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Bizarre Laws Abroad  Heels Off, Shirts Required.Travelers’ increasing appetite for less popular, more remote destinations has many benefits: authentic experiences, reduced crowds, and more adventure, to name a few. But it also has some downsides, including a higher probability of accidentally violating lesser-known laws and customs, such as high-heel shoe restrictions, shirtless driving rules, and turning right on red.

Authorities could, at best, give a corrective warning for the prohibited behaviour. At worst, they could fine, arrest, expel, or even jail offenders.

Sounds silly? It’s not. One of the biggest mistakes travellers make is assuming that the laws of their country travel with them. They don’t. Whether it’s satellite phones in India, Walkie-Talkies in Japan, prescription drugs like Ambien in Singapore, or collecting polished quartz stones in Sardinia, Italy, they are all illegal.

Those laws bind you. You can’t just say, ‘Oops, I didn’t know.’ Ignorance is not an excuse.

Here are a few additional unique laws that, while potentially surprising, are important to know.

Heels Off, Cameras Down

Italy and Greece are among the most frequently mentioned international destinations travellers plan to visit in 2024. Whether it’s a new locality or a reliable region within those countries, tourists should know that visiting historic sites in Italy, Greece, or Vatican City has rules that may seem odd but are nevertheless enforced.

For example, it is prohibited to wade or dive in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, feed the birds in Piazza San Marco in Venice or take photos inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Officials in Greece banned high-heeled shoes at the Acropolis to protect it and other antiquities from wear and tear.

Rx Drugs

Many prescription medications and even over-the-counter drugs are illegal in various countries. Examples include Ambien (particularly in Nigeria and Singapore), pain medications containing tramadol or codeine, attention-deficit drugs, as well as psychiatric or opiate medicines.

Travellers should carefully research the laws around the medicine they require in countries they plan to visit and consult medical guidance on substitute medications. Even if a medicine is legal, travellers should always keep it in the original container and have a copy of a prescription.

Traveling as an Unmarried or LGBTQ+ Couple

Unmarried couples in the U.A.E. and Qatar often face legal complications, and, in many countries, women may not be able to check into a hotel with a man who is not their husband or father. In Jordan, public displays of affection (even if you’re married) are frowned upon. Even in 2024, members of the LGBTQ+ community should carefully research laws about their situation in any country they plan to visit. According to Equaldex, at least 60 countries have laws that Westerners would consider homophobic.

Driving Rules

On travel, an American colleague from Vermont was driving on rural roads in eastern South Africa when police pulled him over for speeding. The officers were perplexed by his state-issued U.S. driver’s license, and rather than completing the cumbersome paperwork and bureaucratic acrobatics it would have taken to process a ticket, they let him go with a verbal warning.

He was fortunate.

Another colleague was arrested in Scotland following a car accident. No one was injured, but both vehicles were damaged. Someone must be charged in Scotland if the damage exceeds a certain monetary threshold. The American driver had to get a solicitor (a lawyer) and appear before getting his passport back in front of a judge the next day.

One way to avoid accidents is to know local driving laws.

Turning right on red in the U.S. is overwhelmingly legal. However, if you’re driving during your trip abroad, many countries have banned “right on red” nationwide. For example, a right turn on red is generally not allowed in Europe, except where signage indicates otherwise.

Tourists travelling to Thailand in a rental car, zipping through city streets on a scooter, taking a scenic ride on a bike, or exploring the public transportation system should always wear shirts. It is illegal to drive without one.

You can take your shirt off when driving along Germany’s Autobahn – if that’s your thing – relishing sections with no speed limits. However, there are other restrictions on this European freeway. Pulling over onto the shoulder, stopping, parking, backing up and making U-turns on the highway is wholly prohibited. Running out of gas on the Autobahn is considered preventable and not an excusable reason to stop on the roadway, unlike experiencing a breakdown and pulling onto the shoulder.

Research, Prepare, Plan

International travellers should start researching the rules and laws of a country they plan to visit with a destination report. Travellers can download a free destination report from the Travel Intelligence Center page (https://www.globalrescue.com/common/travel-intelligence-center). The reports include risk factors like the prevalence of certain diseases, potential security threats, and other destination details travellers should know.




Written By: Harding Bush



Harding Bush is a former Navy SEAL and associate director for security operations at Global Rescue, the world’s leading medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services provider. Bush is an expert in procedures for high-risk travel, cultural awareness, crisis preparedness and operational planning.