I can get arrested for that? Some acts that could get you in hot water overseas

Australian artist Jodi Magi was arrested in Abu Dhabi over a Facebook post.

Australian artist Jodi Magi was arrested in Abu Dhabi over a Facebook post.

Thinking of going to Amsterdam to get stoned? Think again. While "coffee shops" still sell all manner of legal ways to get ripped, the law was changed two years ago so that only residents of the Netherlands can legally purchase marijuana in these cafes.

How about feeding pigeons in San Francisco or carrying your shopping in a plastic bag in Rwanda? Sounds harmless but both those acts are actually prohibited.

With Australian Jodi Magi in jail in the United Arab Emirates "for writing bad words on social media", it is worthwhile considering what you think you might be able to do while overseas. Some simple acts could actually land you with a fine - or worse.


The importation and consumption of alcohol is prohibited in many countries. Some countries, such as the Maldives, allow for alcohol consumption in resort areas only. Some countries have blood-alcohol limits of zero for driving, including Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Estonia, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. Public displays of drunkenness can land you in jail for two years in Djibouti; it can put you in a sobering-up room in Poland. It is illegal to be under the influence of alcohol at an airport or on a plane in Fiji.


Many countries ban the observance of other religions in public, or the importation of Bibles and religious material. Proselytising Christianity is illegal in many countries and you can be arrested and deported for this activity. Countries that ban non-Islamic public observance and/or proselytising include: Algeria, the Maldives, Bahrain, Brunei, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE. Sharia law is enforced in many Islamic countries. It is illegal to import alcohol and pork products to many Muslim countries.

It is illegal to preach without a licence in Austria, Belarus, Cuba and India. Foreigners cannot preach at all in Azerbaijan. China has strict laws on who can preach. Importing any religious material is illegal in Honduras and Israel. You cannot distribute religious material in Kenya and Laos. Posing for a photo next to a statue of Buddha is illegal in Sri Lanka.

READ MORE Overseas laws you might be breaking without realising it

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Adultery, including consensual sex between unmarried couples, is illegal in some countries, such as Jordan, where it is punishable by up to three years in prison. Adultery is illegal in Papua New Guinea. Sodomy is illegal in Tonga and some other countries. Co-habitation between unmarried heterosexual couples is illegal in many countries. Sex outside marriage in the United Arab Emirates is illegal.

Oral sex is illegal in the US states of Louisiana and North Carolina. But you can probably relax about this. The US Supreme Court has ruled all laws against private consensual sexual behaviour to be unenforceable.


The list of countries where it is illegal to be gay and/or carry out "homosexual acts" is depressingly long. Check this website on LGBTI travel before you go overseas.


It is a legal requirement to carry identification at all times in many countries, including: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Croatia, Cuba, France, Germany. Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Mongolia, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. This list is by no means exhaustive. Keep your passport with you.


Illegal in many countries, including mainland China and Indonesia.

Political activity

Exercise caution. Political activity by foreigners is either banned or frowned upon in many countries. It is explicitly illegal in Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico. Nazi symbols, salutes and songs are banned in Germany.

Technology and cameras

Some countries ban the use of devices with global positioning systems near government buildings. You can be detained and questioned for using a GPS device (or a even camera) near government buildings in Angola. There are many, many countries that ban photography of government and/or military buildings and/or military personnel. Exercise caution and always seek permission.

Insulting the monarchy or nation

Under Thailand's strict lese majeste laws, it is illegal to insult the king or the institution of the monarchy. This includes defacing the local currency. Those found guilty face long jail terms of up to 15 years. Kuwait also imprisons people for insulting its Emir. It is illegal to denigrate the monarchy in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. It is illegal to insult the Turkish nation, flag or the founder of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. it is a criminal offence to insult President Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Chewing gum

In Singapore, it is still illegal to import or chew gum. Vandalism, among other crimes, can attract corporal punishment. Singapore enforces its laws against "outrage of modesty".


Some over-the-counter drugs that are commonly available in some countries are illegal in many others. These include pseudoephedrine and codeine. Countries where these are illegal include Japan, Greece, Thailand and Armenia. It is permissible to take these into some countries, such as Japan and Greece, if you apply for an import licence for personal consumption before you leave. Amphetamine drugs to treat ADHD are illegal in Indonesia and Thailand and may require an importation licence. There are strict controls on some prescribed drugs in Malaysia. 

Eating in the wrong place

In Florence, Italy, it is an offence to sit and eat on the steps of major churches and public buildings.

Plastic bags

Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda.

Offending national symbols

You can be imprisoned for up to four years for offences committed against "national symbols".


It is illegal to wear, buy or sell camouflage-style clothes in Jamaica, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Feeding pigeons

It is illegal to feed pigeons on the streets of San Francisco.

Too many coins

Canada's Currency Act limits the number of coins you can use. So don't raid the piggy bank.

Lack of fluoro

It is compulsory to always have a fluorescent vest in a motor vehicle in Croatia.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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