We are very pleased to relaunch our 'Country of the Month' series, in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. We focus on a different country each month, with articles written by our Student Brand Ambassadors (SBAs), to highlight lesser-known laws and customs around the world that could get you into trouble and provide advice on staying safe whilst travelling abroad.

June 2024 - Croatia

With beautiful coastline and national parks, Croatia has become a popular destination for summer holidays. If you’re planning a trip this year, be sure to keep an eye on the FCDO's travel advice.

Remember: You must register your arrival in Croatia with the police within 48 hours. Your hotel will normally register you, but if your accommodation provider is unable to do this for you, you will need to fill in and print out a form and hand it in at the police station. Alternatively you should go to the nearest police station with the owner of the accommodation to register your address in Croatia. There have been instances where tourists have been overcharged at bars and clubs, sometimes by thousands of Euros, and threatened with violence if they will not pay. Pickpockets also operate in tourist areas, so avoid carrying large sums of cash, do not leave valuables unattended, and use hotel safes if possible. In some Croatian town centres, for example in popular coastal tourist destinations such as Split and Dubrovnik, you can get on-the-spot fines for behaviour seen as inappropriate, including: drinking alcohol or using drugs in public spaces (drugs are illegal); sleeping in public spaces; urinating or vomiting in public spaces; walking through towns shirtless or in swimwear; wearing clothing that promotes drug use; and climbing on monuments. You can also be fined up to 4000 euros for public order disturbances such as fighting, verbal abuse, and drunken behavior. Drug offences are punished with fines and jail sentences and it is illegal to drive with more than 0.05% of alcohol in your blood system. There are also heavy penalties for being caught drunk in charge of a boat and a zero tolerance approach. 

Croatia features in a couple of blog posts on our website if you fancy learning more about the country and its local laws and customs: click here and here to read more.

May 2024 - Dominican Republic

Over 160,000 British nationals visited the Dominican Republic in 2019. Most visits are trouble-free, but you should still take care and be cautious, particularly if you are travelling close to the Haitian border, as there have been armed robberies in the Dominican Republic on roads close to the border with Haiti.

There are severe penalties for drug offences and a number of British nationals are serving prison sentences in the Dominican Republic for attempting to traffic drugs, and possession of even small quantities of drugs can lead to a long prison sentence and a hefty fine. It is also worth being aware that cases can take several years to go through the judicial process, during which the accused person is likely to be held in detention, and all sentences are served in the Dominican Republic. Seizures at ports and airports around the Dominican Republic have increased. Pack your own luggage and do not carry anything through customs for anyone else. There have been a number of incidents in Santo Domingo where foreigners have been mugged at gunpoint or knifepoint during the daytime while walking in residential districts, and incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners have occurred, including at beach resorts. In some cases, hotel employees or fellow guests have been implicated. Be cautious when dealing with strangers or recent acquaintances, be wary of rides or other invitations, avoid walking alone at night and don’t leave drinks unattended.

Public displays of affection (such as hand-holding or kissing) between opposite or same-sex couples are uncommon. Although same-sex sexual relations are legal in the Dominican Republic, same-sex marriages are not legally recognised. Public displays of affection may attract unwanted and negative attention. Nearly all Dominican hotels welcome LGBT clients, although confirmation with booking agents is advised.

For full travel advice from the FCDO, visit their page on the Dominican Republic here.

April 2024 - Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a popular travel destination, with beautiful beaches and national parks. British nationals do not need a via to enter and can stay for up to 180 days as a tourist. When leaving the country by air, you may need to pay a departure tax of 29 US dollars. Most airlines include this in ticket prices, but if you need to pay it, you can use cash or card. You must declare cash, travellers cheques or goods if the value is 10,000 US dollars or more. You will get a certified declaration to show you brought it in with you. If you do not, your money or goods could be seized when you leave. Muggings and theft are significant problems, particularly on the Atlantic coast - there have been incidents where thieves slash a tyre and then offer to help change it, while an accomplice steals from the car. Rapes and sexual assaults have increased, some of which appear targeted toward tourists. Avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft. As a foreigner, you must carry ID such as a passport; the police will usually accept a photocopy, but make sure you have the original available somewhere safe in case they ask to see it. Do not get involved with drugs of any kind, as the Costa Rican authorities treat the possession of drugs and drug trafficking severely and the minimum sentence is 8 years imprisonment. 

For full travel advice from the FCDO, visit their page on Costa Rica here.

