Press release

Brits caught out by unusual laws and customs

FCO encourages people to research destinations before they travel

Playing bingo, snacking while sitting on a monument or feeding pigeons may seem innocent enough to many British citizens, but these are just some of the reasons why many people have found themselves faced with hefty fines or in some cases arrested or detained abroad.

Every year Brits are caught out by local laws and customs which are commonplace in the UK, some of which carry serious consequences. These could be easily avoided by researching travel destinations in advance and taking note of updates and warnings issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

A recent report released by the FCO identified that more than a quarter (27%) of cases requiring consular assistance by the FCO were for arrests or detentions, with a particular increase in the number of cases in Italy, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. In addition to the more unusual laws and customs, alcohol, drug and cigarette laws all vary from country to country so it is vital that British citizens familiarise themselves with these before they travel to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Some of the more unusual laws and customs to watch out for include:

Country Law Penalty/Consequences
Netherlands Don’t carry or use drugs. While the Netherlands has a reputation for being tolerant on the use of so-called ‘soft drugs’ this exists only for designated areas. Possession of prohibited substances or buying them can carry a prison sentence Arrest, detention
Venice Feeding the pigeons is against the law Fines
Japan It is illegal to take some commonly available nasal sprays containing pseudoephedrine into Japan Fines
Barcelona It is against the law to wear a bikini, swimming trunks or to go bare-chested away from the beach front area in Barcelona Fines
Singapore Chewing gum on the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in Singapore is strictly prohibited Fines
Thailand It is illegal to import more than 200 cigarettes into Thailand Large fines and confiscation
Italy (Florence) It is an offence to sit on steps and courtyards or to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of churches and public buildings in Florence Large fines
Saudi Arabia In Saudi Arabia photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces is prohibited Arrest and detention
Barbados It is an offence for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing Fines
Nigeria It is illegal to take mineral water into Nigeria Fines, confiscation
Fiji Sunbathing topless is prohibited Fines
Maldives Public observance of religions other than Islam is prohibited for non-Maldivians and visitors Arrest, detention

Charles Hay, Director of Consular Services said:

Every year British nationals find themselves on the wrong side of the law unexpectedly, resulting in fines or in some cases arrests or even jail sentences. It is important to remember that laws and customs can vary greatly from country to country and what may be perfectly legal in the UK could be subject to a fine or even a jail sentence in another.

Consular staff often find that travellers are unaware that local laws apply to them and many British nationals think of their British passport as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. While consular staff will always try to assist British nationals who find themselves in difficulty abroad, we can’t interfere in another country’s legal processes.

We want Brits to have a great time when they travel abroad so it is also a good idea to research the country they are visiting before they travel. Country specific laws and customs can be found at our travel advice page.

If you have any enquiries for FCO consular staff before you go or while abroad you can now ask questions via the FCO’s new Twitter service @FCOtravel. Questions are answered 9am – 6pm BST, Monday – Friday and FCO staff aim to respond within 30 minutes. This service adds to the ways that British people travelling or living overseas can already get in touch with the FCO: by emailing the travel advice team or contacting local consular staff.

You can also keep up-to-date with the latest FCO travel advice by signing up to the FCO’s Facebook and Twitter.

If you would like further information please contact 0207 478 7840 or fcoteam@grayling.com

Further Information

*Information taken from FCO British Behaviour Abroad report 2013

The Know Before You Go campaign targets a number of audiences, from gap year students to package holidaymakers; sports fans to older travellers and people visiting friends and family abroad. The campaign works with around 600 travel industry partners to communicate its messages. For more information visit the campaign website

Advice from the FCO:

Check the FCO’s country travel advice – the more clued up you are, the smoother your trip will be so check out some key facts about your destination – even if it’s a familiar one.

Don’t forget to research your destination – eg. local transport, local dress codes, entry requirements, laws and customs by researching online using the FCO website.

Know the legal limits – if you are purchasing alcohol or cigarettes in the airport before you travel, make sure they are legal in the country you are travelling to and make sure your medicine is legal in the country you are visiting – contact the embassy of the country you are visiting and visit National Health website and NHS Direct.

Information about how the FCO can help British nationals abroad:

The FCO can:

  • Issue you with an emergency travel document
  • Provide information about transferring money
  • Provide help if you have suffered rape or serious sexual or physical assault, are a victim of crime, are ill or in hospital
  • Give you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
  • Contact you if you are detained abroad
  • Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
  • Provide help in cases of forced marriage
  • Assist people affected by parental child abduction

The FCO cannot:

  • Help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visas
  • Give you legal advice or translate documents
  • Investigate crimes or get you out of prison
  • Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people but will raise concerns if treatment falls below internationally recognised standards
  • Pay any bills or give you money
  • Make travel arrangements for you

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