Say you commit a robbery in a country outside of the US. However robbery is legal in that country. If you come back to the USA, can you be charged?

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Extraterritorial jurisdiction

Any authority can claim ETJ over any external territory they wish. However, for the claim to be effective in the external territory (except by the exercise of force), it must be agreed either with the legal authority in the external territory, or with a legal authority that covers both territories. When unqualified, ETJ usually refers to such an agreed jurisdiction, or it will be called something like "claimed ETJ".

Some nations (e.g. France) claim ETJ over all their citizens everywhere. Others (e.g. the US) claim limited ETJ.

US laws are not extraterritorial except:

  1. The high seas and any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, including any vessels owned by US persons that are travelling on them[28]

  2. Any US vessel travelling on the Great Lakes, connecting waters or the Saint Lawrence River (where that river forms part of the Canada–United States

  3. Any lands reserved or acquired for the use of the United States, and under the exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction thereof

  4. Any island claimed under the Guano Islands Act

  5. Any US aircraft flying over waters in the same manner as US vessels

  6. Any US spacecraft when in flight

  7. Any place outside the jurisdiction of any nation with respect to an offense by or against a national of the United States[29]

  8. Any foreign vessel during a voyage having a scheduled departure from or arrival in the United States with respect to an offense committed by or against a national of the United States

  9. Offenses committed by or against a national of the United States in diplomatic missions, consulates, military and other missions, together with related residences, outside the US

  10. International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act

  11. Any law that is explicitly extraterritorial in its text

In general, theft is going to be covered by local jurisdiction everywhere so US law will not apply unless it happens in the US or falls into one of the above categories.

  • 1
    There are a lot more exceptions to “US laws aren’t extraterritorial.” Any law that says it’s extraterritorial is extraterritorial, like treason, child prostitution, economic espionage, RICO violations, and the murder of a US national (all of which have extraterritorial jurisdiction if the offender is a US national). There are other crimes that the US claims universal jurisdiction over, like genocide, slavery, or air piracy.
    – cpast
  • The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is exclusively extraterritorial. It makes it a crime for US citizens or companies to offer bribes or other improper considerations to foreign officials (all of which it carefully defines) yesterday

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