Tourist Traps

Weird Foreign Laws (Don't Get Busted!)

Seasoned travelers know to watch out for the accidents, illnesses, and delays that can ruin a vacation. But a few laws are so unexpected that they can catch even the biggest travel junkies off guard.

By Katherine Spiers, Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009, 10:49 AM

A penny spurned: The phrase "legal tender" isn't entirely straightforward in Canada. There are lots of pennies in circulation, but there's a limit on how many can be used at a time. The maximum number allowable per transaction is 25, so no getting cute with excessive change at the mini-mart. PHOTO

(Suda)fed up: Careful what you try to bring into Japan. Medicines that can be bought without a prescription in the U.S. are sometimes illegal there, and that includes some Vicks and Sudafed products and anything else containing pseudoephedrine. Getting caught at customs with such products can lead to detainment. Who cares if your sinuses are clear if they and the rest of you are stuck in jail? PHOTO

A flush of pride: Along with many other things, Singapore puts a great deal of effort into keeping its public toilets pristine. And visitors are expected to help keep them gleaming. Failure to flush may result in fines. PHOTO

Red-light special: In Sweden, traveling lonely hearts shouldn't expect any sympathy from ladies of the evening if they get caught in a clinch with one. The independent businesswomen there are well within their rights to practice their profession. However, the gentlemen paying for their services are at risk for punishments ranging from a fine to as much as six months in jail. PHOTO

A canine "autoban": Planning a long Alpine adventure with Puddles, your lovable pit bull? Read up on animal laws first. In Germany, breeds that the government considers dangerous aren't welcome for more than a four-week visit—and they aren't allowed to live there at all. Even a bit of mastiff, Rhodesian ridgeback, or Staffordshire terrier blood may mean no lederhosen for Fluffy. PHOTO

No Lone Ranger for you: Thinking of an autumn trip to Scandinavia? Hoping to show them what an American Halloween's all about? Stick to the simple costumes. In Denmark, wearing a mask in public can lead to your arrest. PHOTO

Playing the numbers: Rush-hour regulations in many major cities of the Philippines seem meant only for mathematicians: A vehicle can only be driven on days determined by the last digits of its license plate—this is called, for murky historical reasons, the "color-coding scheme." So borrowing a local's car may require more number crunching than it's worth. Even traveling by scooter has its challenges, since you can get ticketed for driving in sandals or bare feet. PHOTO

Gun control: New Year's in Southeast Asia is often a watery celebration, with lots of buckets, water balloons, and drenched revelers. But in Cambodia, you must choose your method of aquatic conveyance carefully. Water guns will be snatched away on sight. Rumor has it some ruffians filled their Super Soakers with, er, "used" water, ruining the party for everyone. PHOTO

Watch your mouth: Think foreigners in Thailand are exempt from the country's famous "never bad-mouth the King" laws? Think again. Non-Thais may have a better chance of being able to claim that it was all a big misunderstanding, but as one disrespectful Australian novelist just discovered, their pardon may come after five months in prison. PHOTO

Listen up: In Finland, taxi drivers playing music in their cars are required to pay a copyright fee. The idea is that the music is being presented to the "public"—the cabs' paying customers. If a cabbie won't turn on the radio for you, understand that he's not necessarily interested in talking instead. He might just be trying to save a few euros. PHOTO

ANOTHER BUD TRAVEL ADVENTURE!