International Laws You Should Know When Traveling

Fines, and jail time can ruin a vacation. Know the laws before you go.

It’s easier to get into legal trouble or arrested while traveling abroad than you might think.  Behavior that is normal and acceptable in the United States can land you in hot water when you’re traveling abroad.  Be aware of local laws before you travel.  Here are a few unusual foreign laws that you should be aware of before you go.

In Venice, don’t feed the pigeons – it’s illegal.  Pigeons outnumber residents 2-1, and their droppings corrode historic architecture.  You won’t get arrested for feeding the birds, but you can receive a fine of 50 Euros.  There are many better ways to spend your money in this charming Italian city.

If you’re in a large city in Italy, like Florence, Rome, or Venice, and want to take a break from sightseeing by sitting down and having a snack on the steps of a church or a public building, don’t.  It’s illegal and you can incur a fine of up to $650 for eating that sandwich next to the Spanish Steps in Rome or St. Marks Square in Venice.  If you want to eat, keep walking and find a bench where you can legally enjoy your meal.

Enjoying one of the many beaches in Barcelona?  Be sure to cover up before you go into the city to shop or eat. Wearing a bathing suit top won’t land you in prison, but it will cost you over $400. A similar law has just been enacted in Majorca.  That money would be better spent on buying something to wear!

I’m not sure why anyone would want to wear high heels while visiting archeological sites in Greece.  Nevertheless, it’s illegal, and you may asked to remove your shoes when visiting sites like the Acropolis in order to protect the area.

Don’t chew gum in Singapore. Since 1992, the sale of gum and chewing it is illegal unless you are chewing gum considered to have health benefits (nicotine gum or dental-health gum).  The ban was imposed to help keep the streets clean and because vandals were using gum to stop the doors on rapid transit vehicles from closing properly.  You may not agree with the law, but ask yourself if it’s worth the risk for that piece of gum.  The fine, similar to that for littering, is somewhere between $500-$1000.

If you’re a smoker, and are visiting Bhutan, you might want to quit.  There is a complete ban on selling tobacco products in this Himalayan country.  You may import up to 200 cigarettes, but expect to pay a high import duty.  Smoking won’t get you a fine; it can land you in prison.

Visiting Thailand?  Be careful what you say.  Insulting the king, or even deceased kings, is prohibited.  This included defacing or even disrespecting currency (which show images of the king) can land you in jail.  Don’t toss coins or step on money on the street.

Going to Japan?  Check your medicine bottles.  Certain medications are illegal to bring into the country, including codeine and commonly used cold and cough medications such as pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed, etc).

Visitors to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates can mistake the relaxed western atmosphere where women can wear a bikini on the beach with other freedoms acceptable in most other countries.  But don’t kiss in public – it can land you in jail.  It is also illegal to share a hotel room with someone other than a spouse.

These are just a few laws that you probably weren’t aware of.  You’re not exempt from foreign laws just because you’re American.   Wherever you go, it makes sense to educate yourself.  A good first source is the US State Department Country Information page.

If you do get arrested while visiting a foreign country, you’ll be protected if you have  with our 24/7 travel support.   This provides access to a lawyer who is an expert in helping foreign travelers.  This can keep a bad situation from getting worse, and could keep you out of jail.  For more information about our legal support in foreign countries, see this article.

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