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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

Safe Travels: How to Safely Navigate Foreign Law When Traveling Abroad

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

What do Marc Fogel, Brittney Griner, Emilia Semrau and Otto Warmbier have in common? They all, sadly, did not know that when you leave U.S. soil, the Bill of Rights is no longer available to you. You are subject to the laws of the country in which you have landed. I don’t want to scare you away from travel - quite the contrary. I want to give you crucial information to raise your consciousness so you are ready to safely and easily venture to any part of the globe.

The Bill of Rights secures Americans while in the United States with many rights and privileges. But these rights and privileges are not yours when you travel. Let’s look at four specific ways you can avoid being detained or inconvenienced in a foreign country.

1. Know the laws about Marijuana/CBD/Hash Oil in every country you visit

Understanding laws around marijuana/CBD products in the U.S. has gotten murky now that 19 states have not only decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana/CBD, but have legalized its use. Another 37 states have legalized medical marijuana/CBD products. In only four states is marijuana/CBD fully illegal: Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas and South Carolina.

What you need to know about marijuana/CBD use in the states is that it is illegal at the Federal level and flying with it in your luggage is illegal. Full stop. Don’t fly with marijuana/CBD in your luggage within the U.S. or its territories.

In other countries in which marijuana/CBD products are illegal, authorities don’t care if you carried marijuana into their country by “mistake” or if it was only for your personal use. You might think a ten year sentence in a prison for possession of a small amount of marijuana/CBD is unfair, but that is the law in Russia. The law in Russia does not tolerate the possession of any marijuana/CBD, medical or recreational. This is also the law in most countries. If even a small amount of marijuana/CBD/Hash oil is found in your luggage (and yes, your luggage can be searched when you enter any country), you can be arrested. So, leave all marijuana/CBD/hash/vape supplies at home when you travel.

For instance, this is the law in Hungary:

2. Possession of certain prescribed medications is illegal in some countries.

In the article, “What you need to know about drug laws in Japan,” which I found on, the author says, “Travellers who wish to bring medicines into Japan should check the legality of medications on the website of Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Stimulant medications, such as those commonly used to treat ADHD – Adderall and Ritalin – are illegal to bring into Japan, even with a prescription.” I could add that it’s darn hard to bring in ADHD meds even with a prescription, but it is doable. Don’t ever try to carry prescription medications into Japan or any other country thinking you won’t get caught. You very well might get caught upon arrival. Here’s what can happen: 1) your medication is confiscated and you are allowed to enter the country; 2) your medication is confiscated and you are told to return to your home country; or 3) your medication is confiscated and you are arrested for bringing it to the country. I’m sure there are other possible scenarios but these are the ones I have read about happening.

Bottom line: Research any prescription medication you think you want to take with you when you travel.

3. Check your behavior around what you do, say and post on social media while you are in other countries.

How you behave and what you post in countries like China, Russia, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia can land you in jail.

That selfie mocking Putin you posted may not go down well with the authorities. Don’t think it won’t be seen. Several countries will start tracking you and your behavior the minute you set foot in the country.

I was warned when I was in China not to use the words “Tiananmen Square” on WeChat, the country’s primary means of communication. I was also told not to express any negativity about the country or the government at all. I had nothing negative to report. In fact, I found every minute of my trip there a delight. But make no mistake, China is a country that will not allow Americans to break their laws and will take action if they perceive that a foreigner is out to spread dissent.

China is not the only country with strict policies, United Arab Emirates has some laws and cultural norms that must be observed. Here’s a good article that sums up the perils of certain behaviors in Dubai: Holding hands, drinking wine and other ways to go to jail in Dubai by Rod Nordland

Minding your behavior also includes paying attention to local customs. When you’re in Italy keep your shoulders and knees covered when you go into a church. Several cathedrals in Germany ask visitors to comply with modesty requests. In France you might not be stopped from entering a church with bare knees, but you will be considered gauche.

4. Print boarding passes and visas.

Several countries, India comes to mind, couldn’t care less about your uploaded boarding pass or visa you have on your phone. They want to see your visa printed on a piece of paper. They want to physically stamp it. You need to carry and have available a paper visa for your entire stay in India. India and China also require printed boarding passes.

When I went to Germany in 2021, the passport control inspector who let me and my husband into the country turned away two people before us. The inspector told me that the rejected people could not find their information on their phone or the necessary documentation was incomplete. I had an organized paper dossier necessary to enter Germany during the pandemic.

Often you’ll notice a correlation between the strictness of how a country enforces its laws, its feelings toward the United States, and the country’s overall treatment of human rights. These countries are problematic to travel to, but if you have to go, think about what you pack and how you behave.

Be smart about what you take into every country and how you behave once you are there. Have you ever run into trouble while traveling? Let me know what you learned in the comments below.

Wishing you safe adventures ahead.


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