When you last went travelling off the beaten track, how much did you read up on local laws and customs? What about when you holidayed closer to home in, say, France or Germany? No, us neither – and we’re not alone: the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has found that less than half of us would research local customs and laws when visiting somewhere new. Even if you know a country, it’s worth checking out if any new laws have been introduced. With a little bit of preparation you can avoid blighting your trip with an unintentional faux pas. Here are just ten mistakes you could easily make – and soon regret:
- Swearing in public in Australia: in 2014, fines were increased to $500 in many parts of the country.
- Swimming in the Emperor’s moat at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo: last year, two British tourists were arrested for this bit of ‘harmless fun’. In Japan, you may remain in custody for 23 days while awaiting an investigation – even for minor offences.
- Lighting up an e-cigarette in the UAE: these were banned in 2014.
- Jay-walking in the Czech Republic: don’t attempt to cross a road within 50 metres of a designated crossing unless you are prepared to pay a fine.
- Spitting in Hong Kong: if you are caught doing this or littering you are likely to receive an on-the-spot fine.
- Eating an ice cream on the steps of the Cathedral of Florence: it is an offence to sit on steps/courtyards or to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of the main churches and public buildings.
- Getting plastered publicly in Poland: the police take a dim view of drunkenness in public places. You may be taken to a drying out clinic to be assessed by a doctor and forced to remain there until you are sober. You will bear the cost of an overnight stay.
- Mooning in Greece: indeed any indecent behavior is not tolerated and may result in arrest, heavy fines or prison sentences. Decency laws extend to fancy dress, too: avoid anything that might cause offence.
- Concealing your face in France: any garment used to conceal the face in public – balaclavas, veils, masks – are illegal and can incur a fine of up to €150.
- Wearing camouflage clothing in Jamaica and Barbados: it is illegal to wear, buy or sell army or police camouflage clothing.
Laws change from one country to the next, but there is one universal rule: ignorance is no defence. Be a clued up rather than a clueless tourist: the FCO’s website (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) gives key information on each country’s legal do’s and don’ts – take a quick look and spare yourself a load of hassle.