Why its important to observe local laws when traveling?

December 18, 2022
If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, you will recall the issues some LGBTQIA members and their supporters have been having while in Doha, Qatar, attending the World Cup.  This stark reminder that travelers must be aware of local laws is essential.  Recently, a new criminal code has been established in Indonesia.  This code affects not only locals but tourists as well.  Here are a few reasons travelers should be cautious of local laws when traveling.

Bali, Indonesia, is one of the most popular destinations for tourists.  With this new code, Indonesians and foreigners guilty of premarital relations could face up to 12 months in jail.  New unmarried foreign tourists should now think twice about traveling to Bali because they might be jailed for violating laws.  But are tourists ready to answer the question of whether they are married or not?  Do tourists now have to prove that they are married?  How does Bali deal with wanting tourism revenue while enforcing these laws that may scare visitors away?  These questions have yet to be answered and could raise severe repercussions for foreign travelers to Bali.

I wrote previously about LGBTQIA and travel.  With the prevalence of travel in the LGBTQIA+ community, there are significant considerations to be made for travel.  Bali is not the only destination where travelers must be mindful of local laws.  As recently as 2019, Brunei enacted an Islamic law that makes it legal to flog and stone LGBTQIA+ people to death.  It’s not the only country where LGBTQIA+ individuals can face the death penalty for loving someone of the same sex.  Therefore, for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, travel to top destinations is not a simple decision of when and if they have the resources to travel.  Sharing the same room could be problematic, so they must be mindful of local laws.

These are but a few examples of local laws being an issue.  Even if you unknowingly break local laws, you may be held responsible and face the penalties.  Simply saying, “I didn’t know,” will not prevent you from facing penalties.  The much-publicized case of Britney Griner is a great example.  Britney, like many others, became a political pawn when questionable charges in the local law saw her arrested.  This happens much more often than publicized and leaves many foreign tourists at risk for bribery and corruption.  Tourists can and are often “shaken down” and forced to pay bribes to access public service.

Be aware that you may be profiled because of how you look, dress, act, or appear.  When you arrive at a foreign destination, you may be subject to corruption from locals or officials.   Luggage theft, illegal detention, and having your personal information shared are all risks travelers unknowingly take.  Some travelers must carefully consider whether their freedom is worth the risk of being in the right and knowing whether their legal rights have been violated.  In many cases, even knowing whether their legal rights have been violated, the question becomes whether paying a few dollars is worth more than spending time in a foreign jail.

The simple rule to remember when traveling is that all rules change when you travel to a foreign country.  Do your research before traveling and ensure you understand the local laws and customs.  As always, I recommend enrolling in the state department’s STEP program.  This program allows the US embassy to contact you and helps your family and friends to contact you in an emergency or if you are jailed or detained.

I hope this blog post has been helpful.  I in no way wish to stop people from traveling, but l like to give all the realities of traveling.  Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions in the comment section below.

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