March 2024 - USA

Over one million people visit the US from the UK every year. You will need either an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver or a visa to enter or transit the USA as a visitor. Crime associated with illegal drugs is a major issue in Mexican states bordering Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Possession or trafficking of illegal drugs in the USA can carry a long prison sentence and fine. Check state laws to make sure you comply with the laws on possession and use of controlled substances. The US Department of Justice website provides a list of all controlled substances. Some foreign nationals have been victims of crime in the border regions, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been targeted because of their nationality. The national legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 21 years and it is important to remember that some states have different laws, so if you are under 21, check the relevant state laws before drinking or buying alcohol. Please visit the FCDO's travel advice page for full info. 

You can find some strange and definitely lesser known laws - such as it being illegal to marry the same man more than three times in Kentucky, collect seaweed from public beaches in New Hampshire, or send an unsolicited pizza in Louisiana - here.

There are several blog posts and stories focused on the USA available for you to read on our website:

February 2024 - Nepal

Approximately 45,000 UK tourists visited Nepal in 2022. There’s a low rate of serious crime in Nepal, but take precautions, as pickpockets and bag-snatching, particularly in airports, on buses and in areas popular with foreign nationals like Thamel, Sanepa and Kupondol in Kathmandu. There are also strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Nepal. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. Bringing precious metals into Nepal is strictly regulated and if you bring in undeclared gold or silver, you may: get a fine equivalent to the value of the goods; go to prison for between one month and 5 years depending upon the value of the goods; have the goods confiscated; and be detained during the proceedings. You will need to convert all your Nepali currency before you leave Nepal, and the bank or exchange counter at the airport may ask you for your customs declaration. Penalties for drugs related offences are severe. If you are caught with even small amounts of marijuana, you can go to prison for over 5 years, usually after a long and expensive legal process. Police are arresting an increasing number of people for smuggling drugs into and out of Nepal. Some skincare products and e-cigarette refills may contain ingredients that are illegal in Nepal such as Cannabidiol (CBD). If the police find you with products containing CBD, they may seize them and charge you with drug possession. Nepal is generally open and tolerant to LGBT+ issues, and same-sex relations are not illegal. However, any show of affection in public, irrespective of sexuality or gender, is viewed by Nepalis as inappropriate. You should also avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops in temples and other holy places, and remove shoes before entering certain holy places. Non-Hindus are not permitted in Hindu temples. There have been isolated reports of some trekking guides taking inexperienced trekkers to high altitudes too quickly, and then calling in expensive helicopter medivacs from which the guides take a cut, so be wary of trekking deals that look very cheap and may be scams.

This blog post reviews Channel 4's 'Gap Year' which aired in 2017 and featured a group of young British travellers visiting a variety of countries, including Nepal.

January 2024 - Switzerland

Switzerland is a popular holiday destination, particularly for skiing and winter breaks. There is a low rate of serious crime in Switzerland. However, there have been increased reports of theft, especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to and from Geneva. Take sensible precautions to avoid mugging, bag snatching and pickpocketing. Be particularly vigilant at airports, railway stations and crowded public gatherings. Do not leave your valuables unattended. Covering your face in public places in the Swiss cantons of Ticino and St Gallen is illegal, including for tourists. This includes balaclavas, full veils or any other garment or mask that is used to hide the face. You could be fined 100 to 10,000 Swiss francs if you don’t comply. You must buy and display a vignette (sticker) to travel on Swiss motorways or face large fines. You can buy a vignette at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone or online. Visit the FCDO's page on Swiss travel advice for more info.

There are also some lesser known Swiss laws and customs that you might not be aware on, including: It is legal to download music, movies, and tv shows, but uploading them is illegal; many pets must be purchased in pairs; you can’t drive wearing flip-flops; no making excessive noise on Sundays; Swiss men in the military must take their firearms home; and euthanasia is legal. Click here for the full list!

You can also read two blog posts written by student brand ambassadors with tips and advice on Swiss travel here and here

December 2023 - Denmark

Although Denmark is generally a liberal society, drug use is illegal and laws are enforced. You will not be treated more leniently than residents. Drug dealers can receive heavy sentences. Anyone found in possession of illegal drugs deemed to be for personal consumption will often receive a police fine or a short prison sentence. As of 1 August 2018, it’s illegal in Denmark to wear in a public place any clothing which conceals the face. There are exemptions allowed in Danish law, when concealing your face serves a ‘worthy purpose’, e.g. for health reasons. Failure to comply with this law is punishable by a fine of DKK1000 (around €135). The fine can increase for repeat offenders. The law applies to both residents and visitors. For full FCDO travel advice, click here.

