Staying within the law can be a bit tricky when you travel across the globe. What is considered normal in our country might be completely unacceptable in another. When going overseas, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the local customs, laws and places that you should avoid. This makes your dream vacation a lot easier and eliminates the possibility of getting you into a lot of trouble for something simple. Some countries enforce strict laws to protect the local habitat, businesses or to preserve the culture. While many of them are reasonable, there are some laws around the world that are quite frankly, strange. Here we have collected a list of ordinary things, that could get you into serious trouble overseas.
1. Collecting corals and seashells from protected beaches can get you in a lot of trouble in Thailand. Possession of more than 120 playing cards is also considered an offense.
Thailand is a popular tourist destination. More than 35 million people from all over the globe visit the country to relax and rejuvenate. With more people visiting the beaches and collecting corals, the government had to take action in order to stop the behavior. Many men and women collect seashells and corals as souvenirs from the protected beaches, thus endangering the living beings that depend on them for survival.
For instance, there are many types of crabs that use shells to protect themselves when they are out of the ocean. With shells being cleaned off the beaches, these animals have a hard time surviving on land. Earlier this year, two Russian women collected corals as souvenirs but were arrested and had their passports taken from them. The women then had to pay a $4,000 fine to get the charges dropped and safely return to their country. (source)
Feeding fish in protected areas is also considered an offense in Thailand. In 2017, another Russian woman was arrested for feeding fish close to a coral reef. The 53-year-old was arrested for breaking one of the island’s environmental rules. She was taken to court and forced to pay a hefty fine before leaving.
Another interesting law in Thailand is the Playing Cards Act law that was established in 1943. According to the law, no individual is allowed to carry more than 120 playing cards that are not registered with the Excise Department. So you’re fine with two packets, but any more than that and the police can legitimately nab you. (source)
2. Swearing in public or social media is considered an offense in UAE.
In 2014, the UAE established a law that prohibits anyone from swearing online. Swearing in public or online comes with a hefty fine, jail sentence and if the person is a foreigner, they will face deportation. In 2015, a man was found swearing on the popular app, WhatsApp. He was ordered to appear in court and the court decided that he should pay a fine of 3,000 dirhams (USD $816) for swearing at another man on WhatsApp.
Just when the case was about to be closed, the man appealed the court’s decision and was sent to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the fine was too lenient for the crime and ordered him to pay 250,000 dirham (~$96,900) fines. He also faced possible imprisonment or deportation. Irrespective of the person’s nationality or context, swearing is a crime punishable by law in the UAE; legal and language experts have said. (source)
3. In Singapore, chewing gum is illegal.
In Singapore, tidiness and good behavior is considered extremely important. When chewing gum became popular during the 1990’s, the country decided to place a ban on it. The sticky polymers caused years of maintenance issues in public housing as well as elevators. When people started to stick it everywhere, former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, decided to ban it all together in 1992.
The only exception is a therapeutic gum which is either received from a doctor or obtained by a pharmacy, with prescription. Those who are caught selling or chewing gum could face up to up to $100,000 in fines or 2 years in prison. (source)
4. Not carrying an ID and taking medicine to Japan is illegal.
In the “Land of the Rising Sun”, it is illegal to walk without a valid ID. Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world, with officers performing routine ID checkups 24 hours a day. Foreigners traveling in Japan might be surprised to find themselves being stopped by a police officer, asking for an ID. Although it might appear unfair, it is widely practiced and the officers are known to ask ID’s to Japanese people as well.
The practice doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong. Officers who conduct these checks are regulars and are familiar with the faces in their area. When they see an unfamiliar face in their patrol area, they just want to know the purpose of your visit. (source)
Another thing to be careful of when traveling to Japan is not to pack medications, unless they are allowed in the country. Japan has a long list of medications that are not allowed; including cold medicines. (source)
5. Public displays of affection in Dubai can get you in a lot of hot water. Poppy seeds are also prohibited.
In the US, Europe, Germany, France and other countries, showing affection in public is common practice and is known to strengthen relationships. However, any form of affection in public or through digital media is considered an offense in Dubai. In 2008, a British couple was given a three-month suspended sentence for being overly-affection at a beach. Another British couple spent a month in jail for holding hands, hugging and kissing. In 2010, an Indian couple was sentenced to three months in jail for exchanging inappropriate affectionate messages through their phones.
