Heading abroad this summer? Watch out for hefty fines (or worse) for wearing flip-flops, jaywalking or even inhaling Vicks
You've booked your trip, packed your bags and learned a bit of the lingo. But have you checked up on any local laws or customs which might catch you out on your holiday? While some may seem strange based on the culture here, they may of course be perfectly sensible based on cultures elsewhere, though we're not sure what to make of compulsory budgie smugglers in some swimming pools in France.
We've used Gov.uk's travel advice (and the official tourist websites for popular holiday destinations), to round up some of the more unusual rules below. It's always worth checking the UK Government's country-by-country advice for the full lowdown before you travel.
While most trips abroad go without a hitch, if you're unsure of anything once you're there, it's best to ask at your hotel or a tourist information centre in the first instance. But if you need emergency help from the UK Government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Each of the countries listed below has a link to the Gov.uk advice for that country.
- Wearing camouflage. In a number of Caribbean countries (including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago) it's an offence for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing. It's not always clear what the penalties would be, but camouflage seems to be prohibited as it's associated with military uniform. For example, the official tourism website for Trinidad and Tobago links to this warning, which says you'll be fined and have the item confiscated.
- Taking your shirt off or wearing swimming gear. Walking shirtless or in swimming costumes is frowned upon in some town centres in Croatia. Dubrovnik, for example, has signs to show that it's prohibited by law and offenders will be subject to an on-the-spot fine – reportedly 1,000 kuna (£125). You should take notice of your surroundings including signs and judge what is appropriate.
- Crossing the road in the wrong place. You can be fined if you attempt to cross a road or tram tracks within 50 metres of a designated crossing point (commonly marked by zebra-crossing lines or traffic lights). You can also be fined if you cross at a pedestrian crossing and the green light is not lit. Reports say this can be about 2,000 koruna (£70).
- Wearing swim shorts in the pool. While you won't be fined, many French pools won't allow men in unless they're wearing Speedo-style trunks (commonly known here as budgie smugglers). It's worth checking before you visit a pool, but don't panic if you forget, you can often buy them once you're there from special vending machines.
The rule seems particularly prevalant in public pools, eg, the Joséphine Baker Pool in Paris says "only panties and swim boxers" are allowed, but campsite firms Go Camp France and Eurocamp also warn that many park pools may enforce the rule too. See our Paris On A Budget guide for more tips.
- Crossing the road before the light turns green. It's illegal to cross German pedestrian crossings when the red pedestrian light is on. Offenders risk a €5-€10 fine and payment of all costs in the event of an accident.
- Mooning, fancy dress... and other 'indecent behaviour'. Indecent behaviour, including 'mooning', isn't tolerated in Greece. Some fancy-dress costumes may also be regarded as offensive and against decency laws. The police can make arrests and courts could impose heavy fines or prison sentences on people who behave indecently.
- Wearing high heels. It's been reported that a number of historical sites, such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre in Athens, ban high heels and stilettos to prevent damage (many visitors recommend wearing sturdy footwear anyway).
- Spitting in public. Littering and spitting in the street can incur on-the-spot fines of $1,500 (£158).
- Eating or drinking near landmarks. In some places (eg, Florence and Venice) it's an offence to eat and drink nearby main churches, historic monuments and public buildings. Two backpackers were recently fined €950 (£873) and asked to leave Venice for making coffee near the Rialto Bridge.
- Sitting on monument steps or entering public fountains. It can also be an offence to do either of these.
- Buying from illegal street traders. You could be stopped by police and fined.
- Taking pebbles from the beach. It's illegal to remove sand, shells or pebbles from coastal areas in Italy. Some tourists have been fined €1,000 (£922) for doing this on the Italian island of Sardinia. It's also forbidden to collect various species of flowers, plants and herbs from mountain and wooded areas.
- Wearing flip-flops or open sandals. OK, so this is only banned if you're hiking in Cinque Terre National Park. But you can be fined for not wearing suitable footwear on the park's trail network, according to its official website. It's reported the fine can be anything from €50 to €2,500 (£45 to £2,300).
- Camping or swimming in Venice. The city's official website says: "Venice is a city of art: it is forbidden to camp, walk about in swimwear, dive and swim." You're also not allowed to feed the pigeons, or attach padlocks to bridges. Off to Rome? See our 21 Cheap Rome Tips.
- Disputing your bill. In some places, prices can be high, and disputes over bills can lead to arrest.
- Showing your tattoos. Many swimming pools, hot springs, beaches and gyms refuse to admit anyone with tattoos. Other places may ask that tattoos are covered up. This is because tattoos have a historical association with organised crime, though attitudes towards them are becoming more accepting.
- Possessing a Vicks inhaler or allergy meds. While it's common for some over-the-counter painkillers to be illegal in certain countries (such as those containing codeine), Japan's strict laws also ban Vicks inhalers, medicines for allergies and sinus problems, and cold and flu medication containing pseudoephedrine. The Government says Brits have been detained and deported in the past for these offences. If you need to take certain medication with you, check with the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate before you travel.
- Crossing the street where there's no crossing point. Jaywalking is an offence in Poland. You should only cross at recognised crossing points. If caught by the police you will be fined. Reports online say this can be anything from 150 to 500 zloty (£30-£105).
- Bringing chewing gum into the country. It's illegal to bring chewing gum into Singapore, though certain chewing gums for 'oral hygiene' can be purchased from pharmacies once you're there.
- Smoking e-cigarettes. You can't bring vaporisers (eg, e-cigarettes, e-pipes, e-cigars) and refills into the country. These items are likely to be confiscated, and there's a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,190) just for possessing one, or up to $10,000 (and possible imprisonment) if you're seen to be importing them.
- Drinking in the street. Some places have banned drinking alcohol in the street and on-the-spot fines may be issued (eg, up to €3,000 (£2,760) in Mallorca).
- Taking your shirt off. In some parts it's against the law to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts/trunks. Being bare-chested has also been banned. Some councils will impose fines if you're caught wearing swimwear on the seafront promenade or adjacent streets. Off to Malaga, Marbella, Torremolinos etc? See our 43 Costa-cutting Tips.
- Smoking on beaches. There's a smoking ban on some beaches, including in Koh Samui, Pattaya, Phuket, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chon Buri and Songkhla provinces. Those caught smoking in non-designated areas face a 100,000 baht (£2,675) fine or up to a year in prison.
- Smoking e-cigarettes. Vaporisers (such as e-cigarettes) and refills are illegal in Thailand. These items may be confiscated and you could be fined or sent to prison for up to 10 years.
- Tearing up bank notes. While MoneySavers are unlikely to do this, it's worth knowing it's an offence to insult the Turkish nation or the national flag, or to deface or tear up currency. If convicted of any of these offences you could face a prison sentence of between six months and three years.
- Smoking or drinking in public. Public places include bus stops, subways, playgrounds and parks, and cultural, sports and governmental establishments.
Have you spotted (or fallen foul of) any other unexpected rules or fines abroad? Let us know in the comments below or in the forum.
Have your say
This is an open discussion and the comments do not represent the views of MSE. We want everyone to enjoy using our site but spam, bullying and offensive comments will not be tolerated. Posts may be deleted and repeat offenders blocked at our discretion. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to report any comments.