Criminal Penalties in United Kingdom

While you are traveling in the United Kingdom, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. If you break local laws in the United Kingdom, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.

Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.

Many pocket knives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the United States, are illegal in the United Kingdom and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected. Please refer to “ A UK Customs Guide," detailing which items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the United Kingdom.

Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences. Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the United States.

Drivers of non-UK-registered vehicles may have to provide an on-the-spot deposit of up to 900 pounds (approximately $1400) if stopped for a motoring offense. If the driver cannot pay due to lack of cash or credit, the vehicle may be impounded until payment is made, and a release fee will be charged in addition to the deposit.

Non-UK-resident drivers charged with motoring offenses are often unable to provide a verifiable address where a summons (subpoena) to appear in court can be delivered and/or enforced, or fail to return for court if released on bail. U.S. citizens may be detained and arrested if they cannot provide a UK address to receive a subpoena or are about to depart the United Kingdom and have to be brought to court quickly for a motoring offense. If alleged offenders attend court and are found not guilty, the deposit is returned.

UK authorities nearly always promptly notify the U.S. Embassy or a consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in the UK, but to ensure the State Department is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained in the UK.

Disclaimer

You are responsible for ensuring that you meet and comply with foreign entry requirements, health requirements and that you possess the appropriate travel documents. Information provided is subject to change without notice. One should confirm content prior to traveling from other reliable sources. Information published on this website may contain errors. You travel at your own risk and no warranties or guarantees are provided by us.

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