One risk of travel is running afoul of local customs. Running afoul of local laws, however, is something else entirely. Here are a few activities you might not realize can get you locked up.
10. Wandering Into Area 51
Regardless of how into the UFO scene you are. you shouldn’t try and enter Area 51. There isn’t a fence up per se, but the borders are marked with decent clarity and patrolled. And they don’t take kindly to intruders. While the persistent rumor that the guards are allowed to shoot on sight hasn’t been verified, a BBC film crew was held at gunpoint and threatened with six months of jail time after wandering into an unguarded section.
9. Insulting the King of Thailand
Thailand’s laws have raised eyebrows for awhile, but one in particular that deals with the monarchy is particularly bizarre. Insulting the king can get you in some pretty heavy trouble, including prison sentences of over 30 years. This is used to block freedom of speech and press, but it also comes to bear in ridiculously trivial cases, like a man who chose to insult the king’s dog. “Insulting the king” even includes accidentally stepping on money, since his face is on it.
8. Being Naked in Your Hotel Room in China
This one’s a little sexist. (Well, okay, it’s wildly sexist.) It’s illegal for women to be naked in their own hotel room. You can be naked in the bathroom, but that’s it. No word on how they enforce that, though.
7. Not Carrying Your ID in Japan
Japan requires all foreigners to carry ID. Tourists have to carry a passport at all times, and foreign residents have to possess a “gaijin card.” (If that sounds like a slur against foreigners, well, it is.) Authorities stop and search people who don’t “look Japanese,” and since the legal system allows them to hold and interrogate you for three full weeks without even charging you, that could go south in a hurry.
6. Eating During Ramadan in the UAE
Okay, so it’s not like you’ll be jailed for eating out in general. But if you’re seen gnoshing during Ramadan, there are legal consequences of up to a month in prison. While tourists tend to get off with a warning, they will jail you if they think you’ve been around long enough to know better.
5. Killing a Cow in Nepal
In India, the laws on killing cows vary from state to state, but in Nepal, the cow is the national animal and protected by the Nepalese constitution itself. Not that you’re likely to accidentally slaughter a cow on vacation, but forewarned is forearmed.
4. Bringing the Wrong Drugs into Japan
We’re not talking about smuggling. We’re talking about prescription medication—in some cases, even over-the-counter medication. Traveling with prescription medication is tricky enough. We even dedicated a whole article to the topic. Medicines like Sudafed or anything with codeine in it are strictly banned from Japan.
3. Singing “Obscene” Songs in Malaysia
Malaysia’s penal code is notoriously severe. It’s part of why tens of thousands of yellow shirts flooded the streets in peaceful protest last year. Those crimes include singing obscene songs, which really means everything in the Top 40 right now, and you can land in jail for up to three months. Also illegal is the terrifyingly vague term of “mischief.”
2. Chewing Gum in Singapore
If there’s one thing people know about Singapore, it’s that the laws are draconian. While it’s a myth that chewing gum can get you a caning (many other offenses can, but not gum), it will get you fined. In fact, “smuggling” gum into the country can get you hit with a fine of nearly $74,000 and two to three years in prison.
1. Public Displays of Affection
There are quite a few countries where a poorly-timed kiss or hand-hold can land you in prison, especially in heavily religious countries around the Middle East and Asia. Consider Indonesia, where passionate kissing can land you in prison for five years and saddled with a $29,000 fine. In some places in India—even though attitudes are relaxing—authorities issued an arrest warrant for Richard Gere after he kissed co-host Shilpa Shetty at a televised AIDS awareness event.