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8 Top Tips to Avoid Being Arrested Overseas

Declan Mulkeen

1 Jul 2017

We live in the golden age of travel. Thanks to Ryanair, easyJet and a whole host of other carriers we can be relaxing in a far-flung destination without it costing a king’s ransom.

While travel broadens the mind, it also exposes us to numerous dangers. Hardly a day goes by without another horror story of an expat or tourist being arrested. Many of these situations are avoidable if you brush up on the country you are travelling to and show respect for the country, its people and traditions.

Here are eight top tips to help you avoid being arrested overseas. We hope they serve you well!

Avoid Being Arrested Overseas: The Difficulties Travellers Face

However, with the increase in global travel comes the increased possibility of getting into difficulties in a foreign country. These difficulties can range from cultural misunderstandings to violations of local law to simply being ignored by the local population for causing etiquette offences.

But what happens if you have done something (or not done something you should have) in a foreign country and how can you prevent this from happening in the first place?

The Consequences

Behaviours that might be considered a cheeky dare or simply a fun night out can have serious consequences in some foreign countries and can be considered a serious cultural faux pas or…much worse.

Many of you will recall the plight of Eleanor Hawkins. Eleanor and a group of her travel companions decided to strip off before taking photos on top of Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu, a mountain sacred to a local tribal community. Several of these photos were then posted on social media websites.

Versions of Eleanor’s behaviour are not uncommon. We have seen variations on a theme from the ‘Sex on the Beach’ British couple in Dubai to Chinese tourists spitting on the Champs Élysées in Paris to the Russian attempting to take a selfie in a crowded museum in front of a famous painting or statue. In these examples, a disregard for public behaviour may be obvious to most people.

But what about less obvious behaviour that could land people with good intentions in trouble abroad?

8 Top Tips to Avoid Being Arrested Overseas

1. Read Up!

Learn about the cultural norms of the country you are planning to visit. With the wealth of information on the internet and the probability of you knowing someone who has already been to a destination, there is no excuse for ignorance.

Only recently Johnny Depp and his then wife Amber Heard got into hot water for illegally bringing their pet dogs into Australia.

2. Some Things Don’t Travel Well

Read about the cultural norms of the country you are planning to visit

Remember that what might be perfectly normal for one culture may cause offence in another culture. Just as Westerners don’t like public spitting, foreigners may not like your behaviour if you are drinking, kissing, or swearing in public. Although both groups may not like each others’ behaviour, in the West, the offence is tolerated. In many foreign countries, there is little tolerance. In fact, you could be violating local law.

3. Being a Foreigner Does Not Exempt You!

Don’t assume you are exempt from local laws because you are … British, Western, a woman, blonde, a business executive, or any other demographic label that you think might make you ‘special’. The ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ rule applies wherever you go.

This is especially true if you are an expatriate on assignment in a foreign country, where many enjoy significant privileges they may not be able to afford back home. Being a good guest means respecting local customs, no matter who you are.

4. Dress Appropriately

The ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ rule generally applies wherever you go.

Recognise that many countries and cultures have dress codes. These dress codes are for men as well as women. Do not be offended if you are asked to cover up, especially if visiting a Muslim country or if you are visiting a holy site of many religions. Be aware of what covering up means in each location.

5. Think Twice and Be Smart

Don’t assume you are exempt from local laws because you are foreign

Be aware that what may be an interesting tourist attraction for you may be a sacred site for the local people. Learn how to behave and what not to do whenever visiting sacred sites. You are a guest of that culture – they are not required to host you.

6. Look at the Context

Remember that many cultures practice ‘situational behaviour’. For visitors to foreign countries, this can be confusing. For example, visitors to parts of the Middle East may not understand why they are seeing some local people drinking alcohol when it is forbidden by their religion.

But on closer inspection, that alcohol consumption may be happening in a place where it is culturally ‘safe’, such as a private area in a hotel or in a neighbouring country where no one knows them. As a visitor, just because you see someone doing something questionable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for you to do it as well.

7. Tread Carefully and Ask

If in doubt, ask, but be careful! In some cultures, the motivation to avoid causing offence is strong, and they may tell you that something is ok when it isn’t. In other cultures, your question will be greatly appreciated, and you may have made a friend as well as avoided offence. Look around and observe what other local people are doing (or not doing).

8. Learn from the Locals

With a bit of knowledge, the willingness to learn from locals, and a lot of common sense, there is no reason to become another Eleanor. You can easily avoid being arrested overseas if you follow the advice here and become culturally savvy or as we call it culturally intelligent!

We hope you enjoy your next foreign trip and that these tips help you avoid being arrested overseas!