Travelers’ increasing appetite for less popular, more remote destinations has many benefits: authentic experiences, reduced crowds, more adventure, to name a few. But it also has some downsides, including a higher probability of accidentally violating lesser-known laws and customs.

At best, the prohibited behavior could be met with a corrective warning or seizing a banned item. At worst, travelers could be slapped with a fine, arrested, expelled and even jailed.

One of the worst blunders 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. “It is critical to have some knowledge of your destination’s laws before traveling.”

We’ve written about several unusual things that are illegal in parts of the world: over-the-counter medicines, Sudafed and Vicks, in Japan and Greece; collecting sand, colorful shells or polished quartz stones in Sardinia, Italy; and naked hiking in Switzerland – all of which are prohibited, respectively. But there are countless more.

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


Trevi Fountain in Rome


Flats Preferred, Shirts Required

Italy and Greece are among the most frequently mentioned international destinations travelers are planning 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 comes with 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.

Unusual rules are not limited to historic sites and landmarks, however. Tourists traveling to Thailand and touring in a rental car, zipping through city streets on a scooter, taking a scenic ride on a bike or exploring with the public transportation system should keep their shirts on at all times. It is illegal to drive without one.

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


Rx 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.

While medical marijuana is legal in 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia., and its use recreationally is legal in 23 states plus D.C., it’s 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.

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.


Colorful row houses along a river in Amsterdam



If you’re 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.

If you’ll be traveling to Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, 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.


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. Many countries in the Middle East have no laws prohibiting violence against women and have arrested individuals for breaking laws around extra-marital activity.

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.



A red traffic light and a no right turn sign in a city.


Right on Red and Phones While Driving

Turning right on red in the U.S. is overwhelmingly legal, except in New York City where it’s only allowed at certain intersections. If you’re driving during your trip abroad, 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.

And while we’re on the subject of driving yourself, be aware of smartphone use. While it’s against the law in the U.S., it’s rarely enforced compared to 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.


Satellite Phones and Messaging Devices

It has been illegal for foreigners to bring satellite phones and devices into India for many years under the Indian Telegraph Act. After the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was coordinated with satellite phones, stricter regulations around these devices were put into place.

Bringing an unauthorized and unregistered satellite phone into India can lead to significant legal complications, including arrest and detention. However, if you are traveling to remote regions in the country, satellite phones can be e-registered and licensed with the Department of Telecommunications.

Satellite phones and devices are also illegal or strictly regulated in China, Cuba, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Chad, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Pakistan.


Two German police officers patrol a park in the city.


Learn and Obey Local Laws

Years ago, Global Rescue’s Associate Director of Security Operations and former Navy SEAL Harding Bush almost found himself in a jam in Jordan. There to provide protection for the prime minister of Iraq, he had flown into the country on military air but was to depart on a commercial flight. And on his way out, customs quickly halted him.

“I had two-way radios in my carry-on,” he said, which are usually illegal to have in that country. “I was sent to a small secondary room and questioned. Luckily, I was working with the Jordan secret service and had the business card of the King’s detail leader as proof. Without it, I probably would have been sent to jail.”

Bush was fortunate.

The laws of your home country don’t travel with you — that’s why knowing the local laws of the destination(s) is critical before traveling. “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 Bush. “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 they’re 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 page.)

Our Global Rescue Intel and Security Team can also assist members in research, including discussing what kind of risks — prevalence of certain diseases, potential security threats or other destination details — you should be aware of before going.