The high profile Peruvian drug-smuggling allegations against two British women once again put the focus on the need to respect laws of foreign nations.
While possession of hard drugs tends to be an offence anywhere across the globe, the laws in some nations could find a traveller penalised for an act that would be perfectly legal in the UK.
In India, for example, British nationals have been arrested for bringing satellite phones into the country without prior permission. Possession of any recording devices, powerful cameras or binoculars here could put you into serious legal trouble, especially if you are found with them near government buildings, airports and railway stations.
While you may think it’s wise to keep your passport locked in a hotel safe when travelling, in a number of countries, including Russia and China, failure to produce it in the event of a random police check can lead to a fine or detention.
A man found in possession of a photograph of his wife could land him in hot water with the authorities in Saudi Arabia if she were deemed to be “inappropriately dressed” in the picture. The Saudis’ adherence to strict Islamic law means only limited tolerance of other religions. You can, for example, bring a bible into the country for personal use but if you have larger quantities in your possession it could result in severe penalties.
Meanwhile, visitors to Singapore would be advised to avoid attending or even filming street gatherings and public demonstrations as they might be illegal if specific police approval has not been granted. The display of any “cause related” material without permission is also forbidden, meaning that wearing a “Free Julian Assange” t-shirt could land you in prison.
Finally, on a recent visit to Tobago I was intrigued to discover that wearing any form of camouflage is illegal in that country, whether worn by an adult or child.
These may be extreme examples, but they do highlight the importance of being aware before you travel. The simple advice is to consult the Foreign Office website if you are in any doubt about the specific laws governing any nation. Incidentally, this resource will also inform you that in Peru, drug smugglers face long prison terms.
• Andrew Newton is head of corporate travel at Colpitts World Travel UK