Will Taking That Photo Land You in Prison?


..As Westerners residing & teaching overseas it’s easy to slip into believing we are somehow exempt from many of the realities to which host nationals are subject. In some instances this is most definitely true. But when it comes to the laws of the land, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we’re exempt.

Teachers will say they are law-abiding citizens. Overseas, however, one may not be aware of what’s considered an offense & quite innocently find yourself imprisoned. Something as benign as snapping a photo of a public building or making an angry hand gesture may be all it takes. In some countries, for example, just one drink is considered “under the influence” & punishable by law (as the bartender/police work in tandem to report your actions). Ignorance of local law is never an excuse…at least not one that carries any weight in a courtroom!

We’re all aware chewing gum in public in Singapore is a criminal offense, but did you know in Thailand it’s an offense to step on money (which no doubt has something to do with the fact the King’s picture appears on the currency)? So, the question becomes: What other little-known offenses might lead to a jail term throughout the world?

Be aware — If you are a U.S. citizen, for example, there’s little your government can do to help should you get into trouble overseas. Here’s what you can expect in the way of help from the U.S. government:

– An insistence on prompt access to you
– Provide you with information on the foreign country’s legal system
– Provide a list of attorneys
– Contact your family/friends
– Protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary supplements
– Keep the Department of State informed as to your situation

If this doesn’t sound like much help, it isn’t!

Citizens of countries other than the U.S. can expect to receive more-or-less the same level of help from their governments. In any case, the legal systems of foreign countries can/do function in ways that may seem archaic by our standards. Yet, as guests in foreign lands we are not exempt from prosecution & our governments do not have the power to have charges against us dropped. ISR hosts Reviews & Articles from teachers detained overseas. The experiences are understandably frightening.

ISR recommends you learn the unique laws of your host country by consulting the Country Information web site of the U.S. Government or a web site from your home nation.

If you have personal anecdotal experiences to Share we invite you to inform your colleagues, below.

13 thoughts on “Will Taking That Photo Land You in Prison?

  1. This is becoming a discussion because we have different views. I am openminded and tolerant but there are things I simply do not understand, that is why I would never live in a Muslim country. Men have all the rights and women are objects and they need absurd religious restrictions and middle age punishments. I have very nce muslim friends and they are precisely nice because they respect themselves and respect the others.
    I would also turn away if the show of affection is exaggerated in a public place, you must know how to behave depending on where and with who you are. But giving a kiss to your love or holding hands with your wife is something natural and even beautiful to see in a free society.


  2. When I lived in Thailand I learned it was against the law to show physical affection in public. I was at a road-side kiosk and an American with a “rented girlfriend” was insisting that the girl kiss him. He became pushy and the shop keeper called the police. I later found out through a local publication that the American had been imprisoned. The judge said he was sending a message to other foreigners that you will not come here and abuse our women. I was very happy to read this. Had the American taken the time to learn a bit about Thai culture he could have saved himself a lot of grief. I have no sympathy for people that fail to take the time to get acquainted with the laws of where they are going. They get what they deserve.


    1. The thing is it isn’t illegal to show affection in public in Thailand…..what is frowned on (not against the law BUT they will find something in the law to charge you) is showing disrespect to Thai women if you are foreigner. Also by reading your post, if she was a “rented girlfriend”, or prostitute in other words, then the American was probably charged under the prostitution laws.


  3. I agree, if you can´t live by a country´s rules or way of living, please leave it. Can you imagine what would happen if the rest of the world forced muslims living abroad to dress in a different way? All extremes are bad, you have to respect the others and act according to where you are but I would never live in a country where a couple can not walk hand in hand, women can not drive cars and you are not allowed to have the freedom to choose because every bodyjudges you and you can be beaten in the street or taken to jail under laws that for me and many others are simply absurd.


  4. In Dubai , there is a non contact law as it is an Islamic country. As a result there are strict punishments for kissing or other body contacts between men and women in public. And, actually as a British muslim I feel quite refreshed with this law as it really isn’t nice to see people fondling each other in front of you. So many times in Europe i have stood in a queue for something and I was not sure where to look. Once i had two people with their tongues in each others throat for 20 mins. It was extremely uncomfortable. It is also difficult to explain to your young children.

    I believe that you should follow the rules of the country that you are in or leave if you don’t like it.


    1. I AGREE!!! I am an American woman living in a Middle Eastern country and I dress appropriately, etc… Yet it never ceases to amaze me how inconsiderate of a country’s culture so many expats can be…


    2. I can not believe how many people can not realize that they are only guests in a foreign country. As a guest you have to abide by the hosts rules. As easy as that. Some western expats can not grasp that concept


    3. Oh dear. Thats why I will never work in the Middle East. To much careing about what others do and how offensive ‘you’ genericly speaking find it.


    4. Dear Alison,

      Having lived overseas for oversea for over 20 years – including 4 years in Dubai – I completely understand and respects different countries laws. However your comment about “two people with their tongues in each others throat for 20 mins” was unfortunate. Whilst you do comment that it was “uncomfortable” for your personally (and also something that I would not watch or time as you must have) I can only assume that it was not against the law in that European country. Therefore that couple’s public show of affection whilst “uncomfortable” to you, would ultimately not land them in prison – which is what the article is about. As a result tolerance and understanding of individual countries laws and accepted social practices is something that must be respected, regardless of however ‘uncomfortable’ or otherwise this makes visitors to that country feel. Regrettably this is something which you do not appear to have demonstrated yourself.

      Yours, in education



    5. Dear iainrdavidsonJohn,

      Alison voiced her opinion, so maybe you can show some tolerance towards her expressing her mind. Furthermore, regardless of laws, it simply isn’t acceptable for adults to show overt displays of affection in public. I have children as well and could never condone such overt public displays whether in the east or west. I assure you that not long ago this was also frowned upon in some western communities as well.

      Furthermore, as a personal anecdote, there is a extrovert group of foreign teachers I work with who overtly flout the laws and culture in the middle-east. Some of them overtly promote LBGT lifestyles and then attempt to tie this into curriculum goals and objectives. Some even write blogs and speak about how open relationships and free love is progressive and marriage and conservative values are backward. Frankly, I’ve just about had enough of the double-standards as these staff members are doing this in a deliberate fashion. If it doesn’t stop parents are bound to find out and make problems for the school. I think this is unfair, as the school and most of the teachers are doing the right thing.

      As a muslim I have lived in the west and was pressured to assimilate. Yet here I am now overseas, and in the heart of the muslim world, and I have to deal with some foreign staff imposing their promiscuous lifestyles onto their students and the community at large.

      Honestly speaking there are foreigners in the middle-east who are very insensitive, and yes they choose to flout their sexuality in public simply to prove a point i.e. Islamic societies are backward when it comes to relationships etc. I know of female teachers that actively encourage young muslim students at our school to have relationships. So please, save the preaching for the misbehaving foreigners rather than one who simply voiced an opinion.


    6. get over yourself, life is short, too short to be uptight, notice i don’t mention my religion. I found it unhealthy living there that men hold hands all the time, yet married you can’t. I suppose its difficult when she is expected to follow behind you in certain religions. The whole place is in denial as Dubai has a bigger sex scene that Bangkok with Russian and east european prostitutes. It bothers me not one iota not even the steaming hypocrisy of the UAE.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.