What Seems Innocent But Is Actually Illegal in Other Countries?
I once bought a painting from a street vendor in Florence. It was a lovely piece of art and I was pleased to have it as a souvenir of my trip.
Suddenly, the police came around the corner. The art vendor quickly ran away. Apparently, he was breaking the law. I had no idea.
This made me think about how certain things can be completely fine in one country, yet illegal in another. As a tourist, we are often oblivious. We can be doing something that seems absolutely innocent, yet it is actually forbidden. Sometimes the local police will let you get away with a warning if you are a tourist, but that’s not guaranteed. Often ignorance of the local laws is not an excuse.
There are many examples of this, as each country has its own unique laws and regulations. Here are some cases where something seems quite normal, but is banned or outlawed in another country.
Eating Near Historic Monuments in Rome
When you imagine yourself exploring the Italian capital, you might picture buying a traditional gelato from a local shop and then sitting on the Spanish Steps or next to the Trevi Fountain to enjoy it. What a romantic Roman experience, right? However, by doing so you’d be violating a municipal ordinance and you could be fined.
Eating and drinking in the center of Rome near “areas of historic, artistic, architectural and cultural” significance has been banned. Fines for eating in these areas can be up to $650. The ban was enacted after Rome authorities found that the cost of cleaning up after tourists who left litter around was cutting into the funds for restoring public monuments and historic sites.
So, to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the police, make sure you enjoy your delicious Italian food while sitting at a cafe rather than on the street.
Kinder Surprise in The USA
Kinder Surprise is a delicious milk chocolate egg, with a small plastic capsule inside containing a toy. These chocolates are made by the Italian company Ferrero SpA and they were inspired by an Italian Easter tradition where adults give children chocolate eggs with a toy inside. They are a popular children’s treat all over Europe and the UK, but they are banned in the USA.
How could something so innocent and sweet (literally) be banned? There is a worry about the choking risks of a non-edible toy inside a chocolate egg. Essentially, anything that is a candy with a “toy or trinket” completely encased within it, is considered dangerous by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
There have even been people who have been detained for trying to enter the USA with these candies in their possession! So, if you’re thinking of bringing these fun treats back to the US with you after a trip to Europe (or you’re a visitor to the US bringing them as a gift for a friend) you could be getting yourself into some serious trouble.
Time Travel Films in China
If you are in the mood to watch Back to the Future, Looper, The Terminator, the Time Traveler’s Wife, Dr. Who, Star Trek or Midnight in Paris during your trip to China, you might want to think again. Believe it or not, China has banned all films containing time travel.
The belief is that time travel films and movies “disrespect” history by treating it in a “frivolous way.” In a statement by the State Administration for Radio, Film & Television, time travel movies have “weird” plots and promote “superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”
Other things that China has banned over the years include children's show Peppa Pig, social networks Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat, and the actor Richard Gere (because he publicly supports the Tibetan Independence Movement).
Eating in Public During Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates, Muslims celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. It takes place during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink anything (not even a sip of water) from sunrise to sunset. They will typically eat one meal before sunrise, then sit down for a large meal with family and friends after sunset.
Eating or drinking in public in the UAE during this time of year is illegal. The rule is stated by Article 313 of the Penal Code in UAE Federal Law. The rule applies to everyone in the UAE, no matter what their faith or if they are fasting. The fine can be imprisonment for up to one month, or a fine of up to Dhs 2,000 (approximately $544 USD).
So, if you’re visiting the UAE during this time and you’re hungry during daylight hours - make sure you eat your food somewhere private such as inside your hotel room. Also, chewing gum is considered eating and should be avoided.
Insulting the King in Thailand
At home in your own country, the press and the general public might be allowed to be openly critical of heads of state and leaders. However, in Thailand, speaking ill of the King and the royal family is a punishable offence.
It’s known as the lese-majeste law and it is one of the strictest in the world. Anyone who insults or defames the King, Queen, Regent or Heir-Apparent can be given a jail term of three to five years. There have been a wide range of people arrested for this law, including a Swiss visitor who drunkenly spray-painted over posters of the king, and even people who have clicked “Like” on Facebook posts that were considered offensive.
(Also, the king’s face appears on Thai currency, so even defacing or stepping on bills or coins is forbidden!)
Always check the local laws before you travel
These are just a few of the things that you might think are totally innocent, yet are illegal in other countries. Make sure you take the time to research local laws before you hit the road on your next travel adventure!