Alcohol, drugs and travel
There are over 1,700 Canadians in jail abroad—over one-third of them for drug-related offences. Carrying any kind of drugs, even prescription drugs, across international borders can cause problems.
This section offers information and advice to help you understand and avoid the risks related to drugs and travel.
See our page on Cannabis and international travel.
Severe penalties for illegal drugs
When you travel abroad, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting. If you get caught with illegal drugs, even if they are considered legal in Canada, being a foreigner or not knowing the local laws is no excuse—any more than it would be in Canada. Your Canadian citizenship does not give you immunity or preferential treatment in other countries.
Most countries, including the United States, have a zero-tolerance policy with respect to illegal drugs, including possession and use. Very severe penalties are imposed for the possession of even a small quantity.
You may also be denied entry to a country if you have previously used drugs, including cannabis after it becomes legal in Canada, that are considered to be illegal in that country.
Examples of penalties around the world for serious drug charges include:
- 20 years’ imprisonment plus a fine: Tunisia
- 30 years’ imprisonment: Venezuela
- Death penalty for offences related to narcotics: Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
Using recreational drugs
Buying and using drugs, even in countries where such practices are common, can lead to criminal charges, arrest and imprisonment. Local authorities often mount “sting” operations against foreigners. If you break the law in another country, you are subject to that country’s judicial system, so do not agree to transport, hold, buy or use illegal drugs under any circumstances.
Don't be a victim of drug traffickers
Drug traffickers prey on tourists, especially women, younger travellers and seniors. The following simple precautions can help you avoid becoming an unintentional smuggler:
- Pack your luggage yourself, keep it securely closed and keep an eye on it.
- Never carry a gift, package or luggage for anyone across a border or through customs unless you are sure of its contents. If drugs are found, you will be held responsible.
- Never pick up hitchhikers or cross an international border with someone you don't know or trust.
Travelling with alcohol
The import, possession and use of alcohol are strictly prohibited in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Before travelling abroad, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting in Canada to find out whether alcohol is permitted.
Alcohol and drug use abroad
You should follow the same safety rules for drinking and drug use abroad that you would at home. Use alcohol responsibly and do not use illegal drugs. Be aware that drugs and alcohol may be mixed with other, sometimes poisonous, substances and you may not be buying what you expected.
Never leave your drinks unattended and never accept drinks from strangers. Watch your drinks as they are being prepared and served. They may be laced with hypnotic drugs that could put you at risk of robbery or sexual assault.
The alcohol available at your destination may be much stronger than you are used to. Do not drink home-brewed alcohol. Drink in moderation. Some localities may not tolerate excessive drinking. Never drink in countries where it is prohibited.
Do not drink and drive. There may be severe penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol. Do not get into any vehicle with a driver who you think may have been drinking or taking drugs.
Prescription drugs may be illegal in other countries
Most of us know that “recreational” drugs, like marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy, are illegal almost everywhere. But in many countries, prescription drugs and medical supplies that are legal and readily available in Canada may also be considered illegal or arouse the suspicions of local customs officials.
How to travel safely with prescription drugs
Laws related to prescription drugs vary around the world. For detailed information, please visit the Prescription medication page.
Canadian visitors to the United States should be aware that their personal medication may be subject to U.S. drug importation laws and regulations. In general, personal importation of a 90-day (three-month) supply of medication is allowed, but only if the drug is not available in the United States.
If you're arrested
Canadian consular officials cannot protect you from the consequences of your actions abroad. They can provide assistance and support, but they cannot override the decisions of local authorities and they cannot arrange for your release.
If you run into trouble abroad, let the arresting authorities know right away that you want to notify Canadian consular officials.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, local authorities are only required to notify the Canadian consular or diplomatic office of your arrest if you specifically ask them to do so.
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