NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Americans who are traveling overseas for the first time may assume that many of the laws that apply in the U.S. apply in their destination. They may even assume that because they’re American citizens, they are exempt from the laws of other countries.
Those assumptions might get you into big trouble and could even land you in a foreign prison.
As they say, when in Rome...ignorance is no defense...
Here are some of the most unusual laws (monitored by the State Department) to be aware of when traveling to popular foreign destinations for Americans:
Don’t insult the state: In Turkey, it is against the law to “disrespect to the name or image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, or to insult the Turkish government, flag, or security forces,” according to the State Department website. Saudi Arabia has similar laws on its books.
Cruel and unusual: Singapore has a few strange laws and brands of punishment that would be considered cruel and unusual in the United States. Hard to get stranger than not being able to chew gum. Though try vandalism: It's a no-no in many places, but do it in Singapore and be prepared to get caned as punishment if you’re caught.
Make sure all of those prescriptions are legal: Don’t even think about partying with illegal drugs in Singapore, as that can carry a penalty of death.
No touching: For American men who think the Hangover II and its drunken, wild escapades are a realistic travel guide to Asia, Singapore’s “Outrage of Modesty” law may come as a surprise, and get you up to two years in a Singapore prison for being accused of touching someone inappropriately.
No public display of religion: Do not plan on pulling out rosary beads, or any non-Islamic religious items, in public in Saudi Arabia. The government doesn’t allow any public practice of religion other than Islam.
South of the border: Although many Americans cross the border to buy prescription medications cheaper, it is actually illegal without a prescription from a physician federally registered in Mexico, no matter what that pharmacist is telling you. The penalty if you’re caught is typically being held and extorted for money by Mexican authorities, according to the State Department website.
Debtor’s prisons: Outlawed in the U.S., just make sure you don’t run up any debts or pass any bad checks in the United Arab Emirates (including Dubai, a hot destination for travelers). Doing so may land you in debtor’s prison without bail.
No Pit Bulls in Canada: Mitt Romney might have once traveled thousands of miles with his dog Seamus tied to the top of his car, but he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that today if he were going to Ontario and Seamus had been a pit bull. Ontario has strict breed specific legislation, according to Larry Kron, a consultant with HowToBuyAVacationRental.com. “Other areas around the world have similar laws for different animals,” says Kron.
Camera shy: Vietnam has become a hot vacation destination, as well as a country in which some retirees are spending their golden years. Make sure when you pull out the camera that you’re not snapping photos of any one of the buildings that are not allowed by law to be photographed. You aren't likely to end up in jail, but you will attract the attention of an officer, and get a talking-to.