U.S. Laws

As a professional and cultural ambassador to the U.S., you represent both your home country and all exchange visitors. That is why it is so important for you to know and obey all national, state, and local laws. If you break a law, your program may end and you could be sent home.

Please note: Laws in the U.S. vary from state to state and even city to city. To determine what laws apply in the place you live, visit state and municipal government websites.

For more information on some universally applicable laws, please read below.


Illegal possession of controlled substances in the U.S. is subject to prosecution and violates CIEE program rules. The penalties for drug possession vary from state to state, but any type of illegal drug use or possession while in the U.S. could have serious consequences such as fines or jail time.

You must be 21 years old to drink alcohol legally in the U.S. If you are under 21 and found with alcohol, you may be arrested and/or subject to fines. In addition, if you purchase alcohol for others under 21, you may be arrested and/or 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.

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 could 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.

Please note: If you are convicted of a DWI or DUI during your program, your status as an intern or trainee may be affected.

Americans may be less tolerant of smoking than people in your home country. It is also 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 before you start smoking.

If You Are Arrested, Call CIEE Immediately

It is important to cooperate with police officers and be respectful at all times. Never attempt to flee, resist, or argue with the police.

If you are arrested, make sure to call CIEE as soon as possible: 1-888-268-6245. Let us 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 note: Breaking a U.S. law or being arrested may affect your status as an intern or trainee, as well as your CIEE program; you may be required to return home.