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Your Rights in a Foreign Airport

Rights while traveling abroad

Your Rights when you are stopped in a Foreign Airport

Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport

Recently I have read some disturbing accounts of things that have happened to Black Travelers in Airports and Foreign Countries.  We have all seen what has happened to Travelers on Airplanes right here in the United States.  Many people feel that our own TSA Agents are out of control.  Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!  Let’s take the time to examine your rights when you are stopped in a Foreign Airport  and how to avoid problems if we can.  

Full disclosure, I worked for the US Department of State for 2 years.  I worked in the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Group.  I am also a former United States Army Intelligence Officer (5.5 years) and I am also a Black Male.  Let’s take the time to examine what is happening and how to avoid problems if we can.  

Stop, Look, Listen & Ask…..What to do when you are stopped for questions

First,  Stay Calm.  Assess your situation.  Understand that this may not be personal and that someone else is doing their job.  More often than not it is a misunderstanding.  If you do not speak the language, then ask for an interpreter. Finally, understand that you missing your flight is not an emergency to anyone else but you!  Telling the Authorities that you may miss your flight is not going to make them go any faster.  

Second, understand your surroundings.  For example where are you?  Whose authority are you under?  If you are a US Citizen and outside of the US you have little to no rights!  Which by the way includes not having a right to remain silent, right to privacy and the right to an attorney.  You need to determine and understand what laws or rules are you under?  That will depend on if you have entered a Country?  If you have left a Country?  If you are in between Countries or in or over International Waters?

Third, identify who is questioning you and what their responsibilities are and what are they focused on.

Examples of Entities, Responsibilities and Focus:  
Who am I?

Do you know who I am?  Do you know what I do? Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!

Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport:

  • TSA and/or Security Guard: May be Armed or Unarmed private company that provides security to an area or business or in support of the Government.  They have been delegated some level of authority however the responsibility remains with some other entity.  Usually do not have the ability to arrest you but can detain you for someone else to arrest you.   
  • Law Enforcement:   Local law enforcement is primarily responsible for the enforcement of the violations of local or regional laws and the investigation of both criminal and civil crimes or complaints.
  • Customs Agents:   Customs Agents are federal/national law enforcement officer that protects and secures borders. Customs Agents are primarily concerned with terrorists, drugs, weapons, transporting harmful food, plants and animals and anything other threats entering the country.
  • Immigration Officers:  Immigration Agents are federal/national law enforcement officer that protects and secures borders. Immigration Agents are primarily concerned with terrorists, illegal immigrants, human and sex trafficking and anything other threats entering the country.

If you are not sure who they are then ask.  You may not be able to tell by looking at a foreign uniform.  Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!  So ask who are they and what organization are they with?  Ask for clarification so that you are sure what their job is?  What is their authority?  Again I can not say this enough, if you are not a Citizen of that Country you are in you do not have any RIGHTS!

Nobody Cares but You!
His and Hers Sex aids!

His and Hers Sex aids!  

When answering questions understand that some things are suspicious! They are things that people who are up to no good are doing.  Don’t focus on the wrong thing.  Although it may be embarrassing, no one other than you and the people you traveling with, care about your sex toys, underwear and/or condoms you have with you.  They see that all the time and they have usually seen worse!

When they inspect your phone and demand you on lock it. They also do not care about naked pictures on your phone or text messages that are from people other than your spouse or significant other.  They are looking for

Condom Pack

Condom Pack

evidence of a real and serious crime.  Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!  You do not have a right to privacy. It is best to follow instructions and get out of there.  Arguing, presenting an attitude, rolling your eyes, yelling at people or resisting will only make it worse.  In most cases they can detain you until their investigation is complete.  If you refuse to cooperate it could take hours or days.   Remember they are at work and getting paid and you are wasting vacation time.   There is no one coming to your rescue. Instead the effective strategy is to de-escalate the situation.  


How to safeguard a phone or laptop when traveling internationally?
Smart Phone

Smart Phone, Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!

  1. Don’t bring your primary phone or laptop with you.  Bring a backup phone or laptop.  Use your work phone or work computer.  You can also use a tablet.
  2. If you do not have a backup or work phone and/or laptop you can also backup your data and wipe it from your phone or laptop and restore the data when you get back.
Back up Tablet & Phone

Back up Tablet & Phone

Some things look suspicious!

Examples of things that look suspicious:

  • Staying overnight without having a hotel reservation (i.e. staying with someone) – Traveling to a Foreign Country and staying overnight without a hotel or resort reservation is considered probable cause for Immigrants and Customs for drug trafficking, smuggling and/or money laundering.  
  • Traveling with no return ticket or Not having any money – Not having enough money to pay for basic needs which include food, water and shelter for the time you are in the country look suspicious. This is something that drug mules do.  They are forced to carry drugs into a Foreign Country and they get paid when the get the drugs in.  That is also what people do who are illegally immigrating to another country.   Obvious exception are children.  
  • Having a lot of money – Legal limits of cash are generally $10K of local currency. Anything above that must be declared.  It also look suspicious.
  • Traveling with empty suitcases – Makes law enforcement wonder what you are taking back.
  • Buying a lot of Coffee – Coffee is used to hide the scent of drugs and throw off drug dogs.  I get stopped about once a year when they see I have 10-15 pounds of coffee.  The funny thing is when they ask me if I like coffee and I say no.  Then I point to Nikki and say, “she likes coffee and I like her!”  That’s when they usually look at her over from head to toe.  They notice expensive earrings, an oversize designer handbag, a massive diamond on her finger, her phat booty and cute shoes.  Then they understand why I have 10 pounds of coffee.

Coffee, Know your Rights in a Foreign Airport!

This is certainly not a complete list.  My goal was to get you to think about things. I have recently read some disturbing accounts of things that have happened to Black Travelers passing through Customs and Immigration’s at foreign Airports.  With the President Trump trying to put a “travel bands” in place we have to expect other Countries to make it more difficult for Americans as well.


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Bill Collins

Bill Collins is a former Army Officer turned veteran traveler. I have traveled to 34 different Countries mainly concentrated in Central & Latin America and have spent the last 16 years exploring the Caribbean Islands.

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