Can You File Small Claims on Persons Out of the Country?

Updated April 14, 2018

To file a lawsuit against an individual, the court must have jurisdiction, which is the power to apply the law. Courts where small claims are filed typically have jurisdiction over the residents of that particular area. When one of the parties lives outside the area, this complicates matters. It is not impossible to sue and collect damages from someone outside the country, but you must consider that the cost to find, serve, and process the suit may add up to more than the amount for which you are suing.

File a claim against the defendant in your local court system. If the person you are suing has a U.S. address, the courts will transfer the case to the U.S. court system that has jurisdiction over residents of that address. If you have knowledge of that person coming back to the United States, you should have a filed lawsuit already in place. Quickly move to serve that person and have your day in court or ask for a default judgment.

If the person has no legal U.S. address, you have some important decisions to make. Depending on the arrangement between the United States and the country of the defendant according to The Hague Convention, it is possible to request that the courts transfer the case to the courts in the defendant's country. The matter must be serious for the courts to consider such a request.

Contact the court system that has jurisdiction over the defendant in that country. Follow the necessary steps to file suit against that person. Specifically, ask if there is an equivalent to a default judgment. In other words, if you can have the defendant served according to the laws of that country, a judge can enter a judgment against that person. If that is the case, you may also begin to attach that person's property, if the law allows. Be mindful, as this can be a tedious, confusing, and expensive process.

The easiest thing to do is to hire an attorney licensed in the country where the defendant lives. The attorney will have knowledge of the law and process rules, as well as a network of in-country investigators who can locate the person you are suing.

If the breached agreement involved the Internet or a credit transaction, consider contacting your credit card company and the online merchant. Ask if there are complaint or dispute resolution services for which you are eligible. You may be able to resolve the problem without filing a suit.


  1. Count the costs. How much are you seeking to recover? What is a realistic estimate for what it will cost to find and sue someone overseas and possibly travel to that country if a court date is set?
  2. Consider whether you can contact the person and pursue the matter directly.
  3. If you are certain you want to file a claim without the help of an attorney, an interpreter will still be a valuable resource to help you understand forms and process if the other party resides in a country where you don't speak the language.


The information given in this article is for informational/research purposes. It is not legal advice and it makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked herein and its associated sites. Laws change. Thus, you are advised to speak with the appropriate legal counsel for accurate information.

Things You'll Need

  • Address of the person being sued
  • Written complaint describing the reason for the suit
  • Documentation of the original agreement
  • Evidence the defendant failed to abide by the agreement
  • Optional:
  • Attorney in the country where the defendant lives
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About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.