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Strange laws to be aware of in the most popular countries for tourists

Written by:
January 14, 2020
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Strange laws to be aware of in the most popular countries for tourists

It's never been easier to travel the world than it is today. The internet has made planning exotic overseas trips a total breeze. Intense competition between airlines means airfares stay low. Airbnb and VRBO have made lodging much more affordable. And the proliferation of travel media means wanderlusters are but a finger tap away from all the travel inspiration they can handle.

While scoring that Instagram-ready Airbnb and finding the family-run, handmade-pasta restaurant certainly merit their respective research, travel planning should also include learning and understanding the laws of your destination because adventuring abroad can quickly turn sour if you run afoul of local customs and laws. Even the best-laid travel plans go awry. In his seminal travelogue, "The Innocents Abroad," Mark Twain mused "The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad."

Before you hit the road, hit the guidebooks, CIA World Factbook, Google, and the U.S. Department of State's website to research the dos and don'ts of your destination country. You might be surprised at what you learn. The explosion of international travel has spurred many countries to put tourist-centric laws and regulations on the books. Since ignorance is no excuse, it's incumbent upon you, dear traveler, to stay updated on all the latest rules and laws governing your destination country. Luckily, Stacker is here to help.

Using data released from the World Tourism Organization in 2019, Stacker compiled a list of the 50 most popular tourist destinations in terms of 2018 international tourist arrivals, ranked from least to most visited. Tourist arrivals for Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and the Czech Republic are as of 2017. Below is a list of one peculiar or arbitrary law in each country. If you're planning to travel abroad, read on to see if your destination made the list.

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#50. Norway

- International tourist arrivals: 6.3 million

Should you be challenged to fistfight to the death in Norway, you must either accept or pay four deer in exchange for refusing the challenge. If you're not a qualified pugilist but also aren't sure where to procure four deer, worry not: the law hasn't been enforced in many years.

#49. Dominican Republic

- International tourist arrivals: 6.6 million

The age of sexual consent in the Dominican Republic is 18. There is no close-in-age exemption, which means that an 18-year-old high school senior visiting on spring break could be arrested and prosecuted for a tryst with a 17-year-old high school senior there.

#48. Brazil

- International tourist arrivals: 6.6 million

Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world, known for its stunning natural beauty and bounty of exotic wildlife. If you're a hunter planning on pursuing wild game, however, think again. Commercial, recreational, and sport hunting have been outlawed since 1967. The ban, however, may not last as congress submitted a bill in 2019 to open the country to commercial hunting.

#47. Argentina

- International tourist arrivals: 6.9 million

Arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, football superstar Lionel Messi is the pride and joy of his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. When a Rosario resident named his child Messi, however, some residents protested. In 2014, Rosario made it illegal to name a child Messi.

#46. Sweden

- International tourist arrivals: 7.1 million

To discourage public disorder, Swedish authorities issue permits to bars and other hangouts that allow customers to dance. If customers dance spontaneously in an unlicensed venue, the consequences can be serious—not for the reveler, but for the bar owner. While politicians across parties have pledged to revoke the law, as of December 2019 it remains on the books.

#45. Philippines

- International tourist arrivals: 7.1 million

If you visit the Philippines, be careful who you antagonize. The country's "unjust vexation" law makes it illegal for one person to annoy another.

#44. Iran

- International tourist arrivals: 7.3 million

While it may fall under the category "strange" to Westerners, Iran, like other strict Islamic countries, prohibits the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol. All offers of alcohol should be turned down. Not only do travelers risk going to jail but the bootleg alcohol so prevalent in Iran can also be poisonous.

[Pictured: A beer based on an old Persian recipe produced in UK.]

#43. Tunisia

- International tourist arrivals: 8.3 million

Tunisia has become a hotbed of artifact-smuggling. The government has subsequently made it illegal to take antiques out of the country without declaring them at customs. Before you buy something at a market or shop, make sure you have the proper documentation needed to bring these items home. Failure to do so can result in travel delays, fines, or confiscation.

