just used my drivers license as id. It never incurred to me that I’d need a passport when flying in. The immigration agent gave me this incredulous look and I could feel the shame rising to smother me. He just stared me down for several seconds, then hands my drivers license back and says “You do realize Canada is an independent country, right?” and let me continue. He seemed so defeated by my thoughtless American arrogance.
On the way home,a grad student volunteered at American customs inspection that she’d collected samples of an arctic poppy species that wasn’t on her import permit. Like they would ever have known otherwise. She had to leave her samples behind.
The 90s were a more innocent time.”
“I was 18 visiting Spain from the US. I was with my Spanish friend who was only 17. I wanted to drink alcohol because it was legal for me but not for my friend. I bought us some bottles of beer and we started drinking them out on the street when suddenly the police showed up. They got in our faces but i couldn’t really understand what was going on so my friend had to translate.
They said something to the extent that i could be arrested or deported but instead of translating directly, my friend was telling me what was actually going to happen which was that they were going to make us pour them out and maybe write me a ticket that I’d never have to pay. So I’m just nodding dismissing everything and the police started yelling at him. So he turns to me and said, “they want me to make sure you know this is really serious and you can go to jail”
I still wasn’t getting it so my friend then adds, “so look scared.” I then made this face like i was afraid I’d get in trouble and started acting really apologetic. The police got this satisfied look and kinda stared me down as i poured out our beers. They then finally left us alone.
Side note: my Spanish friend first said to them in English, “I’m American” and for whatever reason tried to do it with a pitiful sounding southern accent (hilarious to me). And it actually might have worked since he had a US drivers license, but when the cops searched his wallet they found his actual Spanish ID card so the jig was up. They said they were sending him a citation in the mail. I guess that was the most stressful part since his parents would have been pretty pissed. Luckily the cops apparently never followed through with it!”
14. High tension
“I went once to Russia from Nice(France) by train with my then girlfriend. Obviously, there were frontier controls at Belarus, so we showed our passports with our transit visas (funny enough, we didn’t need visas for Russia, but we did need them for Belarus). As none of the guards spoke any language other than Russian, they just gestured that everything was ok, and that was that.
We spent 2 weeks and a half in Moscow and St. Petersburg, using AirBnB. It was pretty good and I genuinely enjoyed the trip.
Then, when we were going back to France (by train again), we stopped again at Belarus for exit control, and it was like 2am. We were in a 4 people cabin, and with us was a russian lady and her daughter, she was very kind and we sorta chatted a bit (and then we realized that she had an awful experience with our country, won’t give many details here). The thing is, when the guards saw our passports, asked for something in russian again. The lady translated our “check-in documents” or something like that. It turns out that, when you’re a foreigner in Russia, you have this sheet of paper that you should give to your hotel to be filled and then hand it back when exiting the country. Nobody told us that, and we were puzzled. The guard say “We’re going to take your passports. I am going to talk with my superior”.
Then, we spent a tense hour. The lady called her husband, who, as it turned out, worked with some russian ministry and had something to do with migrations. She then grimly explained that the guards could detain us and send us back to Moscow in the middle of the night for not having the required documents. In that moment, we were livid, we had a flight to catch in France in 4 days or so (and the trip by train takes 2 days), we didn’t have much money for a last minute flight and the prospect of being detained in Belarus wasn’t a pretty one (later I discovered that Belarus is called “the last european dictatorship”, so, there’s that). I was already worried, my ex was very chill until I kinda explained the situation for her, and then she started to worry as well.
The guard came finally and handled our passports back. The lady asked “What happened? Is everything ok?” and the guy said “Well, my supervisor and I had a great day today, we’re in a cheerful mood, so, we won’t bother you. You’re free to exit the country, have a nice night”. We were relieved…
Months later, I found a colleague from Belarus who explained to me “well, next time you slip a 20 Euros note in your passports, and problem solved”. The more you know.”
“I was in Russia, in one of their two main cities, doing my studies. I was a college age male, and American. One day, I’m walking around without my documents, but its like, late September and the police like to hang around the subway stations stopping young adult males and making sure they’re not avoiding conscription. So I get stopped, and I speak a bit of Russian because I had been studying it for almost two years at that point, but that was my second mistake of the day!
Despite my heavy american accent, the lack of passport plus my penis, age, and fact I knew Russian got me a trip downtown to the local military recruiter’s office. I assume I’m about to be conscripted into the military in mere moments, so I pay the guy a bribe and make a phone call to my flatmate and beg him to bring my passport down to the station. He shows up, they see my visa, I get released. That was fun…”