Traveling Abroad? Know Before You Go

Updated: Mar 12th, 2010

I found this article on Brave New Traveler, “Terrorist Threat: Has London Become Hostile to Tourists?”, about a new law banning photographs that include any police officer (or anyone involved in the protection of Her Majesty’s subjects) in the photo. Say it isn’t so! I can’t imagine London, England being like this. Their “Bobbies” (as the police in the UK are called) are world-famous for their elegant uniforms and demeanour, and have long been a favorite photo subject of tourists from all parts of the world.

The point of bringing this new law in London to your attention is this – it is up to you, as a travel writer and tourist, to be aware of the laws of any country you choose to visit.

The truth is when you visit another country, you do not have the same rights and protections that you have when at home. You’re on their territory, and are subject to their laws. Ignorance of the laws is never acceptable and won’t get you any breaks, but more importantly, you may be facing some very severe punishment and have little or no legal representation or recourse.

Before you visit a country, do some research and get the facts. If you visit a country where photographs are forbidden, you may think twice about visiting the country. Then again, you can always find photos on the internet or on stock photography CDs. A good starting point is the US Department of State’s website, but be sure to also research using the consular and tourism websites for the country you plan to visit.

Case in point – if you visit Israel and want to ride a bike, you must have a license to do so. Some people may view this as being too strict, but the fact of the matter is that it’s their law. You can either abide by it or face the consequences.

The same advice goes for the customs of wherever you’re visiting — every culture has different beliefs and practices for what is considered acceptable behavior and dress, and you don’t want to offend the people of your host country. For example, if you’re an American woman visiting the Middle East, it’s best to follow their custom and cover yourself up. If you don’t, you could face criticism and possibly even risk getting arrested.

If you can find and hire a local guide this can make your traveling more pleasurable. Not only will you have a native showing you around, you can avoid “snafus” while you travel. Although it can be expensive to hire a guide, it’s often be well worth the expense.

National Geographic’s “Locked Up Abroad” takes a look at foreign tourists that get themselves into trouble. Of course, some of them committed highly prosecutable crimes, such as smuggling contraband items.

Final thoughts
When you travel, show respect for the culture and customs of your destination. They may be different from yours, but they have every right to them. Besides, isn’t the point of travel to learn and grow — to have a multitude of experiences? This world would be boring if we were all the same.

Stay tuned — in a followup post, we’ll take a look at the how some cities and countries are “breeding paranoia” by their response to potential threats, and how it’s effecting their citizens as well as their tourism trade.


Have you ever had a “run-in” with the laws of another country? What happened? How did you handle it?

About Amandah Blackwell 198 Articles

Amandah Blackwell is a creative, freelance and ghost writer for industries that include but are not limited to the arts & entertainment, travel, publishing, real estate, pets, personal and professional development, and much more.

Amandah's personal writing projects include screenplays, teleplays, YA, non-fiction, short stories, and poetry. 

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  1. Great article. Not sure why people assume that they have the same rights in other countries as they do in their home country. I would say “common sense” will tell you so, but…

  2. Oh what a delightful post! I mean, really, I can’t imagine that people would expect to have the same rights. You’ve got to be kidding. Really, I mean, come on. I find it interesting that you must have a license to ride a bike in Israel. It’s best to respect and follow the customs and laws of other countries or you will suffer the consequences!

  3. Unfortunately, people just don’t get it. Respect other cultures and people, and they’ll respect you. Don’t commit a crime and you will not be prosecuted. It really is common sense.

  4. @JazzyTraveler and @Stewie_B – I also find it interesting that so many americans do manage to get into trouble abroad, not always intentionally but most often simply from ignorance of the laws of the country they’re visiting.

    I think the problem is that we really do have a great deal of both freedoms and protections here, and we don’t so much assume that those freedoms and protections travel with us, but rather that we assume other countries enjoy the same as well. It’s often hard to imagine that citizens of other countries don’t enjoy the same rights that we have, so we don’t think about it. And of course there are always those travelers who believe that being a US Citizen somehow bestows some special rights that go with us wherever we go – that is most often why some have troubles.

    @Janie – good point – using good common sense and being respectful will go a long way to keeping you out of trouble, and engendering good will as well. But I do think it’s still very important to do research and know the laws before you go, because what may be perfectly legal here, even simple things uch as crossing the street without a walk signal, could potentially get you locked up somewhere else, so you need more than just common sense in some cases :)

  5. Everyone makes great points. I like to do research before I travel to a foreign country. I feel it’s better to be say than sorry :)

  6. It’s sad that some people don’t respect others and their cultures. Unfortunately, Americans tend to get a bad rap when they travel. It’s the United States of America NOT the United States of the World! Be respectful of others and they’ll respect you…Cheers!

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