It's no secret that local norms change from country to country, which can leave travelers confused as to what is appropriate around the world. From proper tipping etiquette to flashing the wrong hand sign, travelers face a whole new set of rules and regulations when they step off an airplane and enter a new country. However, some of those faux-pas can end in more than a headshake and disapproving glance from the locals.
Not understanding certain local cultures can result in a fine, or even jail time.
When it comes to visiting a new nation, knowing the local laws ahead of time can reduce the amount of embarrassment a traveler faces when they inadvertently break them – in addition to fines and potential jail time as well. Here are five obscure laws that can get travelers in trouble as they see the world.
Germany: Running out of gas on the Autobahn
The world's most famous interstate system beckons motorists from around the world every year to take a drive with no posted speed limit. While driving on the Autobahn can be the thrill of a lifetime, motorists are also tasked with knowing a number of safety rules that not only protect them, but fellow drivers as well.
Perhaps the most important of these rules is not running out of gas while on the Autobahn. Because there is no speed limit across many stretches of the highway, breaking down due to running out of gas creates a dangerous situation for not only those on the side of the road, but those driving as well.
Motorists who do run out of gas can expect a visit from the local police for assistance and hefty fines. Other Autobahn rules include no tailgating (which is a serious offense), and no driving slow in the passing lane.
Denmark: Driving without the headlights on
In addition to driving on the interstate, travelers also face challenges when driving on local roads as well.
In the United States, it is common for drivers to turn on headlights in rainy conditions. However, in Denmark, drivers should carry an international driving permit, and drive with the headlights on at all times.
Why drive with the headlights on? Transportation studies suggest drivers are more aware of the traffic around them when all vehicles keep their headlights on during the day. As a result, daytime running lamps may be responsible for reducing accidents on roadways. Those who are caught driving their rental car in Denmark without headlights could face a $100 fine if caught. In addition, being a hazardous driver could result in the termination of a travel insurance policy.
Sweden: Buying sexual favors from a prostitute
In certain parts of Europe, prostitution is a highly regulated practice, and is viewed as an acceptable trade. In Sweden, the act of prostitution is legal – but the act of buying sexual favors from prostitutes is illegal. Therefore, the criminal liability falls solely on the buyer, and not the seller.
The approach is a novel method of protecting the prostitutes and trying to lower the number of workers on the streets, while punishing those who are paying the prostitutes.
Those caught purchasing services from a "working girl," instead of finding romance the old-fashioned way, could face up to six months in prison.
UAE: Insulting the government in person or online
While the laws in European nations focus on traffic and human decency conditions, laws in other parts of the world are driven by other measures of decency. In the states of the United Arab Emirates, insulting the government takes many different forms, and can result in varied penalties.
In a very recent case, a 25-year-old American found herself accused of this crime when refusing to engage two men offering to help her while waiting for a taxi. The woman was charged with a misdemeanor crime, and could face a fine. Although the U.S. Embassy cannot help the traveler in her case, officials noted to Travel and Leisure they were aware of the situation and were providing appropriate assistance.
Insulting the government is not the only way to get in trouble while in the U.A.E. Other examples include using rude Emojis in text messages, posting satirical videos online, or eating in public during the holy month of Ramadan.
North Korea: Stealing propaganda posters
Finally, the harshest penalties may come from one of the most taboo destinations in all the world: North Korea. Although it is possible to enter the isolated nation, foreigners are under constant surveillance, with the slightest misstep resulting in penalties.
One American student found himself on the wrong side of the law for removing an official propaganda poster, with the intention of taking it home as a souvenir. The student received a penalty of 15 years of prison and hard labor, convicted of the "hostile act" of removing the poster. Officials in the United States have called on the communist nation to release the student for the actions. Should your itineraries take you to North Korea, let this lesson be clear: do as instructed.
While seeing the world can be an empowering feeling, it can also be dangerous at the same time. By knowing the local rules when traveling abroad, travelers can stay on the right side of the law and make their adventures an enjoyable experience.