Denmark is featured in our A-Z guide of being #TravelAware - can you find it?

November 2023 - Germany

You don’t have to carry your passport with you in Germany. However, if you’re asked to show your passport and don’t have it with you, police may escort you to where your passport is being kept so that you can show it to them. British nationals have been arrested for having counterfeit currency. Only change money in banks or legitimate currency exchange offices. You must declare any amount above 10,000 euros in cash or other payment types. You can find more information on the German Federal Foreign Office website. There are strict rules about goods you can take into and out of Germany. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. The FCDO's travel advice page on Germany contains a full list on entry requirements, plus advice on safety and security.

Germany features in our blog post on the strangest laws around the world...

October 2023 - New Zealand

You do not need a visa to enter New Zealand if you are a visitor staying less than 6 months, but you do need a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA). On arrival in New Zealand, you will also need to satisfy the Immigration Officer that you meet the criteria for visa-free entry, which includes having an onward ticket and sufficient funds to support you during your stay. You can check the full criteria on the New Zealand Immigration website. New Zealand’s immigration rules are strict, particularly regarding employment. Visitors cannot work in New Zealand. New Zealand has very strict bio-security regulations. It is illegal to import most food-stuffs and strict penalties are handed out to those breaking these rules. Importing illegal drugs is punishable by up to 12 years imprisonment. All codeine-containing products are classified as prescription only medication (a controlled drug). You can import controlled drugs for personal use, subject to declaring them on arrival into New Zealand to the Customs Service and demonstrating they have been lawfully supplied for the treatment of yourself or someone under your care. Visit the FCDO website for more information on entry requirements and travel advice to New Zealand.

You can read a blog post about travelling in New Zealand here, as well as an article on how New Zealand are reducing re-offending with educational prison programmes here

September 2023 - Japan

Tattoos in Japan have a historical association with organised crime, and while attitudes towards them are increasingly accepting, many public swimming pools, hot springs, beaches, and some gyms do not admit anyone with tattoos. Other establishments may simply ask that any tattoos to be covered up while using the facilities. Additionally, the use or possession of some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned under Japan’s strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law and ignorance may not be considered a defense. Japan has a zero tolerance towards drug crime and there are severe penalties for all drug offences. Detection facilities at airports and post offices are effective. British nationals have been arrested and detained for receiving small quantities of cannabis through the mail, and for returning positive results in tests carried out by Japanese police on customers in bars. British nationals have received sentences for drug trafficking ranging from 6 to 17 years with work, or even longer, as well as receiving large fines. Prisoners in Police have the power to detain people whilst they investigate you, for up to 23 days, even for minor offences. If you are charged with a crime, it is likely that you will be detained without bail until your court dates. Japan are expected to work as part of their sentence.

We have a blog post with more travel advice for Japan, which you can find here. We also have several stories written by those who have been imprisoned in Japanese prisons: 'Frozen time, frozen days', 'Prison in Japan', 'A Typical Day' and 'Like everyone else'

August 2023 - Romania

The Romanian authorities treat all drug-related and sex offences very seriously. The age of consent is 18 and if you are convicted, you can expect a prison sentence. It is illegal to change money on the streets, so you should change money only in recognised exchange shops, banks and hotels. The country remains generally socially conservative resulting in the majority of LGBT people not being openly gay and there being very few gay bars or clubs in Bucharest or the other main cities. Most airports and military bases will have signs prohibiting photography. Ask permission before photographing anything potentially sensitive, such as official buildings or police cars.

You can find a blog post about remaining risk-free in Romania here.

July 2023 - Spain

Spain is a very common holiday destination for Brits all year round, but there are still some local laws and customs that may be unfamiliar to us, particularly as we are currently supporting 82 people in Spanish prisons. You must provide photo ID if requested by a police officer and ignoring direct requests of a police officer can be considered as ‘disobedience’, which is a criminal offence. In some parts of Spain it’s against the law to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts and being bare-chested is also illegal in some areas in Spain. You may be fined if you’re caught wearing swimwear on the seafront promenade or adjacent streets. You cannot drink alcohol in the street in some areas of Spain and may be given an on-the-spot fine if caught. There are strict controls on drinking and sexual activity in public places, including on beaches. Spain also has strict drink driving laws. Police regularly carry out roadside checks for alcohol and drugs and penalties include fines, loss of licence and imprisonment. You can be given an on-the-spot fines from the police for a variety of driving offences including speeding. Visit the FCDO's website for more Spanish travel advice.