#42. Belgium

- International tourist arrivals: 9.2 million

Belgians are still bound by an archaic set of rules known collectively as the GAS laws. One of the laws forbids street musicians from playing off-key or in any other manner that disturbs public order.

#41. Australia

- International tourist arrivals: 9.2 million

Australia has a laundry list of bizarre laws on the books. Among the weirdest: In Victoria, it's illegal to wear pink hot pants on Sunday afternoons. The takeaway here? Limit your pink hot pants to Saturdays.

#40. Bulgaria

- International tourist arrivals: 9.3 million

Bulgaria takes highway safety very seriously. When you're in the country, keep in mind that motorists are required by law to keep a reflective triangle, fire extinguisher, and spare tire in the car at all times.

#39. Ireland

- International tourist arrivals: 10.3 million

Ireland's Defamation Act of 2009 made it illegal to insult religion, either verbally or in writing. The law, which is rife with subjective definitions like "grossly abusive" and "causing outrage," pertains to all religions.

#38. South Africa

- International tourist arrivals: 10.5 million

South Africa is home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches, but you'll have to follow some pretty bizarre rules if you plan to visit. One law requires young people in bathing suits to sit at least 12 inches apart from each other.

#37. Taiwan

- International tourist arrivals: 11.1 million

In Taiwan, morality is often enforced through strict laws and regulations, like one that makes adultery illegal. Adultery laws disappeared in virtually all of Europe and Latin America decades ago, but remains illegal in many Muslim-majority countries, Eastern countries, and more than 20 of America's 50 states.

#36. Egypt

- International tourist arrivals: 11.3 million

Same-sex relationships are not a crime in Egypt as they are in other majority-Muslim countries. Public displays of affection between two people of the same sex could lead to arrest.

#35. Switzerland

- International tourist arrivals: 11.7 million

Switzerland is all about peace, quiet, and public order, especially on the ski slopes. It's illegal to recite poetry while skiing, so leave the Wordsworth back in the chalet.

#34. Denmark

- International tourist arrivals: 11.7 million

Pilots run through a maintenance safety checklist before flying a plane, and the same applies to drivers in Denmark. Before starting their cars, drivers are required to test their lights and brakes, honk their horns, and check for children under their vehicles.

#33. Morocco

- International tourist arrivals: 12.3 million

If you visit Morocco, be choosy about who you hang out with. In the North African nation, police can arrest and prosecute people just for being in the company of someone found with drugs, even if the acquaintance didn't know the person was in possession.

#32. Indonesia

- International tourist arrivals: 13.4 million

Be careful if you use a public restroom in Indonesia, a country with a notoriously severe criminal justice system. It's illegal not to flush the toilet after using it, and police do random inspections of public bathrooms. This law is further complicated by the fact that many toilets do not include a traditional flush feature, and must be flushed manually with a bucket of water.

#31. Czechia

- International tourist arrivals: 13.7 million

In the Czech Republic, headlights are not only for driving at night. It's been illegal since 2006 to drive without your headlights turned on at all times during winter.

#30. Ukraine

- International tourist arrivals: 14.2 million

In Ukraine, it is illegal to smoke or drink anywhere in public at any time. That includes smoking and drinking at sporting events and parks.

#29. Singapore

- International tourist arrivals: 14.7 million

Singapore is known for pristine public spaces that are maintained, in part, by severe laws regarding litter, graffiti, and other blight. The country's harsh criminal justice system includes public caning as punishment. Because it's hard to clean up when discarded outside of trash cans, it's been illegal to chew gum in Singapore since 1992.

#28. Saudi Arabia

- International tourist arrivals: 15.3 million

If you're looking for ways to get into trouble in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you won't have to look far—particularly if you're a woman. Although some women can now drive cars for the first time, women in Saudi Arabia are still forbidden from participating in a long list of everyday activities, including swimming in pools, dressing in a way deemed immodest, or competing in sports, including the Olympic Games.

