Passports, immunizations, travel insurance, and giving travel notice to your bank…all check. Congratulations, you’ve planned yourself a successful trip. But, before you take off, have you looked up the laws for the area you plan to travel to?
Recently, a college student from NYC was sentenced to one year in a Dubai jail for touching an airport security guard’s arm and allegedly insulting the woman. According to the advocacy group Detained in Dubai, 21-year-old Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos received the sentence after being held in the country for the past three months alongside a travel ban and thousands of dollars of unexpected expenses. Thankfully, she was reportedly released. Last year, we witnessed WNBA star Britney Griner receive an exorbitant 9-year sentence for bringing a vape pen into Russia.
While both examples are complicated and aggravated situations, they leave us with an important question: Was is safe to do and what can’t you do when traveling abroad? Overall, international travel is relatively safe. More often than not, when we hear stories of folks being detained or arrested, it boils down to a legal matter. As Americans, we must understand our privileges and rights in the States don’t carry over to other countries, so it’s best to know the rules of the places you’re traveling to before you take off. We gathered a list of “obscure” laws for popular travel destinations that can help you avoid any run-ins with local law enforcement while on vacation.
The UAE has a zero-tolerance drug policy. This policy extends to prescription medications as well. You’ll want to check your meds before packing them. For those on a baecation, avoid public displays of affection because it could lead to arrest. Also, note that LGBTQIA+ travelers should exercise extreme caution. Homosexuality is illegal in Dubai. Those found to be in violation can face jail time or excessive fines. For unmarried couples, cohabiting is illegal in Dubai. For safety, book two separate rooms.
When moving about in public spaces, it is recommended to keep your knees and shoulders covered. Of course, at beaches and resorts, swimwear is acceptable. Also, avoid profanity. It’s common for many people to use such language in everyday conversation, but you’ll want to abstain from that here. Be sure you know your limit when it comes to a night out drinking because public intoxication is illegal. And lastly, monitor what and who is in your photos before you snap. Taking pictures of people without their permission is illegal. You’ll especially want to avoid snapping photos of military and government buildings.
First and foremost, leave your camouflage print at home. In Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica, and Barbados, it’s illegal to wear because it’s a part of the military uniform. Much like The UAE, profanity in public is against the law in St. Kitts and Nevis.
In Grenada, you’ll want to pack a change of clothes before leaving the beach. You can be slapped with a $270 fine for walking around in your swimwear outside of the beach. And unless you want to pay a $200 fine, in Trinidad & Tobago, you’ll want to refrain from hanging your laundry out to dry on any part of a street. It’s also illegal to be drunk in public here.
In Russia, you’ll want to avoid taking photos of any government buildings. When in Barcelona, if you find the urge to spit, find a bathroom, because it is illegal to do so publicly.
It may be tempting but refrain from feeding pigeons in Venice, and while in Rome, do not drink from or bathe in the fountains.
In Thailand, you cannot have e-cigarettes. They are banned. Possession of them carries a hefty punishment of a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Tobacco is not allowed in Bhutan. It’s illegal to bring into the country, as is smoking and selling cigarettes.
Check your medications before your travels to Japan. Using or having medications with codeine is a punishable offense. Please note that painkillers are also prohibited. And, surprisingly, you won’t be able to chew gum in Singapore. It can carry a fine of $1000. You’ll want to avoid publicly spitting or littering here as well.
Preparing for International Travel
No one ever expects to find themselves detained or locked up in a foreign jail, but as the old saying goes, “Know Before You Go.” In addition to looking up the local laws, there are a few additional steps you should follow for added safety when traveling abroad.
- Register your trip with the SMART Traveler Program. Some of the benefits of this service are you’ll receive safety information for your destination, like travel advisories and warnings. Plus, registration helps establish a point of contact between you and your family in an emergency.
- Find the address of the closest embassy or consulate.
- Identify any advocacy group for foreign travelers. If you need them, they will be well-versed in the local laws and may have resources/aid for your specific case.
For additional and up-to-date information, visit the tourism website for any destination you plan to visit.