We featured Spain as a #TravelAware country in a previous campaign; you can read the full blog post here.

June 2023 - South Korea

South Korea is becoming a more and more popular destination for Western travelers. If you are planning a visit, make sure to check entry requirements and social distancing rules, as their Covid-19 guidance is still ongoing. It is also worth noting that the level of tension and the security situation on the Korean Peninsula can change with little notice. Tensions can rise following missile tests by North Korea and during the regular South Korean-US military exercises, which take place throughout the year. It is not possible to enter North Korea from South Korea. Penalties for possession, use and trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences and heavy fines. This applies even to personal use of small amounts of marijuana. British nationals have been detained solely on the basis of drug tests. To get a visa to teach English in South Korea, you must have a 3-year university degree. A TEFL qualification alone is not sufficient. If you are found to have obtained a teaching visa by deception, you will be detained and deported. Additionally, if you are a British male of Korean origin whose name appears on the Korean family register, you may be liable for military service even if you are travelling on your British passport. For full guidance on visiting South Korea, please visit the FCDO's travel advice page here.

May 2023 - Portugal

Portugal is a popular holiday destination, but there are some local laws and customs to be aware of whilst travelling. You must show some form of identification if asked by the police or judicial authorities. In most cases, it should be sufficient to carry a photocopy of the data page of your passport, but you may be asked to produce the original document. The possession and taking of drugs for personal use can result in fines or seizure of personal belongings, whilst selling and trafficking drugs is subject to several penalties. Gambling is only legal in establishments properly licensed by the government, like official casinos. Games of chance, including bingo, are illegal if they’re held on unlicensed premises; organisers, participants and anyone on the premises may be arrested, charged with a criminal offence and fined or imprisoned.

Student ambassador Gaby writes more about the laws and customs in Portugal, whilst Sam shares his story of imprisonment and the help he received from Prisoners Abroad.

April 2023 - South Africa

South Africa has a high rate of crime and, whilst the risk of violent crime to visitors travelling to the main tourist destinations is generally low, all visitors should remain vigilant. The use of cannabis for private consumption was legalised in 2018. While private use is legal, it is illegal to purchase or sell cannabis and its use in public remains prohibited. Public and private use of CBD oil is also legalised. The use, sale and purchase of other drugs is an offence. There are also special requirements for travelling to South Africa with children under the age of 18. Water restrictions may be applied within dry areas when water levels are critically low. You should follow the rules of local authorities where restrictions are in place. For information on more local laws and customs, plus entry requirements and tips on safety and security from the FCDO, click here.

March 2023 - The Netherlands

British nationals make more than 2 million visits to the Netherlands every year, half of whom are visiting Amsterdam. The Netherlands has a reputation for being tolerant on the use of so-called ‘soft drugs’ but, in reality, drugs are prohibited and this tolerance exists only for designated premises in the major cities. Possession of prohibited substances or buying them outside these designated areas can carry a prison sentence. Buying or smoking soft drugs in public places is an offence. There are specifically designated cafés where the use of cannabis is tolerated. Additionally, everybody from the age of 14 must be able to show a valid identity document to police officers and other law enforcement authorities on their request, while traffic offences can carry heavy, on-the-spot fines. If you are fined, always ask for a receipt. Check out the FCDO's dedicated Netherlands travel advice page for more advice on entry requirements, safety and security, and more. 

Student ambassador Rhian has written a blog post on tips for visiting Amsterdam, which you can read here

February 2023 - Barbados

For those looking for some winter sun, Barbados might be on your list of destinations. It is important to remember that there are severe penalties for drug offences, and the FCDO travel advice highlights the importance of packing all luggage yourself and never carrying anything through customs for anybody else. It is also an offence for anyone - including children - to dress in camouflage clothing. Local attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community are mostly conservative throughout the Caribbean, and certain homosexual acts are illegal. To drive on the island, you will need a temporary permit, alongside a valid UK driving license, which you can find more information on here. Taxi fares are not metered, so it is advised that you agree the fare in local currency with the driver before you set off. For more FCDO guidance, visit their page on Barbados.

You can read the story of a former overseas British prisoner who served their 33 month sentence in Barbados here.