#27. Republic of Korea

- International tourist arrivals: 15.3 million

Your body art won't prevent you from going to South Korea, but if you get a tattoo while you're there, chances are high the ink is illegal. Since only licensed medical doctors can legally administer tattoos in South Korea, virtually all tattoo artists there practice their trade illegally.

#26. Vietnam

- International tourist arrivals: 15.5 million

In Vietnam, it's not uncommon to see many people crowded onto one bike. If it's more than two, however, those people are breaking the law. It's illegal in the Southeast Asian country for more than two people to ride one bike at the same time.

#25. United Arab Emirates

- International tourist arrivals: 15.9 million

In the UAE city of Dubai, public image is taken very seriously. The government considers dirty cars to be a blight on the city's reputation. Not only are dirty cars routinely towed and their owners fined, you can even get in trouble for washing your car the wrong way.

#24. Croatia

- International tourist arrivals: 16.6 million

In Croatia, you can be ticketed and fined for sleeping on a public bench. The fine doubles if you're caught snoring as you slumber.

#23. Hungary

- International tourist arrivals: 17.2 million

Tourists in Hungary will want to take extra care when snapping photos. In 2014, the country enacted a law that requires photographers to get permission from everyone who will be depicted in the photo they're about to take.

#22. India

- International tourist arrivals: 17.4 million

Sending a kite skyward is a time-honored tradition all over the world, nowhere more so than India. You may be surprised to learn, however, that kites have been considered aircraft since 1934. Irresponsible kite-flying can lead to persecution. That means you need a license if you want to get in on the fun.

#21. Macao

- International tourist arrivals: 18.5 million

Called the "Vegas of the East," Macao (or Macau) is a casino haven that attracts massive crowds of Eastern gamblers looking to skirt China's strict laws. In many ways, it resembles a Western casino strip—with one glaring omission. Unlike Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos that ply gamblers with all the booze they can drink, casinos in Macao offer unlimited free tea, milk, soda, and coffee, but no alcohol.

#20. Netherlands

- International tourist arrivals: 19 million

If you're visiting the Netherlands as a tourist, great—but don't plan a destination wedding there. It's illegal to get married in the Netherlands unless one of the two people exchanging vows is Dutch.

#19. Poland

- International tourist arrivals: 19.6 million

If you're traveling in a country occupied by the Nazis during World War II, it's probably best to avoid mentioning the era altogether, particularly in Poland. Although the government is considering softening this controversial law, it is currently illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust. Doing so could land you in prison for three years.

#18. Canada

- International tourist arrivals: 21.1 million

If you're nursing a scrape in Canada you think may be almost healed, make sure you check before heading out for the day. It is illegal in Canada to remove a bandage in public.

#17. Portugal

- International tourist arrivals: 22.8 million

In Portugal, it is against the law to urinate in the ocean. It is unclear, however, how authorities go about enforcing this mandate.

#16. Russia

- International tourist arrivals: 24.6 million

Russia is teeming with archaic and peculiar laws. One of the weirdest: It's illegal to brush your teeth more than twice a day. Again, enforcing this law sounds tricky.

#15. Malaysia

- International tourist arrivals: 25.8 million

The conservative, Muslim-majority country of Malaysia has strict laws regarding public exposure. So strict, in fact, that several local governments have banned bikinis altogether. In 2016, a group of Australian tourists was arrested and detained, eventually pleading guilty to indecency for attending a racing event wearing bathing suits adorned with the Malaysian flag.

#14. Hong Kong

- International tourist arrivals: 29.3 million

Hong Kong's strangest laws are leftovers from British colonial rule. Case in point: Firing of cannons is forbidden within 200 meters of another house. In this population-dense city, it's probably best to shoot cannons elsewhere.

