This material provides general information about the Taiwan legal system. It is not intended to take the place of legal counsel.
Any information relating to conditions within a specific foreign country is provided as a courtesy, for general information only, and does not constitute legal advice. The Department of State makes no representation regarding the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of this information. Questions about foreign laws and legal systems should be addressed to appropriate attorneys.
The Taiwan legal and penal system is different than in the United States. The following account is intended to provide general information about what to expect from the point of arrest through investigation, indictment, conviction, sentencing and service of a prison term if the case is not dismissed. These descriptions are general only, and your case might proceed differently. You should not rely on this information for the purpose of making legal decisions; the only true authority for your case is your lawyer.
Providing assistance to U.S. citizens arrested or detained abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. The U.S. Department of State is committed to the welfare of U.S. citizens detained overseas. AIT stands ready to assist citizens and their families within the limits of our authority in accordance with international, domestic and foreign law. AIT will make every effort to ensure that U.S. citizens are treated in accordance with Taiwan laws and regulations.
U.S. citizens who violate the laws of Taiwan are subject to local jurisdiction. U.S. citizens should not expect preferential treatment from local authorities. Persons violating the law in a foreign country, even unknowingly, may be expelled, fined, arrested, or imprisoned. If arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, and possibly convicted and sentenced.
All prison sentences must be served in a Taiwan penal facility. There is no provision under Taiwan law for convicted U.S. citizens to serve sentences in the U.S. Neither the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) nor the United States government can obtain the release of U.S. citizens incarcerated in Taiwan.
AIT can visit arrested U.S. citizens, provide a list of attorneys, provide information on the host country’s legal system, contact family or friends, protest mistreatment, and monitor prison conditions. Family or friends can send money to incarcerated individuals through the State Department.
If You Are Arrested
Contact AIT immediately, or ask the police to do so. In northern Taiwan, call AIT Taipei (02) 2162-2000. In southern Taiwan, call AIT Kaohsiung (07) 335-5006. An AIT Duty Officer is available 24 hours a day.
Do not sign anything you do not understand. Suspects in Taiwan have the right to remain silent and to refuse to sign documents.
Consider hiring an attorney. Suspects have the right to an attorney, and AIT strongly encourages U.S. citizens who have been arrested to exercise this right. AIT officers cannot act as your attorney or provide legal advice.
Click here for a list of English-speaking attorneys in Taipei (PDF 259 KB) or click here for a list of English-speaking attorneys in Southern Taiwan (PDF 625 KB). You may also want to consider contacting the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF), which provides legal advice and services to foreigners in Taiwan. Click here to locate the branch office nearest you; LAF’s hotline number is 02-412 8518 (dialing from a mobile phone) or 412-8518 (dialing from a land line).
If sentenced to jail, convicted U.S. citizens are usually sent to the Taipei Prison in Guishan District, Taoyuan, to serve their term. Family and friends may visit during scheduled times. Prisoners may send and receive mail, though communications are subject to censoring. An AIT representative will visit incarcerated U.S. citizens approximately every six months.
AIT’s responsibility is to ensure that U.S. citizens who are arrested are treated according to international standards and accorded the same rights as people from Taiwan.
AIT can intercede with local authorities if there are allegations of mistreatment or abuse of U.S. citizens in custody. AIT can also ask the prison authority to assist incarcerated U.S. citizens with medical care or medication.
Upon notification of the arrest of a U.S. citizen, an AIT officer will attempt to visit within 48 hours. During the visit, the officer will provide a list of English-speaking attorneys.
The Privacy Act of 1974 places restrictions on the release of information to outside parties. Except in a few limited exceptions, AIT will not provide information about a U.S. citizen unless the U.S. citizen in question has given AIT written authorization. If authorized, an officer will notify family, friends, or others of the U.S. citizen’s arrest.
AIT will monitor the case as it progresses through the Taiwan legal system and will remain in contact with the U.S. citizen and/or authorized family members. An AIT officer will visit detained U.S. citizens on a semester basis and will attend the trial as an observer in some cases.
Visit “Arrest or Detention of an U.S. Citizen Abroad” for general information about State Department assistance to U.S. citizens arrested abroad.