A friend of mine got detained at the airport in Jordan because his name matches a name of someone who has issues with the Jordanian authorities.

My friend is British and he only was passing through Jordan. They forced him to stay there for 24 hours with no food and he had to sleep on the floor before they determined that he is not the man they were after.

Does this incident mean that when you travel to a foreign country – even for a short time – that you give up your rights as a British citizen?

  • 2
    There is not such a thing as "British rights." There is the law, and there are human rights. Aug 30, 2015 at 19:25
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    Rights aren't things that belong to you; they're things that are recognized by others. Different countries recognize different rights.
    – user541686
    Aug 30, 2015 at 23:31
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    You have no protection under UK law when abroad. But you are entitled to the protection of the Crown, its embassies and consulates. As it states in your passport Her Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires, in the name of Her Majesty,all those whom it may concern, to allow the bearer to pass freely, without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary. Jordan is a country which values its relationship with Britain. Your friend should have pointed out these words in his passport and requested consular assistance.
    – WS2
    Sep 24, 2015 at 19:55
  • But HM Government expects you to obey the laws of the countries you visit.
    – WS2
    Sep 24, 2015 at 19:57

6 Answers 6


Your rights1 in a country depend on that country's laws with respect to aliens (foreigners).

While you may expect some standards where countries have obligations under international law, a sovereign state is free to legislate with respect to aliens as it wishes.

The short answer? You don't have British rights when you travel abroad, and the same is true for any person who travels internationally. But each country may afford certain rights and privileges to foreigners, especially those who are in the country legally.

1. Let's call them effective rights, because there's been a lot of (accurate) talk about you retaining your UK rights when you travel. Though this may be true, your experience overseas is going to really come down to the rights that the country that you are in recognises. Your responsibilities as a UK citizen, however, may continue even if not recognised by the country you are in by virtue of extraterritorial legislation.

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    This means I am traveling on my own risk even as a tourist! I'll make sure not to leave the EU then.
    – Ulkoma
    Aug 30, 2015 at 12:15
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    Well, yes and no. Most countries will give tourists some rights, because, well, it's good business. But it's highly country-dependent.
    – jimsug
    Aug 30, 2015 at 12:19
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    For example, in the United States most of our bill of rights applies to any person. Since our constitution says person instead of citizens in most places. Here, due to our constitution, it is possible for you to have even more rights than at home in Britain. So as jimsug said, it all depends on the country you are in.
    – Viktor
    Aug 30, 2015 at 12:44
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    @viktor I daresay it wouldn't apply to people in the country illegally, though?
    – jimsug
    Aug 30, 2015 at 12:45
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    Constitutional rights generally apply to anyone, regardless of immigration status. In the United States any person is entitled to a significant amount of protections. There are certain protections which don't apply (if you are not a citizen), but the rule is, in general, these rights apply, unless there is an exception. Lastly, if you are a permanent resident in the United States you generally have the same rights as a citizen with the exception of having the right to vote (prior in our history there were states where you even had the right to vote in local elections!).
    – Viktor
    Aug 30, 2015 at 13:13

There are rights and duties that you have as a British Citizen. You keep these rights wherever you go. These rights say for example how British Police has to treat you, but if you are say in Germany, you are unlikely to meet British Police, so these rights are not very helpful abroad.

You have certain rights as a EU citizen. These rights will be useful to you mostly within the EU. Strange enough, some of these rights that you have as an EU citizen you (a British citizen) have everywhere in the EU, except in Britain! On the other hand, if you visit Germany, you might have EU rights that German citizens don't have.

Next, whatever country you go to, you may stay there long enough to become a resident, or short time to be a visitor. For example, if you visit the USA you have the right not to be robbed or shot. You don't have any right to enter the country (but they let you in because it's good for business), but once you're there you actually have quite a lot of rights, which the USA voluntarily give every person present in the USA. And that applies to people who are there illegally as well. Sure, the police can arrest them (like they arrest people believed to have committed a crime), or they can be removed, but they still have all the basic rights.

So as a visitor you have some rights, enough to say you are not "there at your own risk". As a resident you usually gain even more rights, but also more duties.


While the circumstances you describe do not mean your friend lost any of his British rights (which only apply to interactions with the British government), it is true that being outside of the UK a British subject does lose some protections.

For example, recently the UK assassinated three British subjects who were allegedly part of IS, on the grounds that they may have been plotting against the UK. If they had been in the UK at the time it is unlikely they would have been attacked with a drone; their rights under UK law would have required and arrest and prosecution. The government has stated that since they were outside the UK in what they claim was a "theatre of war", their killings did not require judicial oversight.

