How to Rob a Bank and Flee the USA

Crime, Rights

Movie thieves often try to “make it over the border” with their loot because once they reach some glamorous foreign country, they’ll be home free, beyond the jurisdiction of US law enforcement.

But are criminals really safe once they leave America? Learn the truth about America’s extradition treaties and whether Hollywood has it right.

Extradition 101

The handing over of criminals between countries (or even states) is called extradition.  Many countries sign extradition treaties that specify when, and under what circumstances, criminals will be handed over. Treaties aside, US extradition law is covered in the US Code: Title 18, Section 209.

List of countries that have extradition treaties with the USA

So which countries have extradition treaties with the USA? Conveniently enough, the US State Department provides a nice list (warning: clicking this link will place you on a government watch list.  Just kidding…I think).  Here’s the list of 108 countries:

Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El , Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint , Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovac Republic, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia , Zambia, Zimbabwe

Want a high standard of living and no extradition treaty?

As you can see from the above list, most places where you’d want to live have an extradition treaty with the US, making them bad options for international fugitives.  So if Hollywood were serious about finding nice places where a bank robber could flee the law and enjoy the good life, they’d cross reference International Living’s list of “Best Places to Live” with a list of  non extradition treaty countries.  If they did, here’s what they’d find:

Andorra (23rd best place to live)

Croatia (37th best place to live)

Bermuda (49th best place to live)

St. Kitts & Nevis (50th best place to live)

Cayman Islands (54th best place to live)

Moldova (55th best place to live)

Taiwan (57th best place to live)

Clearly if you’re a criminal who also demands a high standard of living, Andorra takes first prize! However, the beaches of Croatia, Bermuda, St. Kitts and the Cayman Islands offer tempting alternatives.  If a bank robber found the whole “living on an island” thing too cliché, he could always go to Taipei, Taiwan for big city living (and killer dumplings).

Lack of extradition treaty isn’t a guarantee of immunity

Just because a country has no extradition treaty with the USA doesn’t mean the country wouldn’t hand someone over in the face of political pressure.  That’s why if a movie criminal were serious about fleeing Uncle Sam, he’d be sure not to physically hurt anyone when he steals the money, because public outrage would increase the political pressure to find him.

A very risk averse fugitive might even go to a country that downright hates America, or, at minimum, isn’t economically dependent on America.  That way if the FBI ever came calling, no one would answer.  Of course, most countries matching this description are not very pleasant places to live (although Cuba does have some very nice tourist areas).

Finally, the robber would need enough money to either bribe immigration officials in the new country or to never have to work.  If the robber sneaks into the new country illegally, he’d have trouble finding work, which means he’d have to live permanently off his loot.  If he doesn’t have enough loot to support himself for life, he’d need to find a job, which would require proper immigration papers.  One possible immigration strategy is to buy citizenship through a legal government program, which is possible for around $300,000 in places like St. Kitts & Nevis (author Neil Strauss did it for his book “Emergency“).

If all else fails, join the French Foreign Legion

If everything falls apart and the robber needs a last ditch way out, he could bury his loot and then try joining the French Foreign Legion, which would give him a new identity and French citizenship after 5 years of service.  Then again, joining the French Foreign Legion comes with around a 10% chance of death and service in hazardous former French colonies like Djibouti.  They also don’t take the lazy, injured or old.  And last but not least, you’d have to illegally sneak into France to show up at a recruitment center, but if you made it in without getting arrested, no one would care about your real identity or past.  5 years later, Monsieur Bank Robber could recover his loot and enjoy it under his new identity in France or any other EU country he chooses.

So are the movies accurate?

Well, since successful movie heists always seem to finish on exotic islands, yes, that part is real.  Many small island nations do not have extradition treaties with the USA.  However, every movie that treats the US-Mexico border as some sort of criminal “finish line” is not realistic at all (because Mexico has an extradition treaty with the US).  So fleeing the US is possible, it just requires a lot of planning, money and a good dose of luck.

[Disclaimer: Unless you’re Roman Polanski, don’t think you can get away with crimes by running to a foreign country.  This blog post is a meant to be tongue-in-cheek.]