World’s Scariest Laws Could Get You in Serious Trouble
It's a given that laws change from country to country. And yet many travelers forget to check local laws before boarding a plane. Sometimes with dire consequences.
Recently, for instance, Indonesia banned extramarital sex. The law applies to foreigners as much as it does to locals in many parts of the country and can earn people up to a year in jail. And this isn't the only law that could be seen as extreme.
These are the scariest laws around the world that you definitely should know.
Drug Possession Carries a Death Sentence in Some Countries
Possessing drugs is illegal in most countries, but marijuana has been legalized in certain places. But certain countries are much stricter when it comes to punishment.
In certain Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, bringing substances into countries can be deemed as trafficking, which has sometimes led to death sentences.
Even minor offenders have received lengthy sentences. The most famous recent case of this involves WNBA player and Olympic medalist Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing hashish oil for her vape pen to Russia.
Though she was eventually released during a prisoner exchange, this is not a guarantee for any traveler.
Non-Heterosexual Love Is Prohibited By Law — And Can Be Punishable by Death
Gay marriage is still not legalized in many countries in the world, and homophobia continues to be a global issue. But in some nations, having non-heterosexual sex is a crime punishable by law.
In six nations — Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Mauritania and Iran — gay people can be sentenced to death because of their sexual preferences. Those who escape capital punishment are at high risk of being sentenced to jail and facing social and labor discrimination.
Sadly, it's recommended that members of the LGBTQIA+ community avoid countries with strict anti-homosexual laws.
The United Arab Emirates Can Deport You for Swearing
Public decency is incredibly important in the United Arab Emirates. So much so that anything that compromises what society deems decent can be a crime. This includes swearing.
Yelling profanities at someone is the most severe form of this offense. But you could also be jailed or fined for doing this using gestures or by message. In 2015, a man was fined $68,000 for sending a not-so-pleasant message to a colleague via Whatsapp.
Authorities have claimed that even sending the middle finger emoji can get people in trouble. When in the UAE, make sure your speech is squeaky clean.
And Couples That Kiss in Public Could Be Sent to Jail
Another grave form of public indecency is PDA (public displays of affection). Married couples can hold hands while walking, but being overly affectionate in front of other people is absolutely taboo — even with your spouse.
In 2017, for example, a local couple kissing in a public restroom was arrested and spent a month in prison. Foreigners caught in such compromising positions may also face deportation. Not to mention hefty fines.
Pre-Marital Intercourse Is Illegal in Multiple Countries
The Philippines isn't the only country that deems pre-marital sex a crime. Other Muslim countries like Egypt, Malaysia, Somalia, Sudan, Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran also have similar laws. The UAE was part of this list until 2022 when it began easing laws in an effort to improve its international image.
People may think there is no way for the government to know what goes on behind closed doors. But this law has proven dangerous for local and foreign women, who are discouraged from reporting assault for fear of being punished. One of the biggest scandals of the 2022 Qatar World Cup was the treatment of a Muslim Mexican national who faced jail and 100 lashes when she sought help after an attack.
Human rights groups are also concerned that laws like this can spur "revenge" reporting by family members who disapprove of a person's lifestyle. Gay and transgender people are particularly at risk.
Insulting the Government or Head of State Can Be a Serious Criminal Offense
Freedom of speech is a right in much of the world. But in some countries, that isn't extended to include expressing negative views of the government.
In Thailand, for instance, any action that insults the royal family can land you 15 years behind bars. And in Iran, anyone who badmouths political leaders can receive over 70 lashes.
Even liberal countries like the Netherlands are victims of these restrictions. Disrespecting the country's reigning monarch is punishable by up to five years of prison.
Bringing Gum Into Singapore Can Land You in Jail
Singapore is the only country in the world that bans chewing gum. And this weird law isn't a quirky leftover of bygone days. It was passed in 1992 and continues to be very strictly enforced.
Fines for "trafficking" or selling gum can result in a fine of $100,000 or up to two years in jail. It's basically treated like a drug.
You can thank vandals who used gum to create massive damage to the city-state's rapid transit system for traumatizing the country into a draconian control of the innocent item.
Prescription Drugs Can Result in Drug Trafficking Charges
Prescribed medication can also land you in some boiling hot water if you're not careful.
Travelers often take for granted that something that is legal in their country will be so everywhere. But there have been cases of people being tried for drug trafficking just for bringing prescription medications on a trip.
For example, the famous Vicks VapoRub is illegal in Japan. And in Qatar, cough medicine that is sold over the counter elsewhere needs a prescription.
For instance, Ritalin, a drug commonly prescribed for ADHD in the U.S., is illegal in Japan. Several American citizens have been arrested for bringing Ritalin from the U.S. into Japan, despite having a legitimate prescription for the drug from a doctor.
One famous case involved a Utah woman who was arrested on a trip to Mexico in 2016 for bringing Sudafed (a sinus relief medicine) into the country.
You Can Get the Death Sentence for Disrespecting Religion
Blasphemy laws prohibit people from disrespecting religion. They are most strictly observed in countries where there is no separation of church and state.
Iran and Pakistan have the strictest blasphemy laws in the world. Here, any insult to the Prophet Mohammed receives the death sentence.
But seemingly secular countries like Ireland and Italy also have similar laws. While capital punishment isn't used, you may face fines for being overly irreverent to Catholicism.
Using a VPN Is a Crime in Five Countries
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, help people navigate the internet with privacy and bypass country-specific website restrictions. (It helps you access other countries' Netflix catalogs.)
While seemingly harmless, VPNs are forbidden or restricted in countries where the state controls internet access, like China, Russia and Iraq. For the latter, control is used to counteract terrorist propaganda and recruitment, while Russia and China want people only to use state-backed VPNs that allow them to access data — so VPNs that don't actually complete their function.
The UAE also has restrictions on the use of VPNs. While people are free to use one, if they are deemed a tool to commit a crime, prison and six-figure fines are in order. Sure, this makes sense. But the crime here could be something like using a VPN to get on a dating website, which is illegal in the country.
That's right. Tinder is a no-go in the UAE. Don't try to find your way around that.