Foreign Law

Foreign Law in the United States

Legal Materials

Secondary Sources: Many researchers often start their foreign law research with secondary sources. Some of the best follow:

  • The subscription-based Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World by Reynolds and Flores explains the legal bibliographies of most foreign countries, including subject-specific treatises in English [formerly published by F. B. Rothman as a looseleaf under the title Foreign Laws].
  • The blue pages of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.
  • The foreign law research guides on GlobaLex.
  • The Foreign and International Legal Research Guides from the Library of Congress.
  • A legal encyclopedia explaining the law for a particular country; as discussed in the “Legal” section of the Encyclopedias entry.
  • The “Doing Business in …” guides listed in the Doing Business in Foreign Countries entry (for summaries of foreign countries’ corporate, securities, banking, customs, tax, and other business-related laws).
  • The volumes in the Getting the Deal Through series (print and online), which explain the laws of foreign countries in dozens of business-related practice areas.
  • The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals can help you find articles on particular subjects. The Index is available in print (William S. Hein & Co.; formerly University of California Press) and on HeinOnline (1985-Current).

Primary Materials / Internet Sources: To find Internet links to primary legal materials for specific countries, (1) look up the entry for the country by name in this Guide and/or (2) check the links posted by the World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) and/or (3) check the links posted in the Guide to Law Online by the Library of Congress.

Primary Materials / Print Sources: Some publishers publish English translations of the key laws of foreign countries, notably the Central & Eastern European Legal Materials series by Columbia University’s Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law. There are also many subject-specific compilations of English translations of foreign laws, such as:

  • Air Laws and Treaties of the World (Hein)
  • International Securities Laws Handbooks (Aspen, formerly Bowne)
  • Investment Laws of the World (Oxford University Press, formerly Oceana)
  • Mergers and Acquisitions in Europe
  • Trademarks Throughout the World (West) (Also in Westlaw’s TMWORLD database)

For similar books on other topics, check WorldCat, the Library of Congress or the Harvard, Columbia, NYU or Georgetown law school library catalogs.

Constitutions: Oxford University Press (formerly Oceana) publishes the definitive multi-volume Constitutions of the Countries of the World and Constitutions of Dependencies and Territories, each providing high quality English translations. Subscribers can access online editions. Alternatively, the subscription-based World Constitutions Illustrated library in HeinOnline includes the current constitution for all countries (with an English translation), “constitutional histories” for selected countries, plus hundreds of books and articles on constitutional law. Great stuff if you have a password.

If you don’t, the constitutions of many foreign countries are available free on the Internet at the University of Richmond’s Constitution Finder. Georgetown University posts Constitutions from North, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Constitute not only posts the constitutions of many countries, it allows you to pick atopic and drill down to the related section in each country’s constitution.

Legislation: Most countries publish new laws in a Gazette (the equivalent of the U.S.Congressional Record). Many of these Gazettes are posted online; and you can link to most online Gazettes through Government Gazettes Online. If that doesn’t do the trick, see if the Gazette is available on Lexis, Westlaw or at one of the libraries discussed above.

The Global Legal monitor reports on significant legal developments in over 150 countries, covering over 100 subject areas.

English translations of corporate, commercial, tax and other business-related laws for most countries are included in RIA’s World Wide Tax Law Service, which includesCommercial Laws of the World and Tax Laws of the World. The Service is available by subscription through Checkpoint.

In case of emergency: Guideline (formerly Find/SVP) has offices in 30 countries that do document retrieval of foreign legal materials. See also the separate entry for “Document Retrieval Services.”

For more information: Foreign laws are further discussed in the entries for specific countries (e.g., “Australia,” “United Kingdom”) and specific subjects (e.g., “Patents,” “Environmental Law”).

For Truly Tough Questions: If you have a truly tough question, try searching the archives of the INT-LAW listserv. If that doesn’t work, try posting your question to the list.


