The Law

In 2008, authorities in Dubai arrested a U.K. couple who were caught having sex on one of the emirate’s beaches. Officials there recently had begun cracking down on indecent behavior by foreign tourists. The couple were sentenced to three months in jail for the incident.

Last year, officials in Cambodia arrested a group of tourists who had taken nude photos of themselves at the temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park. It was the third such incident in that year, spurring park authorities to post flyers informing tourists that nude photography desecrated the sacred temples. In the previous two cases, the offenders were deported and, in one case, they were banned from returning to Cambodia for four years.

Some travelers believe they can do things in other countries that they would never get away with at home.Sometimes travelers get in trouble for going where they aren’t permitted to go. Every couple of years, it seems that the U.S. has to send former President Bill Clinton to North Korea to negotiate the release of Americans who’ve been arrested as spies. The U.S. currently bans its citizens from visiting North Korea, and the North Koreans are hostile toward Americans who cross their border.

The most infamous case of travelers landing in trouble involved U.S. national Michael Fay, who in 1994 was sentenced to a public caning in Singapore for a vandalism conviction. The severity of the punishment raised concerns among the U.S. media and politicians, and after some diplomatic pressure, Fay’s sentence was reduced from six lashes to four.

In each of these cases, people in Europe and North America may have considered the authorities to have been too harsh. Such incidents are common, though, and they are a reminder that travelers are subject to the laws of the countries they visit. Travelers may not agree with those laws, but they should respect them — or face the consequences.

A case in point, officials in Cambodia and Thailand have stepped up arrests of foreign tourists who’ve come to those countries to have sex with children. And visitors to the South American Explorers club in Lima can look through pages and pages listing the names of foreign tourists who are currently doing time in Peruvian prisons for drug offenses.

My biggest pet peeve about my fellow travelers is that some believe they can do things in other countries that they would never get away with at home. For example, you can be jailed in the U.S. for having sex in public, and drug use, pedophilia, and vandalism are against the law, too.

Some travelers may think they won’t get in trouble for such things when they are in other countries because they are American or European, or they can bribe their way out of bad situations. Those people tend to learn their lessons the hard way.


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