Photo: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

12 Things You Don't Want to Be Caught Doing in Foreign Lands

Bhutan Indonesia India Iran Saudi Arabia Sudan El Salvador Thailand Türkiye United States Dubai Insider Guides
by Hal Amen Dec 11, 2008
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Carrying a firearm in El Salvador

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