Last update: November 3, 2017
Dateline: Nogales, Mexico
I have just finished the movie Snowden and the topic of privacy, surveillance, and being an international spy is on my mind. The story, of course, is a political thriller which follows the 2013 leaking by Edward Snowden of top-secret information from the NSA and what happens to him in the wake of this major security scandal.
Let’s have a little fun today: Imagine you’re being pursued by government agents, angry creditors, a vindictive ex-spouse, or a hitman with a bounty on your head. You need to find somewhere to hide out under the radar until things blow over… or possibly forever.
Where would you go if the world was your oyster and you had to escape?
Your first inclination may well be to look for one of the world’s non-extradition countries. You ought to be careful, however, because they are not all created equal.
Of course, I’m not advocating that you flee the law. But think about: if the government upped the ante on one of their spying programs, or changed the laws that made your business criminal, or you owed a violent casino boss millions… where would you go to escape?
Would you change your appearance, get a tattoo, or even go so far as Johnny Depp in the critically panned movie The Tourist and implant a voice chip to disguise your speech?
Just look at Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. US Secretary of State John Kerry took to the airwaves to denounce Snowden, saying he should absolutely return to US soil and “face justice”. Snowden was long public enemy number one because he exposed the government’s secrets and has spent years seeking asylum outside of Russia.
Of course, the US government is going to put a lot more effort into tracking down Edward Snowden than it will for many others. After all, Snowden left a lot of egg on their face. And he actually woke a few people up — including the German government — and helped them realize the reality of the huge American surveillance state.
However, if the need to disappear may ever arise, it’s important to consider the following…
Governments don’t always recognize non-extradition rules
You should beware that sometimes practice is different than what is stated in a nation’s law. In other words, some countries have extradition treaties but do not follow them, or some countries do not have extradition treaties, but extradite ad hoc. This makes this already murky topic even more complicated.
For example, in 2012, some 900 people were sent back to the United States. Most of them were sent from Canada, Mexico, and Colombia. About half of them were drug traffickers, but others were involved in fraud, homicide, and pornography.
However, countries like Spain — and even Yemen in the Middle East — have been known to return fugitives, even without an extradition treaty. They make it very easy for friendly governments to nab people on their soil.
However, there are times when countries that have extradition agreements refuse to play ball. The main one is Cuba, where close to one hundred alleged criminals are hiding out. The United States and Cuba do have a treaty, but chilly diplomatic relations have meant it is rarely used. It is unclear what the recent reconciliation between the two countries will mean for extradition.
Moreover, the following countries have been known to refuse U.S. extradition requests, despite having treaties: Bolivia, Ecuador, Iceland, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. We will continue to explore this by looking at countries without extradition treaties on the books as well.
Countries without extradition to the U.S.
First, straight to the point: ’The United States has bilateral extradition agreements with 107 nations (PDF). Moreover, the United States maintains diplomatic relations but, according to the above-mentioned list, does not have extradition treaties with the following full list of countries. Instead of repeating this full list, we will focus on several that are of interest to nomads or people who fit this bill and are looking for a good lifestyle abroad.
The general impression is that anyone wanting to hide out in one of these non-extradition countries has to go to some hellhole in the ends of the earth. But that’s not necessarily true.
I’ve always wondered why people who fled the law ended up somewhere like Spain. Do they think some go-along-to-get-along European country is going to protect them? If you’re not a Spanish citizen, you might as well have just stayed home.
Governments — especially Uncle Sam — are notorious for trumping up charges that will make most Western governments give you up in two seconds flat. It’s not like anyone would think to look for you in a tourist hangout, anyway… ha ha.
For instance, while Brunei is no constitutionalist’s picnic, it’s one of the wealthiest countries to have no extradition treaty with the US. The Sultan of Brunei doesn’t want anyone meddling in his affairs. If you played it cool there and didn’t make out with your new girlfriend in public, you’d probably be quite fine.
It’s exactly for that reason that I’m a bigger fan of countries like Russia and China than some people might suspect based on my free-market view. Big countries like that don’t want to be pushed around by the US government the same way smaller countries often suffer.
Other wealthy countries with no extradition treaty include the wealthy Gulf states of Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates don’t have one either, although their governments have made it clear they want nothing to do with being a safe haven for “criminals”.
Nevertheless, Dubai plays home to the deposed prime minister of Thailand. I doubt you’d be welcomed with open arms into the local cultures of these Middle Eastern countries, but living in a country with more air-conditioned shopping malls and Rolls Royces than any other doesn’t sound like a terrible punishment.
Looking at Europe, a major lifestyle goal of many nomads and travelers, the former-Yugoslav countries of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia are on this list and offer excellent lifestyle and investment opportunities. Serbia and Montenegro, being not part of the EU, may offer certain privacies (as well as beautiful people and views) than Croatia, a recent accession member of the EU, might offer.
Other countries in the region that one might look at are Ukraine and Moldova. These Eastern European countries have struggled with their share of development or financial challenges, but are potential frontier markets that appeal to many nomads. We recently wrote on the topic of banking in Ukraine and Moldova has certain interesting characteristics such as high yields for property rentals.
Go to Asia and you’ll find any number of places that don’t play ball with the US government. Speaking of Asia, China is rarely mentioned as a country without extradition, but it doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States, either.
Before you balk at the idea of living in China, consider that the country is as large as The Land of the Free and provides any kind of lifestyle you could desire for your time on the lam — from five-star ultra-chic to backpacker cheap.
