Every year, approximately 6,000 British nationals are arrested abroad. As travel restrictions are beginning to ease and overseas travel is becoming a possibility, make sure you are aware of local laws and customs in other countries before you travel to them, to avoid getting into trouble when you are there. Many laws are the same as in the UK, but there are plenty that you wouldn’t expect – and it’s those that could easily catch you out if you’re not aware of them. Here is an A-Z guide of the most common misconceptions of foreign laws, but it’s important to read the travel advice sections in full on the government website before travelling too.

A is for... Alcohol

Alcohol – Public intoxication is an offence in countries such as Spain and Poland and could land you with a hefty fine. The drink driving limit is also lower in Poland than in the UK and the legal age for alcohol consumption is higher in the USA, so be sure to check local laws on alcohol consumption when travelling abroad.

Breathalyser – It is a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser, as well as a warning triangle and Hi Vis jacket whilst driving in France.

Currency – In Romania it is illegal to change money on the streets. In countries such as Taiwan and Australia, defacing or deliberately damaging currency will result in punishment.

Drugs – Many countries have strict rules on drug use, possession and distribution. China for example, carries out random drug testing on foreign nations and there are strict penalties for drug offences.

Entry requirements – Cyprus has strict entry requirements surrounding the entry of the Republic. British or other foreign nationals who enter the country from Ercan airport in the North are considered by the Republic of Cyprus to have entered illegally. This can result in a fine or refusal of entry or exit into the Republic.

Festivals – Attending a festival abroad is an exciting and fun-filled experience, but don’t let your fun be spoiled by a drugs offence. Be sure to check local laws and customs before you go.  

Ganja – Contrary to popular belief, cannabis (‘ganja’) is illegal in Jamaica. Even a small amount for personal use carries a fine while possession of larger amounts and distribution will land you in prison.

Human rights – Concerns over the detention conditions in countries such as Romania have been highlighted by the European Court on Human Rights. Treatment in overseas prisons can be very different from what you might expect in the UK, making obeying the law whilst abroad all the more important.

Identity – In France you must be able to prove your identity within 4 hours if stopped by the authorities. Failure to do so will lead to detention at a local police station.

Japan – Strict anti-stimulant drug laws in Japan make common medication in the UK, such as Vicks Inhalers or Codeine, illegal to possess.

King - It’s a criminal offence to make critical or defamatory comments in any format, including online, about the King or other members of the Royal family in Thailand. This is known as Lèse Majesté and is punishable by a prison sentence of 3 to 15 years, or longer.

LoveThe Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has published advice to help LGBTQ+ travellers have a safe and enjoyable trip in more conservative countries and places where homosexuality and/or homosexual relations are still illegal. Even where the law does not criminalise homosexuality, levels of tolerance still vary and LGBTQ+ travellers may receive unwelcome attention.

Mopeds – Travelling is all about new experiences, such as exploring the beautiful Indonesian islands by moped. However, make sure you act responsibly and have appropriate travel insurance or you could face fines and jail time if you accidentally inflict injury on others.

Nudity – You will want to think twice before joining in the ‘naked tourism’ trend, particularly in countries such as Cambodia. Posing nude at scared sites is not only disrespectful, but could leave you facing fines, imprisonment and extradition.

Offensive language – Did you know that in Queensland and Victoria (Australia) the use of offensive language in public may result in imprisonment for up to six months?

Passport – You must carry your passport at all times in several countries including Russia, China and Hungary. Often, photocopies will not be accepted and authorities may not be sympathetic to pleading ignorance, which could land you with a fine.

(cultural) Quirks and obscure laws – It is important to check the FCDO travel advice before your trip to avoid being caught out by obscure laws and customs. Did you know, that it is illegal to possess or import cigarette papers in Mauritius? Or that jaywalking in Denmark could land you with a hefty fine?

Remand – A new law came into effect in 2018 which enabled the early release of thousands of Russian prisoners who had spent an average of one to two years in pretrial detention. Being held on remand for extended periods of time is not uncommon abroad, making avoiding trouble all the more important.

Souvenirs – When purchasing gifts or souvenirs from your travels, be aware of products that are illegal to purchase or export. In Indonesia, this includes ivory and tiger parts. In Thailand, you need a special export permit to take images or statues of the Buddha out of country.

Tattoos – Whilst not illegal, tattoos are not widely tolerated in Japan. You may be prevented from entering public places such as swimming pools with visible tattoos.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) – 1.5 million British Nationals visit the UAE every year, many choosing to holiday in Dubai. Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation in Dubai, and it is important to have a good understanding of local customs before you visit. Using offensive language or gestures could land you in prison and unmarried couples should be aware of the repercussions of displaying affection in public. Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques and non-payment of bills can often lead to imprisonment. Bail is generally not available for non-UAE residents who have committed these crimes, so be sure to read the travel advice before you go. 

Vietnam –Vietnam has strict laws on taking photographs in public and engaging in any anti-government propaganda. Read this article to find out how to ensure your next holiday is trouble free and always read the government website for advice before you travel too.

Women – Everyone should be aware of local laws and customs on holiday, but female solo travellers should be especially mindful of local customs that may cause them trouble if not respected. In India, for example, covering up where appropriate will help avoid unwanted attention. Women should also be aware of their rights, such as the right to only be escorted to a police station by a female officer in India. 

eXtradition – Switzerland passed a law in 2016 to automatically deport criminals of foreign origin. This may seem fine but if you are living or working temporarily in Switzerland you’ll be forced to leave everything behind on return to the UK.

Yodel – Did you know that Switzerland, the land of this popular folk singing, has the fifth highest proportion of incarcerated foreigners in Europe?

Zero-tolerance policy – Many countries have a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. In Cyprus, possession of any type of narcotic will leave you with either a prison sentence or a hefty fine. Bali also has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs as well as gambling. Be aware of illegal gambling gangs that may try to take advantage of tourists.

Travel Aware - Read more about our campaign in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)