•Costa Rica

•Czech Republic
•Dominican Republic
•East Timor
•El Salvador
•Hong Kong


•New Zealand
•St. Kitts & Nevis
•St. Lucia
•St. Vincent
•Saudi Arabia

•South Africa
•South Korea
•Trinidad & Tobago
•United Kingdom
•United States

Territories, Protectorates, Other

•Palestinian Authority

Foreign Law in the Context of Service of Process Abroad

Service of U.S. Process Abroad Under New Rule 4(f) and Other Legislative Grants Where Foreign Law Restricts U.S. Service in International Civil Litigation

Analysis of the Service of U.S. Process Abroad Under New Rule 4(f) and Other Legislative Grants Where Foreign Law Restricts U.S. Service

Congress May Authorize Service Abroad in Violation of International Law

Read more information about Congress May Authorize Service Abroad in Violation of International Law

Presumption That Congress Does Not Intend to Authorize Service Abroad in Violation of International Law

Read more information about Presumption That Congress Does Not Intend to Authorize Service Abroad in Violation of International Law

Old Rule 4(i)’s Treatment of Service Abroad in Violation of Foreign Law, RIO PROPERTIES, IN v. RIO INTERNTAIONAL INTERLINK

Use of foreign law in American court decisions

About the history of foreign law in American courts, see Steven Calabresi & Stephanie Dotson Zimdahl, The Supreme Court and Foreign Sources of Law: Two Hundred Years of Practice and The Juvenile Death Penalty Decision, 47 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 743 (2005) (cowritten by Steven Calabresi, a cofounder of the Federalist Society and a noted conservative constitutional scholar).

In Daimler AG v. Bauman, the “complaint alleged that during Argentina’s 1976-1983 “Dirty War,” Daimler’s Argentinian subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz Argentina (MB Argentina) collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture, and kill certain MB Argentina workers, among them, plaintiffs or persons closely related to plaintiffs.” The near-unanimous majority opinion concluded this:

“The Ninth Circuit, moreover, paid little heed to the risks to international comity its expansive view of general jurisdiction posed. Other nations do not share the uninhibited approach to personal jurisdiction advanced by the Court of Appeals in this case. In the European Union, for example, a corporation may generally be sued in the nation in which it is “domiciled,” a term defined to refer only to the location of the corporation’s “statutory seat,” “central administration,” or “principal place of business.” The Solicitor General informs us, in this regard, that “foreign governments’ objections to some domestic courts’ expansive views of general jurisdiction have in the past impeded negotiations of international agreements on the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments.” Considerations of international rapport thus reinforce our determination that subjecting Daimler to the general jurisdiction of courts in California would not accord with the “fair play and substantial justice” due process demands.”

See Also

Country Information
Doing Business in Foreign Countries
International Law
International Trade

Foreign Law: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Foreign Law. This part provides references, in relation to Foreign Law, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Foreign Law by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Foreign Law and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Foreign Law or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Foreign Law and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Foreign Law. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Foreign Law should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Foreign Law when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

5 thoughts on “Foreign Law”

  1. Titus

    If personal jurisdiction turns on the reasonable expectations of foreign defendants as to whether or not they are amenable to being hauled into court in a jurisdiction, then the legal traditions of the defendant’s home jurisdiction has some relevance. It’s not relevance vis-a-vis what the Constitution means in and of itself, it’s relevance vis-a-vis what is the content of the defendant’s reasonable expectation. That seems unproblematic.

  2. Further on the issue of foreign law and “international comity,” query how this opinion would affect general jurisdiction in a parent/subsidiary relationship for domestic companies, e.g. a California corporation whose subsidiary operates in NY. Is the analysis the same (in which case the whole foreign law issue is a red herring) or different (in which case why should that be so).