Meanwhile, Vietnam, Cambodia, and rapidly-growing Mongolia are also countries without extradition. I’d even argue that you could improve your business success by living in any of those countries — whether you were hiding out or not.
Perhaps someone should start “no extradition tours” and force people to start businesses in fast-growing boom markets as “punishment”! Seeing as there is currently a lot of interest already for people to expand their freedoms and lifestyles abroad in these destinations, their openness to all without extradition treaty is an interesting facet to explore. Any takers?
Love the beach? The Maldies, Vanuatu, and Tunisia are all non-extradition countries. Vanuatu is a tax-free nation and has an interesting citizenship by investment program. The Maldives are of increasing interest for real estate developers in the tourism space. Tunisia is an up and coming North African destination that may appeal to those who love Mediterranean weather, culture, and history.
So also is Indonesia, where the economy has grown so fast a real estate bubble is developing at warp speed. That said, Jakarta is perhaps the cheapest city in the region. And, of course, Indonesia is home to Bali, a favorite of many nomads, as well.
In Africa, Ethiopia and Botswana, two of the continent’s star economies, don’t have many extradition treaties. Uganda is also in this boat. Those looking to venture into frontier markets can use this goal as an impetus for exploring opportunities on the continent.
Where should someone from the United Kingdom on the run flee to? Well, many on the list above share a lack of extradition treaties with the UK as well. Also worth noting are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, and Venezuela. For citizens of other countries, the same concept applies: do your research on what countries do have extradition treaties, and then for those nations omitted from the list, you can double-check if any cases have been brought forward.
Non-extradition countries vs. countries with no diplomatic ties
Of course, there are true hideouts you wouldn’t want to hide out in. Beyond just having no extradition treaty, they are the places with no diplomatic relations with your home country.
I don’t think Mogadishu would suit too many peoples’ taste… even this time of year.
Although I’m sure it is more livable than the Western media would have you believe. Heck, there is a Free Somalia Project encouraging people to move there. Or what about North Korea… anyone?
Likewise, I could argue most parts of Iran aren’t as bad as Western propaganda want you to think they are, but I still doubt it would have many takers. If you’re an American, Cuba and the isolated Asian nation of Bhutan — home to all of zero traffic lights — are the only non-war zones on the list of countries with no diplomatic ties.
Countries the United States has sworn off as enemies may be among your best bets, especially since the CIA could always come in and grab you, non-extradition country or not.
As for other nations, they include African countries like Western Sahara, which one journalist called a perfect anarchist state “fit for a Bond villain”.
There is little to no infrastructure in such countries and it is doubtful you would even be discovered there. Of course, you might attract a little attention if you show up as a white guy with a diamond Rolex.
If you prefer Latin culture, while Venezuela does have one of the original extradition treaties with the United States, Hugo Chavez rarely complied. I doubt the new government would, either. To guys like this, laws are meant to be interpreted at their whimsical discretion. Although that really goes for all governments.
Maybe such a place is the perfect place to hide out. After all, the fact that you’re reading this site indicates you’re a bit of a contrarian and don’t buy into all the hype about everyone getting shot the minute they step out of the United States.
In an era of government over-cooperation that has led to crackdowns on some pretty stupid “crimes”, it’s nice to see not everyone is willing to play ball with the global statist mindset. You just have to realize that your own government breaks the rules, too; you may recall talk of the CIA executing “unfavorable individuals” in the jungles of Ecuador. Who needs an extradition treaty when you’ve got the law of the jungle?
The difference between having no extradition treaty and not extraditing
Now, just because a country has no extradition treaty doesn’t mean it never turns criminals over. It simply means there is no hard-and-fast mechanism for doing it in a diplomatic way.
Again, some larger, all-powerful governments (cough, cough) have been known to simply walk onto foreign soil and grab whomever it is they want. In other cases, they ask — or bully — first and get the non extradition country to hand the suspect over.
This is where having dual citizenship can be helpful. Some countries simply don’t extradite their citizens, no matter what. Brazil is on that list, as is Venezuela. (Just don’t buy into the “quick” way to get a gray market passport in Venezuela, which costs thousands of dollars and can end up with you in a holding cell.)
Famous cases of (non) extradition
A discussion on extradition treaties isn’t complete without reviewing some of the most famous cases in recent history. As we mentioned in our intro, the story of Edward Snowden is perhaps one of the most newsworthy in the past decade that has gotten people thinking about the concept of extradition. So much so that there is even a discussion on what flights he could take without facing the risk of extradition. While his story originally began in Hong Kong, his search for asylum has taken him to Russia and other places.
El Chapo, the infamous Mexican drug lord ( and inspiration for the new Netflix show with the same name), was famously extradited to the United States facing numerous indictments. Another involved in the drug trade that is a well-known name is Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was head of the Medellin cartel. Roman Polanski, a filmmaker accused of having sex with a minor, has avoided extradition in numerous countries.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is fighting from being extradited to both Sweden and the United States for allegations of rape and leak of confidential information. Garry McKinnon, a computer hacker of NASA and the Pentagon, fought US extradition for over a decade. Many of the most high-profile cases involve security and information in an age where access to it can change lives and governments forever.
So.., if you’re waiting for a knock on the door from Terry Benedict’s guys — or the gestapo — there are global hide-outs where you could live out your days and, judging by the looks of some of these places, things could be worse.
Now, go out and fly right. I don’t want anyone knocking on MY door looking for one of you!
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