You don’t have to be a drug courier or a serious criminal to get in trouble with the law while on vacation. Here are 10 seemingly innocuous mistakes that could land you in jail.
Carry prescription drugs
The Emirates are known for their strict drug rules, which also cover certain prescription drugs (even cold and flu remedies) unless properly documented. In 2018, a traveler was jailed for carrying anxiety medication. The tough laws also apply to substances that wash into your bloodstream or urine, and in 2008 a British tourist was given a four-year sentence for a microgram of cannabis stuck to the sole of his shoe.
Exceed the duration of your visa
No, we are not talking about illegal immigrants. In 2017, an Australian traveler was temporarily imprisoned in the United States after overstaying a visa by just two hours. And in 2007, an Icelandic woman was arrested upon arrival at JFK airport for overstaying her tourist visa a decade earlier. She spent two days in the slammer before being expelled. Long-stay tourists in countries ranging from Mexico to Thailand have also been arrested.
Bare your buttocks
You might expect that to be a no-no in some places, but maybe not in Europe, where topless and thongs on beaches are commonplace. But in 2003, a British woman was arrested in Greece and charged with indecent exposure after flaunting her behind in a rowdy ‘beautiful bottom’ resort contest. She was sentenced to eight months in prison but escaped with a fine of 2500 euros.
Twelve seemingly innocent plane spotters also broke Greek law in 2001 after taking photos at an air show. They were charged with espionage for their shots of military planes and sentenced to three years in prison, which was not overturned until a year after their incarceration. Photography of military bases and other facilities, as well as sensitive infrastructure such as airports or even bridges, is strictly prohibited in many countries.
Touch someone in a bar
In 2017, the very active police in Dubai arrested a Scottish tourist for touching another man’s hip. The tourist maintained that he reached out to pass quietly while trying not to spill any drinks. Although released on bail, the Scot was stuck in Dubai for months and racked up a huge legal bill. Ironically, he had been drinking at the Rock Bottom Bar, which is what he hit.
Fly a drone
Mark Firkin and Jolie King, who were arrested in Iran, were documenting their travels on social media. Photo: Instagram
Two Perth Instagram bloggers on their way around the world found out the hard way in 2019 that drones shouldn’t be flown in sensitive locations. In this case, near a military base. In Iran. They were arrested in their hotel at gunpoint and dragged to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. They were lucky to be released after three months following a government prisoner exchange agreement.
wear a bikini
The famous white beach of Boracay. Photo: Getty
Should tourists be punished for their cultural insensitivity? Good question, answered by Philippine police in 2019 when they arrested a Taiwanese tourist in Boracay for wearing skimpy swimsuits. And by Maldivian police in 2020 when they took a British tourist in a bikini to Maafushi and charged her with indecent exposure. Wearing a bikini in the Maldives is only allowed in tourist resorts. Most countries have laws regarding appropriate dress.
A photo posted on the Kinabalu Park Facebook page purporting to show the 10 tourists who posed naked at Mount Kinabalu. Picture: Facebook
In 2015, four tourists, ignoring the advice of their guide, removed their gear from the top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia. Big mistake, because Mount Kinabalu is considered sacred. They were imprisoned for three days and deported after paying a heavy fine. You don’t even have to be naked; Australians were arrested at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2016 for carrying budgie smugglers inappropriately displaying the Malaysian flag.
See also: What kind of person gets naked at a famous tourist attraction?
British tourist Naomi Coleman with the offending tattoo. Photo: AFP
Three French tourists to Sri Lanka received six-month suspended prison sentences in 2012 for allegedly kissing a Buddha statue in Kandy. In 2014, a British tourist was deported for sporting a Buddha tattoo on her arm. And in 2015, a Kiwi and his Burmese colleagues were jailed in Myanmar for two years after producing a Photoshopped photo of Buddha wearing sunglasses to advertise their bar.
Dress up as nuns
If you’re vacationing on the island of Crete, don’t think about donning lace lingerie and a nun’s habit for your big night out. In 2009, a group of male tourists did just that, got drunk and rowdy and offended the locals. They spent 40 hours reflecting on their mistake in a jail cell and endured the indignity of having their cross-dressing photos plastered all over the newspapers before being fired.
Brian Johnston has traveled as a guest of many tourist boards and travel agencies.
See also: How a mistake banned me from the United States for life
See also: If you miss this detail on your passport, your vacation could be ruined