Foreign and Comparative Law Research Guide

Foreign law is the national (also referred to as domestic or internal) law of any country other than the United States and research methods will vary depending on the country you are researching. This guide provides starting points.

Research Strategy -- Finding Foreign Legislation & Regulations

Exploratory Research - If You Don't Have a Known Law as Starting Point

If you need to determine what laws govern a particular subject in a specific jurisdiction, and you don't have a known law as a starting point, begin your research by consulting secondary sources.  In addition to providing background information, analysis and commentary, secondary sources will help you to identify relevant primary law materials.

How to Locate a Known Law

There are two methods of retrieving a known statute or regulation:  by jurisdiction or by subject.  It is often difficult to determine which method will work best, even for an experienced researcher.  You may end up using both methods.  Be prepared to experience some frustration and encounter some dead ends along the way.  Above all, be persistent.  If one source isn't helpful, try another.  Don't hesitate to contact a reference librarian if you need help.

Before you start searching, take note of any information you have about the law you are trying to retrieve.  This may include one or more of the following:

  • Type of Law.  Many jurisdictions publish different types of laws in different sections of their official gazettes.  ("Gazette" is a generic term for a publication in which new laws are published in chronological order of their enactment.)  Terminology varies greatly by jurisdiction and may include any of the following:  code, statute, law, decree, order, regulation, ordinance, statutory instrument, etc.,   If you use an official gazette to retrieve the law, make sure you look in the appropriate section of the gazette for the type of law you are seeking.
  • Title or Popular Name.  In addition to a formal title, some jurisdictions also assign popular names to legislation.  If you have a title or popular name, is it in the language of the jurisdiction or is it an English translation?  If you search for the title or popular name in English, make sure the resource you use recognizes English search terms.
  • Number.  Some jurisdictions assign numbers to legislation and regulations instead of titles.  If the law you are seeking has an assigned number, be sure to include it when searching.
  • Date.  This may be the date on which the legislation or regulation was enacted or the date of its of publication in the jurisdiction's official gazette.  You may need to include the date (or at least the year) in order to retrieve the full text of the law, especially if you are searching the official gazette.

If you know little or nothing about the jurisdiction's legal system, a good starting point is The Foreign Law Guide, which includes both a jurisdictional component and a "laws by subject" component.  For more information about The Foreign Law Guide and other multi-jurisdictional, multi-subject resources, consult the Multi-Jurisdictional Resources page of this research guide.

By Jurisdiction

Listed below are three types of jurisdiction-specific resources for locating foreign laws, along with information about how to access them:

  • Government Websites & Legislative Databases
    Websites and databases maintained by national legislatures or government ministries are often the best sources for retrieving foreign laws.  Bear in mind that these resources are only provided in the language(s) of the jurisdiction.  The Single Jurisdiction Resources page of this research guide provides links to government websites that offer open access to legal content for selected jurisdictions.  The Foreign Law Guide, GlobaLex, the World Legal Information Institute, and the Law Library of Congress's Guide to Law Online are also good places to look for links to government websites and legislative databases.
  • Official Gazettes
    An official gazette is a generic name for a publication in which a jurisdiction outside the U.S. publishes its newly enacted laws in chronological order.  To learn how to access official gazettes online and in print, and how to search across multiple online gazettes and legislative databases using the subscription database Global-Regulation, visit the Official Gazettes page of this research guide.
  • Subscription Legal Research Platforms (including Lexis and Westlaw)
    The Georgetown Law Library subscribes to a small number of English language legal research platforms that focus on jurisdictions outside the U.S.  In addition, academic users of Lexis and Westlaw may access some, but not all, of the foreign law databases available on those platforms.  For links to these subscription databases, visit the Single Jurisdiction Resources page of this guide.

By Subject

A growing number of online resources offer compilations of laws from multiple jurisdictions that focus on a particular subject.  Many of theses subject-specific resources are free to access, but some require a subscription.  Some also provide access to English translations. Visit the Foreign Laws by Subject page of this research guide for links to some of the best subject-specific collections of laws from jurisdictions worldwide.

Limitations:  Subject-specific resources vary considerably in their jurisdictional and topical coverage.  Some resources provide very thorough coverage of certain jurisdictions and little or no coverage of others.  Some cover a broad range of related subjects, while others focus narrowly on a single topic.  Even the most comprehensive resources inevitably have some gaps in their coverage.  In addition, many subject-specific resources are updated infrequently.  As a result, they may not be the best places to look for newly enacted laws.

Language Barriers

American researchers often encounter language barriers when using government websites or online versions of official gazettes from non-English speaking jurisdictions.  Some foreign websites do offer top-level navigation in English, but they usually revert to the language of the jurisdiction the more you drill down.

To avoid language barriers, consider using the Chrome web browser, which incorporates Google's automated translation software.   Chrome gives you the option of displaying machine-generated English translations of the webpages you visit, making it easier to locate the law you are seeking.  Be wary of using Google's software to translate the primary law, as it may fail to recognize specialized legal jargon or overlook critical nuances in meaning.

Another way to avoid language barriers is by using an English language subscription legal research platform, but these are only available for a small number of foreign jurisdictions.  If no English language research platform is available, and if you aren't able to read the language of the jurisdiction, a subject-specific resource may be a better option.