Thursday, 29 August 2013

Language barriers could be making life harder for Brits who unwittingly break the law when overseas

The Foreign Office (FO) has this week warned British travellers to check international laws before they travel to overseas destinations.  The new warnings come as the FO is concerned that laid back Britons see their passport as a ‘get out of jail free’ card even though unwittingly breaking the law abroad could result in a fine or even an arrest.

Interestingly it’s not the more obvious laws that we should be worrying about.  It’s the more obscure, odd laws that could catch us out and land us in trouble.  For instance, did you know that it’s illegal to wear camouflage clothing in Barbados, or that you will be arrested if you attempt to feed pigeons while in Venice?  If you’re caught eating or drinking near churches in Florence you’ll also find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

It’s probably true that most of us don’t think about researching local laws before we travel abroad, the same goes for local traditions and culture, add to that the potential language barrier most of us face when travelling overseas and it’s no great surprise that we are prime candidates for unwittingly breaking laws abroad.  In some locations there may even be adequate signage or notices to warn you of illegal practices, but if you can’t read the language, you’re none the wiser.

But it’s not just about researching laws; that can be time-consuming if you don’t know what you are looking for; in fact there are so many laws you could be researching forever before you find something relevant to your trip.  Attempting to learn a bit of the local language before you travel may also only go so far in helping.  But should you find yourself in deep water it could make all the difference if you are able to communicate with the local police or authorities to at least explain the situation and if nothing else, to better understand why you are being accused of breaking the law and what your next steps should be.

It’s vital to remember that laws and customs can vary greatly from country to country and what might be perfectly legal in the UK, could mean a jail sentence in another.


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