12 Things Not to Be Caught Doing In A Foreign Country

Written by Hal Amen

Feature photo by _MaO_. Photo above by Tomas flickr.

You definitely don’t want to be caught breaking these rules when you’re a visitor.

We all know the old adage: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” But in some countries, it’s even more important NOT to do what the Romans AREN’T doing.

1. Disparaging the royal family in Thailand

Thailand takes its monarchy very seriously, to the extent that insulting the king or royal family, verbally or otherwise, carries a high price.

Just ask Oliver Jufer, a 57-year-old Swiss expat who ran afoul of the lèse majesté law when he defaced portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after a few too many Beer Changs. A Thai court handed him 10 years in jail (out of a possible 75), but his sentence was later commuted by the same king he had affronted.

2. Showing affection in Dubai

Technically, it’s illegal to hold hands in public in this Emirati tourist hotspot. Try rounding all the bases, as two British beachgoers did in July of this year, and you could find yourself in court at the epicenter of a culture war.

3. Smoking in Bhutan

Simply bringing tobacco into this tiny Himalayan country is costly—you’ll pay a 100% tax at customs. Smoke in public and you’ll be out $225 more. But if for some reason you’re caught selling tobacco products…that might just land you in a Bhutanese prison on smuggling charges.

Photo by g-hat.

4. Tagging in Singapore

Among the long list of legally defined no-no’s in this tiny island nation—littering, jaywalking, and leaving a toilet unflushed, for example—is graffiti vandalism. Remember Michael Fay, the 18-year-old American who pled guilty to spray painting cars in Singapore? Then you probably also remember that he was jailed, fined, and given four strokes of the cane for his crime.

5. Romancing a local in Iran

Iranian law makes it illegal for non-Muslim men to maintain relationships with Muslim women. (Don’t get too excited, all you non-Muslim ladies out there—I’m sure it works the other way, too!) Though rare, arrests of Westerners on this charge are not unheard of, and it’s doubtful that an Iranian jail cell would be your first choice of where to spend the next few years of your life.

6. Carrying a firearm in El Salvador

To curb gun violence, this Central American nation has strict licensing requirements for firearms. Several tourists have been detained for allegedly violating these regulations, despite at first being led to believe they had obtained all the documents necessary to carry their gun in the country. Moral of the story: leave the weapons at home. Years-long prison terms await offenders.

Photo by Azizul Ameir.

7. Running drugs in Indonesia

You have to be pretty dumb to dabble in drug smuggling abroad, but even dumber to do so here. While many countries enforce tough drug laws, Indonesia’s are some of the toughest, calling for death by firing squad for those convicted of this crime, regardless of their country of origin.

8. Slaughtering a cow in India

Though it’s a misconception that “Hindus worship cows,” bovine slaughter is indeed illegal in a number of Indian states. In fact, protection of the animal is enshrined in the country’s constitution. Few perpetrators are actually punished, but the law allows for a hefty fine and imprisonment for up to five years. Just in case you were planning to open a slaughterhouse here, consider yourself warned.

9. Naming a teddy bear “Muhammad” in Sudan

Teacher Gillian Gibbons found this out the hard way when she allowed her Sudanese students to name the class teddy bear. They chose “Muhammad,” and she went to jail, charged with inciting religious hatred. Though the court spared her the prescribed 40 lashes, she spent eight tense days in custody before being released. Obviously, decrees governing insults to Islam in Sudan are no laughing matter.

10. Trafficking in cultural antiquities in Turkey

So you’ve found the perfect Turkish souvenir to take home and impress friends and family. But do you know the whole story? If your souvenir falls into the broad category of “antiquity” as defined by the Turkish legal system, and you lack the proper documentation for its possession, your departure from the country may be delayed while you become familiar with the inside of a Turkish prison cell.

Photo by WaveCult (luis.m.justino).

11. Taking a nip in Saudi Arabia

Officially, it’s against the law to consume alcohol in Saudi Arabia. Period. In reality, expats who live in certain areas are allowed to bend the rule, as long as they do it quietly behind closed doors. But for those who like to play it safe (or are looking for the perfect excuse to kick the booze habit), it’s best to go without. The alternative could be a public lashing.

12. Breaking and entering in the U.S.

Okay, okay. You don’t want to do this anywhere, and if you do, you deserve whatever punishment you get. But try it in the U.S., where as many as 50% of homeowners keep a gun in the house, and your fate might be decided well before the cops show up.