#13. Greece

- International tourist arrivals: 30.1 million

Visitors to Greece's myriad archaeological sites should note two regulations: High-heel shoes are banned and chewing gum is forbidden. These laws help to conserve the fragile sites: In 2006, authorities removed over 60 pounds of discarded chewing gum at the Odeon theater.

#12. Austria

- International tourist arrivals: 30.8 million

According to civil code BGBLA 2004 I 118 § 16 Abs (5), Austrians may not restrict animals in their mobility "to the point of pain.". It is expressly prohibited to chain up a dog, even temporarily.

#11. Japan

- International tourist arrivals: 31.2 million

It's hard to imagine why you'd want to put ice cream in a mailbox in Japan, but if you're considering it, you'd better think twice. Thanks to a rogue postman in 2006, Article 78 of Japan's postal law makes the act illegal.

#10. United Kingdom

- International tourist arrivals: 36.3 million

If you're in the United Kingdom and looking to purchase a television, you'll need more than a ride to the electronics store. You're required to get a license before buying a TV, installing any program receiving equipment, or recording television programs.

#9. Thailand

- International tourist arrivals: 38.3 million

Thailand's strict lèse majesté laws prohibit anyone from defaming, insulting, or threatening the king. And authorities are serious about its enforcement: There have been over 100 prosecutions since the 2014 coup.

#8. Germany

- International tourist arrivals: 38.9 million

Germany is famous worldwide for the Autobahn, a pristine superhighway that does not impose speed limits on its drivers. That doesn't mean that there aren't any rules, though. It is illegal to stop on the Autobahn for any reason, even running out of gas.

#7. Mexico

- International tourist arrivals: 41.4 million

In the Mexican state of Sonora, it's illegal to give your newborn any of the 61 names on a baby name blacklist. Among the forbidden names are Harry Potter, Facebook, and James Bond.

#6. Turkey

- International tourist arrivals: 45.8 million

Turkey, known for its strict censorship laws, has blocked more than 100,000 web pages from reaching its citizens. The most controversial online ban is the complete blacklisting of Wikipedia. After the information site refused to alter content the Turkish government found objectionable, authorities outlawed the entire site in a ban The Verge calls "the most comprehensive in the world."

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#5. Italy

- International tourist arrivals: 62.1 million

Because of overtoursim, many Italian destinations have enacted laws to manage the tourist onslaught. Rome sits at the forefront of these new regulations, enacting laws prohibiting eating in public, sitting on the Spanish Steps, and sightseeing while shirtless.

#4. China

- International tourist arrivals: 62.9 million

China is known for its strict rules and harsh justice system. One of its odder regulations has to do with health care. To see a doctor, you first have to get a state hospital-issued ticket, which can take two weeks. If you have the cash to pay an illegal scalper, you may be able to get medical attention in as little as two days.

#3. United States

- International tourist arrivals: 79.6 million

Americans are subject to a maze of often vague and inconsistently applied federal laws. Author Harvey Silverglate argues the average American unwittingly commits three felonies a day. Americans also must contend with a patchwork of inconsistent and archaic state laws, many of which are cartoonishly arbitrary. In Boulder, Colorado, for example, it's illegal to keep a couch on your porch. In Indiana, it's illegal to ride a horse faster than 10 miles per hour.

#2. Spain

- International tourist arrivals: 82.8 million

From the Ibizan hound to the Spanish greyhound, Spain is home to some of the most unique and elegant dog breeds in the world. Spanish authorities, however, don't want to see you with too many at any given time. It's illegal in Madrid to walk more than eight dogs at once.

#1. France

- International tourist arrivals: 89.4 million

Bargain hunters beware: In France, the government controls when retail establishments can hold clearance sales. Two official periods, known as "les soldes," occur once a summer and winter, usually January and July. Even internet retailers must abide by these rules and keep their items at full price until the sale period kicks in.

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