One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is assuming that what’s permissible in their home country applies to wherever they travel. “Not so,” said Dan Richards, CEO of The Global Rescue Companies. “Which is why having some knowledge of your destination’s laws is critical before traveling.”

We’ve written about several unusual things that are illegal in parts of the world including wearing camouflage attire in the Caribbean, chewing gum in Singapore, and swearing in public in the U.A.E. – all of which are prohibited. Here are a few more.


A person popping out yellow pills from their wrappers.

Rx and OTC Drugs

Many prescription medications and even over-the-counter drugs are illegal in various countries. A few examples: Ambien (particularly in Nigeria and Singapore), pain medications containing tramadol or codeine, attention-deficit drugs, as well as psychiatric or opiate medicines. In Japan and Greece, Sudafed and Vicks are also illegal.

Medical marijuana is legal in 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana use is legal in 23 states plus D.C. But marijuana is illegal for use in more than 100 countries including Fiji, the Bahamas, Monaco, Iceland, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Taiwan to name just a few.


[Related Reading: 5 Precautions for Traveling With Medication]


WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest and conviction in Russia for possession of medical cannabis oil is a critical lesson for all international travelers to learn. International travelers who run afoul of the law may receive a stern warning or the item could be confiscated. At worst, officials can fine you, arrest you, expel you and even jail you, as was the case for Griner.

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


Amsterdam's red light district at night.

Sex Services, Surfside Souvenirs and Seated Infractions

The exchange of sexual services for money is legal in the UK and many European countries but not in Northern Ireland or all U.S. states, except certain parts of Nevada. In Amsterdam’s famous red-light district, it’s illegal to take pictures of sex workers.

White sand, colorful shells and polished quartz stones are sought-after souvenirs among tourists visiting Sardinia, Italy’s second-largest island, but it’s illegal so don’t risk it. Under Italian law, trading sand, pebbles and shells is illegal and punishable with fines of up to €3,000 ($3,148 or £2,750). Pierluigi Cocco, Sardinian resident and environmental scientist, said one of the threats to the beaches is tourists absconding with sand, shells and pebbles.

Tired? Need a break? Be careful where you sit if you’re in Venice, Italy. According to the officials, it’s a finable offense to sit in certain locations at St. Mark’s Square including at the Piazzetta San Marco entryway. Why? It’s an effort to reduce crowding. You can also be fined for going topless, feeding the pigeons, riding a bike, swimming in the canals and littering.


Naked female legs walking in a grassy field of purple clover.

Drinking, Right Turns and Naked Hiking

Thinking of enjoying a cocktail made with the popular Dutch gin Jenever on a sunny sidewalk in The Netherlands? Think again. The consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the majority of public places in Amsterdam.

Traveling to Middle East countries like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Tunisia? They have no alcohol restrictions, and it’s available in restaurants, bars and shops. Alcohol is prohibited, however, in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – all of which are “do not travel – level 4” destinations.


[Related Reading: Helpful Tips for Driving in a Foreign Country]


Turning right on red in the U.S. is overwhelmingly legal, except in NY City where it’s only allowed at certain intersections. However, 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.

Most drivers are regularly reminded of the rules against using their smartphones while driving. Rarely enforced in the U.S. it is the opposite in the U.K. where phone use while driving is taboo, according to Travel of Path. “Police are extremely vigilant when enforcing the law and can pull a vehicle over if they suspect a phone may have been used in any manner. The penalties can be huge and are set to get even stricter this year.

Finally, some people like to go au natural when they are in nature, wearing little more than their birthday suit. Whether it’s a preference to avoid tan lines or simply to feel unconstrained by clothing, there are nude beaches in Ibizia, clothing-optional hotels in Negril, and naked skiing in Colorado. But Switzerland, a country famous for its outdoor lifestyle, does not permit naked hiking. The country has no law on public nudity, but it does prohibit indecent exposure. When a hiker was found wearing only socks and hiking boots, they were fined. The fine was challenged and debated before officials determined hiking naked was a violation of the indecency law. So, if you decide to hike anywhere in Switzerland, be sure to keep your pants on.


Learn and Obey Local Laws

“The U.S. Department of State’s travel information web page for overseas travel advice explains you are subject to local laws while abroad,” said Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and Global Rescue’s senior manager of Security Operations. “You are bound by those laws. You can’t just say, ‘Oops, I didn’t know.’ Ignorance is not an excuse.”

If you’re a member of Global Rescue, the best place to start your research regarding the rules and laws of a country is with our destination reports. Maintained by our travel intelligence analysts, these reports cover 215 countries and territories, and are always accessible in your member portal or on your My Global Rescue App.

Not a member? You can download one free destination report on our Travel Intelligence Center.