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Knowing and obeying U.S. laws

Remember that you are a professional and cultural ambassador, representing both your own country and all exchange visitors to the United States. If you break the law, your program may end, and you could be sent home.

Unlike the laws in most countries, some U.S. laws vary from state to state and even city to city. To avoid mistakes, it’s important to become familiar with and obey the local laws in the town or city where you’re living.


Illegal possession of controlled substances in the United States is subject to prosecution and violates CIEE program rules. The penalties for drug possession vary from state to state, and any type of illegal drug use while you are in the United States may have serious consequences. You may have to pay fines or go to jail if you’re caught with drugs or with people who have drugs.


You must be 21 years old to drink alcohol legally in the United States. If you’re under 21 and found with alcohol, you may be arrested and subject to fines. In addition, if you purchase alcohol for others under 21, you can be arrested and subject to fines. Drinking alcohol in public areas is also illegal in most places. You’ll be subject to fines if found guilty. Many bars, restaurants, and liquor stores require a government-issued photo identification (ID), such as a passport, to purchase alcohol. Use of a fake ID is illegal.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Do not drive if you have been drinking alcohol. Not only is this dangerous, but DWI/DUI laws are strict, and the legal limit for blood alcohol is low. You might have to pay up to $5,000 or go to jail if found guilty of DWI/DUI. Americans often choose a "designated driver" when going out with a group of friends. This person agrees to not drink alcoholic beverages and drives the rest of the group to and from their destination.

If you think you are over the legal limit, call a cab or get a ride from someone you know and trust. Never get into a car if the driver has been drinking.


Americans may be less tolerant of smoking than people in your home country, and it’s illegal to smoke in many public places in the United States. “No smoking” signs are usually clearly posted. Smoking is restricted in workplaces and restaurants and on public transportation. When in doubt, ask.

If you’re arrested, call CIEE immediately

It’s important to cooperate with police officers and be respectful at all times. Never attempt to flee, resist, or argue. The police are interested in maintaining peace and order; they do not decide if you’re guilty.

If you’re arrested, you’re only allowed to make one phone call. It’s important that you call the CIEE Emergency Line at 1-888-268-6245. Please let CIEE know the name and contact information of the jail where you are being held, what the charges are against you, and the date of your court hearing.

Please remember that breaking a U.S. law or being arrested may affect your status as an intern as well as your CIEE program. You could be required to return home.

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