Cosmopolitan covers Detained in Dubai
Updated: Feb 17
Going on holiday or on a backpacking adventure is a lot of fun; it's why so many people do it. But something that could ruin that fun big time would be, er, getting arrested in a foreign country - especially if you weren't even aware you were breaking the law.
Research by flight comparison site JetCost revealed that 63% of people fail to look up local laws before travelling overseas, so with that in mind, and to help you avoid any future unfair stints in foreign prisons, we thought we'd round up some of the tiny, seemingly insignificant things that could get you arrested or in big trouble in certain destinations abroad. 1. CALLING PEOPLE NAMES ON SOCIAL MEDIA
A British woman may have to serve two years in a Dubai prison for calling her former husband's new wife a "horse" on Facebook, according to campaign group Detained in Dubai. Laleh Shahravesh, who had previously lived in the UAE country but relocated to the UK, was visiting Dubai to attend her ex-husband's funeral along with their 14-year-old daughter.
But upon arrival, Laleh was arrested under the country's cyber-crime laws, which mean a person can be jailed and fined for making defamatory statements on social media. In 2016, Laleh had seen photographs of her ex-husband with his new wife, and in a burst of anger commented: "I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse".
Despite the fact the comment was posted when Laleh was in the UK, her former husband's new wife reported it to police and authorities arrested the woman when she next arrived in the country. She could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and fined £50,000 as a result of her charges.
In Singapore, chewing gum is illegal. After the sticky stuff caused years of maintenance issues in public housing, with people sticking it inside keyholes or on lift buttons, former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew decided to ban it all together in 1992. The only exception to the rule is chewing therapeutic, dental or nicotine gum, which must be bought from a doctor or registered pharmacist. Fines for those caught selling unauthorised gum can be up to $100,000, or even 2 years in prison, so be careful not to pack a load of the stuff in your luggage or you could find yourself in hot water.
3. TRAVELLING WITH MEDICATION
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging people who take medication to make sure they're clued up on local laws before going on holiday this summer, because some medications including anti-depressants, painkillers and even over-the-counter cough syrups are banned or have specific rules around them in certain countries.
With more people choosing to travel further afield for holidays, the government wants to make sure nobody ends up in trouble simply for bringing their medication away with them. Here are some of the medications that are banned or strictly regulated in various countries:
Medication containing pseudoephedrine – found in the likes of Sudafed and Vicks – is banned in Japan
Diazepam, Tramadol, codeine and a number of other commonly prescribed medicines are 'controlled drugs' so you should always check what the requirements are for taking them into the country you wish to visit, as failing to comply may result in arrest, a fine or imprisonment in many countries, including Greece and the UAE
Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills and strong painkillers all require a licence in Singapore
In Costa Rica, you should only take enough medication for the length of your stay, with a doctor’s note to confirm that this is the right amount
In Indonesia, many prescription medicines such as codeine, sleeping pills and treatments for ADHD are illegal
In Qatar, over-the-counter medicines such as cold and cough remedies are controlled substances and must be accompanied by a prescription
Tourists should always carry a doctor’s note with any personal medicine when visiting China
4. WITNESSING A FIGHT
21-year-old British woman Asa Hutchinson faced jail time in Dubai after witnessing a physical fight in the lobby of a hotel. Asa, from Chelmsford in Essex, lived in Dubai and was with a group of male friends who had come to visit her when the events took place. Asa's friends reportedly began taking selfies with a hotel customer in his 50s who had fallen asleep on a sofa in the public area. When the man woke up, the Evening Standard reports he began punching the guys he believed were mocking him.
The man called police to complain about the photo-taking, and Asa was later arrested despite the fact she insisted she only witnessed the fight play out, and wasn't even there during the selfie-taking. Asa's friends left the country but she was charged with assault and theft. She remains stranded in the country, facing jail time.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, explained why this worrying situation has occurred: "In Dubai, if two parties are in dispute or arguing, the first person to speak to the police is usually the one who is believed. Often it is a race to get to the police first.
"By making this complaint, the man may have been safeguarding himself from being charged himself. Also, it is clear in this case that Asa was a bystander, not involved with the fight and is only being victimised because the alleged culprits have left the country."
Stirling added: "Visitors to the UAE need to be aware that justice does not operate the same way as it does in countries with mature legal systems." 5. CROSSING THE ROAD
In America, 'jaywalking' - or the act of crossing the road when the traffic lights don't say you can - is a criminal offence. Granted, it's seen as a low level offence which is usually only dealt with by issuing a fine, but it's illegal all the same. Enforcement varies among states in America, but in Massachusetts for example, people found to be jaywalking will be fined $1 for their first, second and third offences in any given year, and $2 for their fourth and any subsequent offences within the year.
6. VAPING Recent advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised travellers not to bring vaporisers, including e-cigarettes, e-baraku or refills, into Thailand. They will likely to be confiscated, and you could be fined or sent to prison for up to 10 years if convicted. So yeah, save the vaping for the UK. 7. HAVING SEX
In Abu Dhabi and various other UAE countries including Dubai, having sex outside of marriage is seen as a highly punishable offence. An unnamed British woman visiting Dubai earlier this year claimed she had been gang-raped in the country, but to her shock, when she reported the incident to police in the country they ended up arresting her and not the men accused of the rape. Initially confiscating the young woman's passport, police told her she had committed an offence by having sex outside of marriage. The charges in this case were dropped shortly after, but a couple in Abu Dhabi experienced something similar. Ukranian-born Iryna Nohai discovered she was pregnant with her boyfriend Emlyn Culverwell's baby while the pair were holidaying in the country, and they were both arrested on charges of having had sex before marriage.