January 2023 - Austria

Austria is a popular destination for winter travellers, whether it be those looking for a festive city break or a ski adventure. Around 980,000 British nationals visit Austria every year and most are trouble-free. Drug laws are similar to those in the UK and the possession of or trafficking of drugs will be dealt with severely; prison conditions in Austria are generally good, but if convicted for drugs possession, a lengthy sentence is likely. It is also important to note that since 2017, it has been illegal in  Austria to wear in a public place any clothing or object which conceals the face and makes facial features unrecognisable. Failure to comply with this law is punishable by an on-the-spot fine of up to €150. You could also be required to attend a police station if you refuse to uncover your face once asked, or if your identity is impossible to determine. The law applies to both residents and visitors. See the website of the Austrian Interior Ministry for more information on the law and a list of exemptions. This does not apply to medical or fabric face masks, which are compulsory in some situations due to coronavirus - and FFP2 face masks are compulsory on public transport in Vienna. There are complex driving laws in Austria, especially for caravan and motor-home owners. For more information on this, and other travel advice for Austria, please visit the FCDO website, where you can also sign up for travel email alerts

Find out more about visiting Austria, travel tips, and info on local laws and customs in these two blog posts written by our student ambassadors; Visiting Austria? Here's a Heads Up and 5 Tips from an Austrian.

November and December 2022 - Qatar

The 2022 FIFA Mens World Cup takes place from 20th November-18th December, with approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Brits expected to travel for the initial group stages. We are encouraging anyone making the trip to familiarise themselves with entry requirements, local laws and customs, and sign up to FCDO travel alerts. Qatar has many local laws and customs that differ from our own; there is a zero tolerance policy on drugs, and alcohol is legal only at licensed hotel restaurants and bars. Swearing and making rude gestures are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed and/or deported. It is also a requirement for everyone entering Qatar to have a Hayya (ID) card and proof of a negative Covid-19 test. The FCDO has provided tips for anyone travelling to Qatar for the World Cup and they also have a helpful checklist to prepare for foreign travel. 

October 2022 - Italy

Many major cities in Italy now impose a small tax on tourists, the cost of which varies from place to place and is normally paid for via your hotel in cash. Tickets on public transport must be endorsed in a ticket machine before you start a journey; officials patrol public transport and will issue an on the spot fine of 100 to 500 euros (reduced to 50 euros if paid immediately) if you don’t hold an endorsed ticket. There are also many regional laws to be aware of; for example, in some Italian towns and cities you may be fined for dropping litter and in some towns or cities it’s an offence to sit on monument steps or to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of main churches, historic monuments and public buildings. It’s also an offence to enter or bathe in public fountains. A fine of up to €10,000 can be imposed for urinating in a public place. It is also illegal to remove sand, shells or pebbles from coastal areas in Italy. Doing so may result in heavy fines.

Check out our articles 'How not to get arrested in Rome' by Caitlin Bodfish and 'La Risque Vita?' by Liam Clune for more Italian travel tips and info.

September 2022 - Australia

Australia has strict quarantine rules to keep out pests and diseases that could affect plant, animal and human health - and breaches of quarantine regulations can result in large fines. Different tax rules and rates apply to residents and non-residents. Working holidaymakers are usually regarded as non-resident for tax purposes; this means they do not qualify for any tax-free personal allowance on their earnings. The legality of using e-cigarettes in Australia differs between States, so you should seek local advice on what restrictions are in place at your destination. The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries; for further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the Australian high commission before you travel. The Australian authorities will take action against anyone who imports or is found to be trafficking illegal drugs. Prosecution can lead to a lengthy jail sentence and deportation.

Find out about Australia's strangest laws in this article written by SBA Catherine. 

Read about how Mark managed his mental health whilst serving an eighteen-year sentence in Australia here.

August 2022 - Vietnam

Always carry photo ID and be mindful of dress and behavior when visiting religious and cultural sites across Vietnam. Avoid drug use and possession of any kind. Be aware that reporting a crime in Vietnam can be a very long process and, if you do have to do so, it may be beneficial to have a Vietnamese-speaking individual with you. Ensure you are up to date with all local laws and customs before you go. 

Read SBA Georgina's blog on avoiding hiccups in Vietnam.

For more information and advice, read about Prisoners Abroad's work with the FCDO on their Travel Aware campaign.

Be sure to visit the FCDO website for travel advice before a trip abroad.