How to Stay Safe (and Free)

Drugs abroad can be serious business. We've all seen Banged up Abroad and heard horror stories about people being jailed for doing drugs abroad, but surprisingly many backpackers are willing to risk the consequences for a good night out.

South America has become a hotspot for drug tourism and it's getting all too easy to buy cocaine. 43% of 18-24 year-olds know someone who has taken illegal drugs abroad*, and it's not surprising. Drugs abroad are cheap, widely available and actively encouraged. There's a cocaine bar in Bolivia, a Pablo Escobar tour in Colombia (where tourists are said to snort lines off his grave) and plenty of travellers willing to throw caution to the wind.

But before you get caught up in the moment (or have too many shots at the bar) just remember that doing drugs in a foreign country can have serious consequences. Read my top tips and advice on dealing with drugs abroad.

Find out the local laws before travelling - Some countries can impose hefty prison sentences and even capital punishment for drug related offences. Two thirds of Brits don't always find out about the local laws before visiting, putting themselves at risk of unknowingly breaking the law.

If you're found with drugs abroad, you will be prosecuted under local law - Nearly a third of people (32%) don’t realise they will be prosecuted under local law and sentences can be a lot tougher than in the UK. Think the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can get you out? Wrong. They can only fight for a fair trial.

Never take drugs across a border - This may seem like an obvious one but it’s surprising how many travellers get into trouble because they forget to check their pockets. And if you ever feel tempted to deliberately smuggle drugs, remember you could face life in prison or even the death sentence.

Be wary of corrupt police officers - In places like Colombia lots of dealers have agreements to inform police of tourists scoring drugs. It's not uncommon for backpackers to buy cocaine only to be arrested five minutes later. Many find they have to 'buy' back the drugs or bribe their way out.

Expect random drug checks - Be extra careful when using public transport and crossing borders as police are entitled to pull over vehicles for random searches. If you're carrying medicine make sure you keep the prescription handy to avoid any confusion.

Say 'no' to drugs abroad - If people are doing drugs in your dorm, leave them to it. Dealing with drugs abroad is often about being wise. If a new pal asks you to smuggle pills into a club, say no. It might seem like everyone has a care-free attitude towards drugs but if you get caught your trip of a lifetime will be over in a heartbeat (and could be replaced with a lifetime of incarceration instead). Dealing with drugs abroad isnt a good idea, saying "no" could save your life.

*All figures published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office August 2011

For more information then read this statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.