Travel advice for such UAE countries states "it's against the law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren't married or closely related", and anyone found guilty of doing so runs the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine, and deportation. 8. ORDERING AN ALCOHOLIC DRINK
Well, it's illegal to buy outside of certain hours in Thailand. Because of the country's 'blue laws' which restrict certain activities in order to observe times of rest, it's technically illegal to purchase alcohol from a bar, restaurant or anywhere else outside of lunch (11am-2pm) and dinner (after 5pm). Looks like you can't just have those famous buckets of booze any time you please, then. Blogger and long time resident of Thailand Richard Barrow also says you can't legally buy alcohol on Buddha Day or on Election Day. So now you know. 9. FROWNING
You're meant to be happy when you go on holiday, right? And in Milan, Italy, it seems like they're pretty keen to enforce that. According to an old law which has never been overturned, it's genuinely illegal not to smile, and it's punishable by a fine. Jeez, talk about organised fun. The only people who are exempt from the rule that's literally governed by the fun police are people in hospitals and those attending funerals. Fair enough. 10. HAVING CERTAIN TATTOOS
Sri Lanka takes its Buddhist religion very seriously and, as such, has various laws against the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts. The thing is, tattoos come under the umbrella term of 'images and artefacts', and tourists have been known to be deported or refused entry into the country for having visible tattoos of Buddha. So if you're inked in something Buddha-related - cover up while you're there. And while we're at it with the advice on how to be respectful, don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha - that's seriously frowned upon, too. 11. WEARING A BIKINI WHEN YOU'RE NOT ON THE BEACH
We Brits are so accustomed to cold weather that we just. cannot. deal with sunnier climes. It's for that reason we like to wear next-to-nothing when we go abroad, but various Spanish regions are clamping down on holidaymakers baring (nearly) all. 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. If you're caught wearing your swimming costume on the street there, you could be liable to pay up to £500 in fines. That's some dent in your duty free budget.
If you're off to Australia, you're going to have to wash your mouth out, because there are laws against offensive language in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales - all of which are very popular tourist destinations. Swearing is what's called a 'summary offence' in these places, meaning that if you're arrested and charged, your case could be heard by a magistrate or a judge, not a jury. And they don't take it lightly, either: in Queensland and Victoria, being found guilty of offensive language could land you in prison for up to six months. F**king hell.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also recently warned that swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are "considered obscene acts" in the United Arab Emirates, and could result in offenders can be jailed or deported. Now you know.
13. TAKING PAINKILLERS
Don't worry, it's not a blanket ban, but some specific medicines such as Vicks Inhalers or painkillers containing Codeine are banned in Japan, and the FCO warns anyone discovered in possession of them may face detention and/or deportation. 14. FLUSHING THE TOILET AT NIGHT
No matter how desperate you are, you're going to have to avoid a trip to the toilet come nightfall as best you can if you're visiting Switzerland. Why? It's apparently against the law to flush the chain after 10pm in the country, because they deem it noise pollution. I mean, yeah, but isn't that a better kind of pollution than leaving your bodily excretions to stew in the loo all night? Just saying.
15. CONNECTING TO WIFI
In Singapore, it's illegal to connect to another person's wifi. The country's Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act states that using someone else's Wi-Fi network is seen as hacking, and anyone caught doing it could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or worse - they could face up to three years in jail. Instagram can wait in that case.
16. WEARING CAMOUFLAGE CLOTHING
If you're off to Barbados (or various other Caribbean countries including St. Vincent and St. Lucia ban) you might want to double check the contents of your suitcase. Because wearing camouflage clothing is completely banned - even if it's not in khaki colours. It's thought this strict rule stems back to prevention of people impersonating military personnel for criminal purposes, and the countries treat it as a very serious crime.
17. SINGING KARAOKE AT NIGHT
You might harbour dreams of visiting Hawaii and spending your nights banging out some of your best tunes after one too many piña coladas. But, sorry to burst your bubble, in Honolulu you're not allowed to sing loudly after sunset. Somehow I just don't think Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' has quite the same impact when whispered.
18. WEEING IN THE SEA
Hands up, who's done it? Well you'd better hope you hadn't peed in the sea in Portugal, because the country's got a strict ban on it. I'm not entirely sure how they enforce that one, mind you.
19. WEARING HIGH HEELS
In certain places in Greece, specifically ancient monuments, wearing high heels is a definite no-no. You might want to look glam in all your tourist pics, but the country is concerned about the damage heels could do to the stone, and they've banned them.
20. SMOKING IN A PUBLIC PLACE
This is a complete no-no in Ukraine - as is drinking in a public place. The FCO warns the term 'public place' includes transport, bus stops, underground crossings, sports and government establishments, playgrounds and parks, so if you fancied an outside bevvy or smoke, wait until you're in the safe haven of your private accommodation.