Well, not just oversight, we don't have capital punishment in the UK at all, and certainly not for the innocent.

  • +1 for astute observation that one can in fact lose one's rights when outside of one's country of citizenship! This example also applies to the U.S.
    – feetwet
    Sep 9, 2015 at 12:51
  • Indeed, US citizens have been killed by extra-judicial killings / assassination by drone. The US also tortures it's citizens outside of its territory. Basically if the government decides you are an enemy of the state, even without any trial or telling you, your right to life is revoked as soon as you leave the country.
    – user
    Sep 9, 2015 at 16:58

You may have gotten rights and privileges mixed up. You don't have rights, as a British subject (you're subjects, right, not citizens?) in a foreign country. But it used to be that you had a privilege: That being a British subject would enable, even cause, the British government to use its influence - or even enforce its influence with military might - to protect you anywhere in the world. See Don Pacifico for example. And that might have made foreign countries think twice before messing with you.

But that was over 150 years ago. Today, your privilege: don't count on it.

  • 3
    Very few people are British Subjects these days. The main way to be a British Subject is to be a person born in Ireland before 1949 who did not accept Irish citizenship; or someone who did not get citizenship of the new country when his colony was made independent, but also was not able to obtain British Citizenship or any other kind of citizenship. About 3500 British Subject passports were issued in 2010. Since 1948 most British people have been British Citizens of one form or another. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Calchas
    Aug 31, 2015 at 1:39
  • @Calchas - very interesting, thank you! I thought all British peoples were all "subjects of the Queen" therefore "British subjects" but I see that is now just a way of talking, even if it was so in the past.
    – davidbak
    Aug 31, 2015 at 5:12

There are ways that you can give up your UK citizenship; travelling to a foreign country is not one of them.

While traveling you retain all your rights and obligations as a UK citizen - this includes the right to be detained and charged in accordance with the laws of the country through which you are travelling (unless you are an accredited diplomat). This is exactly the same right that you have at home!

While travelling one of your other rights is for the UK government to offer you consular support. Among the (long) list of things the government cannot do is:

Investigate crimes, get you out of prison, prevent the local authorities from deporting you after your prison sentence, or interfere in criminal or civil court proceedings; because we cannot interfere in another country’s processes, and must respect their systems just as we expect them to respect the UK’s laws and legal processes.

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    Hmm. I have a feeling that the right to consular support is almost certainly a byproduct of international obligations under a treaty or customary law. Interesting, though.
    – jimsug
    Aug 31, 2015 at 2:16
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    @jimsug Correct; the applicable treaty is the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, codifying international custom.
    – cpast
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:54

If a EU citizen is detained by police for whatever reason, it must be given access to call its embassy or the embassy of any EU state. Jordan doesn't have any right to detain EU citizens under any circumstances, except for vivid wrongdoings. I would advise your friend get a lawer and sue Jordan for mistreatment at yhe european court for human rights and then seize its assets abroad if it doesn't want to pay!

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    Jordan has every right to detain any EU citizen inside the borders of their country if that is legal according to the laws of Jordan, possibly with the exception of diplomatic personnel. Nothing that a "European court for human rights" can do about it except complain. Note the word "European", and check with a map that Jordan is quite a long way away from Europe. If you are wrongly arrested in Jordan according to Jordan law, you may have the right to complain about it in Jordan, but not anywhere else.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 31, 2015 at 14:47
  • In the case described, it sounds that authorities in Jordan had a reasonable belief that the person was a wanted criminal, which would get you detained in any country. He was left go when it turned out that they were wrong, which is what would happen in any civilised country.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 31, 2015 at 14:51
  • Well, if Jordan wants to lose its investments abroad it can continue to detain EU citizens. The thing is that Jordan made a mistake when it detained a non terrorist and it should be responsible for its actions. Also, EU uses a lot of soft power, recall that two american firms did not merge because the European Court didn't want them to.
    – moldovean
    Aug 31, 2015 at 15:45
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    So you think Jordan shouldn't uphold its laws because richer countries will retaliate? Power above right? Especially when these richer countries would uphold their laws in exactly the same way? Do you really think that is how the EU should behave, and do you really think that is how the EU wants to behave? The OP hasn't even made any claim of wrongdoing; his friend was detained on entirely reasonable grounds.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 31, 2015 at 22:35
  • Moreover, you cannot sue Jordan in a European court for its governmental activity. Sovereign states are immune to suits in foreign courts for their sovereign activity; the ECHR only has jurisdiction over states that have waived their immunity by treaty. and will not hear a case against Jordan. As a separate matter, sovereign immunity is also immunity from enforcement: a country isn't allowed to just seize assets of a sovereign state.
    – cpast
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:50

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