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DUIs & International Travel: Getting In and Getting Out

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We wrote about the consequences of earning a DUI in a state other than your own a few weeks ago, but as people make plans to hit the Autobahn or broach the Canadian border this summer, we thought it wise to explore the issue of drunk driving in foreign countries as well.

The first thing to know is every nation has the right to refuse you entry if you have been convicted of a DUI elsewhere—or if you’ve already scored one on a previous trip to that land. Canada, in particular, has quite the reputation for digging up criminal records and the Mounties won’t hesitate to turn away those with drunk-driving offenses at the border. Never fear though, travelers with a DUI in their past can still get their fill of poutine and Tim Horton’s; they’ll just need to apply for admission through a Canadian consulate before venturing north. Incidentally, globetrotters with drunk-driving criminal convictions in the past ten years won’t be allowed entry south of the border either.

On the other side, make sure you flip to the driving section in your Lonely Planet or chat with the car rental representative about local driving laws prior to hitting the road abroad. Algeria, for example, supposedly has a blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.01 percent, which is essentially zero tolerance for driving back to the hotel after a drink. In Sweden, the legal driving limit is 0.02 percent— nearly zero tolerance as well, and the fines depend on how much money you have in the bank. (Swedish police officers also tend to stalk habitual DUI offenders, but that’s another matter). Bear in mind the laws aren’t always steadfast around the world, and that disoriented tourists make an easy target for wily cops.

If you are arrested in a foreign land, get in touch with the U.S. Embassy or regional consulate immediately so they can act as a temporary liaison between you and the local authorities. That being said, DO NOT expect the U.S. State Department to be your advocate; they will not go to bat for you. They should, however, provide you with the name of an English-speaking attorney familiar with the local laws, which is crucial since the court procedures and DUI repercussions vary drastically between nations. One more thing: don’t try to flee the country without dealing with your transgression. Arrests are typically logged into a database, and you will be stopped at Immigration upon your attempted departure.

It’s worth contacting a defense lawyer once you return home as well. Repeat offenders are always punished more harshly than first-time offenders, and-- as with a DUI in another state-- an international DUI could count towards your overall tally. For instance, if you were arrested for drunk driving on Ireland’s Ring of Kerry and again on the way down from Aspen, that mile-high conviction would be considered your second crime and would come with a heftier sentence. It’s also important to realize certain countries don’t expunge drunk-driving incidents from one’s criminal record, so those could show up in American background checks for years afterward if they aren’t handled properly.

We always opt for local transportation ourselves if sangria or sake is involved, so who’s up for a rickshaw ride?

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