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UK holidaymakers risk breaking the law on holiday, due to a lack of research.

It seems very few people make the effort to learn local foreign laws before travelling abroad, although most believe it would be useful to do so, according to a survey conducted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

As many as 70% of people surveyed said researching local laws and customs would make their holiday more enjoyable, but fewer than half would actually make this research part of their holiday preparations. I have to be honest and say I have never thought about looking at foreign laws when travelling abroad. If I am hiring a car I will always research the countries road rules, but when it comes to local laws I would not know, for example, that it is an offence for anyone including children to wear camouflage clothing in Grenada; would you?

When I have looked at some of the local foreign laws I was astounded to read that you could get hauled up for unlikely offences such as:

Spain

In some parts of Spain it’s against the law to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts/trunks. Being bare-chested has also been banned. Some local councils will impose fines if you’re caught wearing swimwear on the seafront promenade or the adjacent streets.

United Arab Emirates

Electronic cigarettes are illegal in the UAE and are likely to be confiscated at the border.

Hong Kong

The Hong Kong SAR Government has restrictions in place on the quantity of powdered baby formula allowed for persons departing the territory. Penalties for non compliance are severe.

Morocco

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Morocco. Sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law. It is not uncommon for hotels to ask couples to show evidence of marriage at the time of check-in, and if such evidence is not available to insist on separate rooms.

Singapore

You will be fined for smoking in any public place or indoor restaurant and for chewing gum on the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system.

FCO Minister Mark Simmonds said: “It’s easy to throw caution to the wind when on holiday but it’s important to be aware of the local laws and customs before you set off. We want people to enjoy their holidays so we encourage them to be prepared. Laws and customs vary widely from country to country and visitors should respect them to avoid causing offence or even being arrested. Spending five minutes reading our travel advice may save travellers a lot of time in the long run.”

In the event you do fall foul of the law and end up in a sticky situation, your first point of contact could be the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. They can all give advice on local laws and procedures, contact friends and family and help find legal help, if necessary.

The same good advice about research goes for checking if there have been any changes to the countries entry requirements for example:

  • Tourists travelling to Turkey must have a passport valid for at least 60 days from expiry date of their visitor visa, as of January 2015.
  • New requirements have been introduced in South Africa for parents travelling in or out of the country with children.

If you generally book your holiday via a travel agent or tour operator, don’t rely on them to do the leg work for you and expect them to supply this information for you. Ultimately the responsibility will fall with you and if you are caught out, they may not be able to help you. Also remember, if the FCO advises against all travel to a particular country because they think there may be a considerable risk, if you decide to continue with your travel plans, your travel insurance may not pay out. Always check with your insurance provider before you go just in case!

I am travelling to the USA later this year and I know I shall be looking into the local laws so I don’t get caught out. I will also be checking the FCO website for more details about how to stay safe & healthy when travelling.

Travelling abroad should be for everyone, but we can’t expect the same rules to apply abroad, as they do in the UK. Prepare in advance to make sure you get the most from your holiday and more importantly, that you return home without incident.