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Claire's Tips

Laws that can land you in Trouble Abroad

Laughing young women enjoying themselves

What’s a sure way to ruin a vacation? How about getting a fine or even worse, arrested! This January, 10 Westerners, of which 2 were Canadian, were arrested in Cambodia for inappropriate dancing and posts on social media in contravention of local laws. Just because tourists frequent a certain destination doesn’t mean that the rules are the same as other parts of the world. Here are some laws from around the world that you should be aware of before heading out on your next vacation.

An iconic Venice landmark is Piazza San Marco. You have probably seen photos of it filled with hundreds of pigeons. In fact, they are so used to humans that they will even sit on your head for a photo opt. You might want to think before feeding the pigeons at all in Venice. They pesky birds are known to damage the statues and require the surrounding areas to be cleaned frequently. The city has banned feeding the birds in all areas and you will be fined if you are caught doing so.

If you are traveling to India you might want to leave your deck of cards at home. Any sort of gambling in the country is illegal including an innocent game of blackjack or poker between friends. Playing cards for coins could cost you a hefty fine or up to three months of jail time.

Similarly, keep in mind that gambling online is illegal in many countries, including Australia, Israel, Russia and the United States. You definitely don’t want to set up an online poker game yourself in the U.S.!

Singapore is quickly becoming a popular Food Tourism destination… but if you are planning a trip, don’t bring any gum. Chewing gum has been illegal there since 1992 because of the damage it caused to the public transit system. Spitting it on the street is a definite infraction and you will certainly face a fine. To an even more extreme extent, those caught importing or selling gum in Singapore can even face jail time.

Airbnb is quickly becoming the new choice of accommodation for many travelers. Staying in these rented by owner properties is often cheaper and in more central locations than hotels. But if you are traveling to cities like New York, Santa Monica or Paris, be wary. Airbnb hosts need to have permits to rent out their properties. This means that there is generally low availability or none at all. If you rent an unauthorized property and are caught, you could face a fine by the city.

Camouflage clothing has made a serious comeback in recent years, but if you are traveling to Barbados, you better leave it at home. Members of the military are the only people on the island permitted to wear camouflage. The ban was enacted in the 1980s to prevent gang members from impersonating soldiers and robbing people. The law is still in effect today and offenders can be fined.

Tourists visiting the United Arab Emirates should be aware that the nation’s public decency laws are very different than those in Western countries. Publicly kissing and/or touching your significant other can land you in jail. Hefty fines can also be imposed, so make sure you remember to keep your hands to yourself while in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

If you’re visiting Japan, don’t leave your passport in the safe! All foreigners are required to carry their “gaijin card” or passport at all times. You may be stopped by police if you are notably a tourist and asked to present your ID. If you fail to produce it, you could find yourself behind bars.

There are also a few online activities to watch out for as well. First, offensive language on social media could get you in trouble, such as Leigh and Emily who tweeted about “destroying” the U.S. on their upcoming trip. They had to convince the authorities that “destroy” is British slang for “partying hard”! Next, if you’re under the legal age in a certain country, sending nude photos of yourself may be considered “spreading child porn” and can lead to five years in prison. And finally, dancing with members of the opposite sex can be illegal in more conservative countries, so be wary of doing so in public and of posting this online. In 2014 in Iran, 6 young adults were sentenced to “91 lashes and jail” for posting a video of themselves dancing around to Pharrell’s song “Happy”.

Anytime you’re getting ready to leave for a trip, I highly recommend reading up on the country’s laws and cultures. A great resource to use is the Canadian government’s travel & tourism website. Just type in your destination and then click on the “laws and culture” tab. This is also a great way to check on visa requirements and safety concerns!

Keep these laws in mind the next time you travel and hopefully you will stay out of trouble.

Happy travels!