A Swiss national traveling to Dubai had a couple of hours layover at Heathrow airport. During this time, he ate a piece of bread filled with poppy seeds and three of the seeds managed to stick to his clothes. Upon arriving at Dubai, a sniffer dog sensed the presence of it and the man was taken into custody. The man served a four-year sentence before being released.
According to the experts, you want to avoid showing affection in public in India, Indonesia, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, Oman and Thailand.(source)
6. In Milan, Italy, frowning is considered illegal.
The city in northern Italy is the second-most populous city in Italy, after Rome. Millions of people flock together in Milan to have a good time, and the government makes sure that they are always smiling; literally. An old law that has never been overturned, requires people to constantly smile while in a public place. Those who are caught not smiling will face a hefty fine. Those who are exempt from being fined are hospital workers and those attending funerals. (source)
7. Having tattoos of buddha is considered mistreatment of Buddhist images and artifacts in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism is accorded the “foremost place” in Sri Lanka’s constitution and about 70 percent of the island’s 21 million people are Buddhist. The country has various laws against the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artifacts. Since tattoos are considered as artwork, they are categorized with ‘images and artifacts’, which makes it illegal to have on one’s body; or visible body. In 2017, a British nurse was detained for 4 days because she had a buddha tattoo on her right arm. She is not the first traveller to be arrested for offending Buddhist sensibilities in Sri Lanka. There have been many cases throughout the past, where travelers unaware of the local customs were arrested or detained. (source)
8. In Switzerland, flushing the toilet after 10 pm is against the law.
If you’re traveling to Switzerland and have to urgently use the bathroom after 10 pm, you might want to hold it in until morning. In some parts of Switzerland, flushing toilets after 10 pm is prohibited in apartment buildings. This is to reduce noise pollution and to not disturb the neighbors who might be sleeping. After many complaints that the flushing sound is too noisy, most of the landlords classified flushing and even showering to cause noise pollution. Although no official law exists, the practice is continued by many landlords. (source)
9. It’s illegal to connect to another person’s WiFi in Singapore.
Just because someone has an open WiFi connection, does not mean that you are free to connect and browse. According to the country’s Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, using someone else’s WiFi network is seen as hacking, and anyone caught doing it could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or three years in jail. Even if there’s a sign that says free WiFi, a user who wishes to connect has to contact the administrator and inform them. In 2007, a 17-year-old was arrested and sentenced to 18 months probation for connecting to a neighbors unsecured WiFi. (source)
10. Wearing camouflage clothing in the Caribbean is illegal.
Millions around the world favor military style clothes. The camouflage clothes however, are not allowed in the Caribbean countries including St. Vincent and St. Lucia. Wearing camouflage clothing is completely banned. The rule dates back to the 1900’s when people began impersonating military personnel with ill intentions. The Caribbean countries take the crime seriously and those caught wearing or carrying clothes could face jail time. (source)
11. In America, crossing the road when the traffic lights don’t say you can is a criminal offense.
We call it ‘jaywalking’, which is the act of crossing the street anywhere there isn’t a labelled pedestrian crosswalk. It is an unenforced offense and usually only dealt with by issuing a ticket. The rule is strictly enforced in big cities such as New York. If everybody decides to walk across the street wherever and whenever they want, it can cause a big traffic issue and worse gridlock than usual. In order to eliminate this, various states have strict rules enforced. Some states write tickets and order the person to pay fines. In Massachusetts, people found to be jaywalking will be fined $1 for their first, second and third offense in any given year. (source)