  3. Mike_Masinter

    There’s nothing new about looking to international law for ascertaining constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants. Much of Pennoyer v. Neff rests on principles of international law, then referred to as public law; they predate and are incorporated into the constitution:

    [Our holding would] seem to follow from two well established
    principles of public law respecting the jurisdiction of an independent
    State over persons and property. The several States of the Union are
    not, it is true, in every respect independent, many of the right and
    powers which originally belonged to them being now vested in the
    government created by the Constitution. But, except as restrained and
    limited by that instrument, they possess and exercise the authority of
    independent States, and the principles of public law to which we have
    referred are applicable to them. One of these principles is that every
    State possesses exclusive jurisdiction and sovereignty over persons and
    property within its territory. As a consequence, every State has the
    power to determine for itself the civil status and capacities of its
    inhabitants; to prescribe the subjects upon which they may contract, the
    forms and solemnities with which their contracts shall be executed, the
    rights and obligations arising from them, and the mode in which their
    validity shall be determined and their obligations enforced; and also
    the regulate the manner and conditions upon which property situated
    within such territory, both personal and real, may be acquired, enjoyed,
    and transferred. The other principle of public law referred to follows
    from the one mentioned; that is, that no State can exercise direct
    jurisdiction and authority over persons or property without its
    territory. Story, Confl. Laws, c. 2; Wheat. Int. Law, pt. 2, c. 2. The
    several States are of equal dignity and authority, and the independence
    of one implies the exclusion of power from all others. And so it is
    laid down by jurists as an elementary principle that the laws of one
    State have no operation outside of its territory except so far as is
    allowed by comity, and that no tribunal established by it can extend its
    process beyond that territory so as to subject either persons or
    property to its decisions. “Any exertion of authority of this sort
    beyond this limit,” says Story, “is a mere nullity, and incapable of
    binding such persons or property in any other tribunals.” Story, Confl.Laws, sect. 539.

    Given Pennoyer’s reliance on international law, it should come as no surprise to discover that international law still influences personal jurisdiction today. Although Pennoyer also refers to the due process clause as a source for personal jurisdiction law, the earlier judgment from Mitchell v. Neff whose validity was at issue in Pennoyer preceded ratification of the fourteenth amendment and therefore could not have been entered in violation of the fourteenth amendment.

  4. I’m unsure if it was that article, but did find Calabresi’s argument that international law is appropriately used in a limited sense to interpret the Constitution a good one.

    The usage is repeatedly an extra one, used to re-enforce the reasonableness of a certain view. It is repeatedly noted that it is not determinative, but like a citation of a law review article or a state court citing another state’s practice, merely informative. This was done repeatedly over the years from basically the beginning. For instance, understanding the original understanding of certain provisions includes understanding the underlining principles and practices that influenced them. The people at the time repeatedly cited foreign practice as informative in this respect, such as Cesare Baccaria on penalties.

    The concern is that international practice is different from ours and that it is our law that has to be applied. But, there are some shared norms and the citation is again merely helpful — the cases don’t rely on such things. Finally, there are various things such as treaties and questions of international law generally where it is immediately relevant. As to Lawrence v. Texas, context please:

    “The sweeping references by Chief Justice Burger to the history of Western civilization and to Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards did not take account of other authorities pointing in an opposite direction.”

    Anyway, glancing at the opinion, Ginsburg has a sharp word or two in response to Sotomayor’s concurrence.

  5. Since notice is one of the issues relevant to personal jurisdiction, and foreign defendants may not expect to be hauled into US Court on the basis of a divergently broad jurisdiction, I think it can be argued that a notion of jurisdiction broader than other countries use sometimes violates our Constitution partially on that ground.

    In the case of Lawrence v. Texas, I still think that’s a terrible example for the “no foreign law” people – Lawrence was rebutting the argument in Bowers that homosexuality is incompatible with Western civilization. To whatever extent that’s a valid argument at all, why can’t it it be rebutted by pointing out that Western civilization seems not to be having problems with it, and the majority in Bowers was simply projecting it’s prejudices? The Eighth Amendment cases are, I think, a point where the argument that the Supreme Court is talking about irrelevant things is at least a bit stronger.

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