Eight seemingly innocent things tourists can go to jail for

There are many things we do in South Africa that other countries around the world consider a crime. Some of these would be considered patently ridiculous in our country, and as such, South Africans abroad could very easily break these laws without even realising they are doing it. One of them even attracts the death penalty. So without further ado, here are the innocent things you should definitely not do while travelling overseas.

Vaping – Thailand

Thailand wants nothing to do with vaping and while it’s still common to see people vape on the streets, those doing so run the risk of receiving a hefty fine of around R3000. Worse than that however is being caught bringing your vape into the country.

In November 2014, Thailand approved legislation outlawing the import of e-cigarettes into the country. This has since been expanded to the export as well as sale of e-smoking devices and equipment.

The UK’s Foreign Office advice warns travellers not to bring vaporisers (like e-cigarettes) or refills into Thailand saying, “These items are likely to be confiscated and you could be fined or sent to prison for up to 10 years if convicted”.

Wearing a bikini – Spain


Spain has some of the finest beaches in Europe, and bathing on them, often nude is encouraged. However, don’t think about leaving the beach and walking the streets in your swimwear as this can attract the harshest of fines.

In 2011, Barcelona outlawed tourists wandering the streets in bikinis or other swimwear, threatening them with fines if they did, and in 2014 Mallorca brought in a similar rule. The punishment if you are caught doing so is a fine of as much as R10 000.

Having sex outside of marriage – UAE


Are you dating your partner, or even engaged and want to travel together to the UAE? Well, make sure you book separate rooms in your hotel.  Sex in Dubai without marriage is illegal and punishable under UAE law, it doesn’t matter that you’re in a relationship with your partner in your home country. It is also against the law to live with a member of the opposite sex either in a flat, or a hotel.

According to the UAE’s newspaper Gulf News about living together, “You may be doing it to save money, you may be doing it out of love, or blindly and unknowingly… whatever the reason, sharing a roof with an unrelated person of the opposite sex can spell disaster in the UAE.”

While the UAE is generally tolerant of what happens behind closed doors between foreigners, be warned that if someone lodges a complaint then the authorities will be forced to take action. If accused of having sex outside of marriage the punishment can be as minor as a fine, or as major as a few years in prison. You will almost certainly be deported if you aren’t locked in jail.

Wearing camouflage clothing – Caribbean


Wearing any camouflage clothing, of any colour, is illegal in most Carribean countries. The law was enacted to prevent people from impersonating officials for nefarious purposes, but it carries over to tourists too. There are numerous anecdotes of tourists arriving in these countries, only to be stripped by officials, who then confiscate their clothing.

You can expect to have your bags searched and to part ways with any camo gear you have at the airport, but assuming you manage to get it through customs andf wear it on the islands, the law provides for fines or even short prison terms.  Interestingly there are numerous other countries where wearing camo is also considered illegal, and these include Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and even Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Having a religious tattoo – Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka takes its Buddhist religion very seriously. As a result, there are numerous laws that govern the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts. While none of the definitions of ‘images and artefacts’ include tattoos, there are numerous stories of tourists who have been arrested, deported or refused entry into the country for having visible tattoos of Buddha on their bodies.

While the most likely result of these arrests is deportation rather than imprisonment, the few days leading up to you actually being put on a plane will likely be spent in a local jail, so rather cover up the offending bit of art.

Jaywalking – Singapore


Jaywalking is defined as crossing the road within 50 meters of a crossing zone. In Singapore conducting this heinous act can attract anything from a R300 spot fine to arrest and a fine of up to R15 000 or three months of jail time depending on how “severe” your offence. The punishment doubles to a fine of up to R30 000 and six months in jail if you’re caught jaywalking twice.

Posting pornography online – Iran


Not many people admittedly go on holiday to Iran with the intention of posting pornographic images on the internet, and that probably has the tiniest bit to do with the fact that doing so could earn you the death penalty.

So strict is this law against posting pornography, which is considered to be an “insult and desecration of Islam”, that web programmer Saeed Malekpour was sentenced to death in 2010 after a software package he had developed was used without his knowledge to post pornographic images online. His sentence was later suspended upon appeal after the government said he, and his family, repented his actions. Probably better not to take the chance.

Swearing – Australia


This has to be one of the most ironic laws around you can be charged in many parts of Australia for swearing. And this isn’t just one of those silly laws no one ever gets charged for either.

Queensland (Summary Offences Act 2005 s 6), New South Wales (Summary Offences Act 1988 s 4) and Victoria (Summary Offences Act 1966 s 17) all have laws that cover offensive language in public. The offensive language provisions in both Queensland and Victoria may result in imprisonment for up to six months.

Usually, this is enacted when someone swears in public, thereby offending those nearby, and doing so near a school is considered especially heinous. Whatsmore case law in both New South Wales and Victoria has ruled that it’s not necessary that an individual was in the vicinity to hear the offensive language in question for someone to be charged.

Fortunately, in New South Wales at least, you can get off if you are able to satisfy the court that you had a reasonable excuse to behave in such a manner.

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