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Posting The Wrong Emoji While Traveling Here Could Land You in Prison

Before you travel to hotspots like Dubai, Brazil, Japan and the Caribbean, be aware of laws that may prohibit PDA, swearing, wearing camo fashions and more.

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illustration of woman texting an emoji at airport
Thumy Phan
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Is a lavish trip to Dubai on your travel bucket list? After all, it is the sophisticated setting of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Dubai,” which features Kenyan fashion model Chanel Ayan and Jamaican-born, Miami-raised expat entrepreneur Lesa Milan – seemingly living their best lives in the United Arab Emirates’ cosmopolitan city.

But instead of a dream vacation destination, Dubai turned out to be a real-life nightmare for one African-American woman. In 2023, Tierra Young Allen, a social media influencer from Houston, Texas was arrested and detained there for “shouting” in public during a disagreement with a male rental car employee.

Allen, who posts online under the handle “Sassy Trucker” was released on bail following the dispute, however, she had her passport confiscated and was not allowed to retrieve her belongings from the rental vehicle. She later noticed suspicious charges were attempted on her cards, which were left in the car. After being detained in the country several months, she was allowed to fly back to the U.S. after her mother paid a $1,360 fee to get her passport back and to have a travel ban lifted. Yikes!

In a larger context, however, Allen’s ordeal made us rethink modes of behavior that are considered the norm stateside, but that may not fly when we travel outside of the U.S. (And we’ll never forget what happened to Brittney Griner, either.) So that you are safe rather than sorry, sis, we suggest that you plan ahead by vetting local customs and culture on the given country’s tourism website. If you run into trouble while traveling, you can also contact the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, DC, at (888) 407-4747 or (202) 501-4444, where officers are available to assist you in an emergency 24/7.

To jumpstart your research, here are a few laws of the land to know before you travel to four sought-after travel destinations.

Dubai

Besides shouting, swearing in public is also prohibited in the UAE, and is punishable by a year in prison and a hefty fine. This code of conduct extends to social media, when even sending an emoji of an expletive could land you in hot water.

For both married and unmarried couples, public displays of affection like kissing and embracing in public is forbidden (even holding hands for married couples is iffy). Unmarried couples traveling together should consider booking separate rooms since shacking up is illegal. See additional advisories for LGBTQ+ travelers, below.

More rules to consider: Avoid wearing tight, skimpy or revealing clothing in public; dancing in public is considered provocative; eating and drinking is prohibited on all forms of public transportation, so save your snack for your hotel room; and taking a picture of someone without their knowledge or consent and posting photos of strangers on social media are also major missteps, for which you could be fined about $135,000 (500,000 dirhams), jailed, and even deported.

Brazil

As of April 10, 2024 a tourist visa is required of all American visitors. The new electronic visa costs $80.90 per person (https://brazil.vfsevisa.com/) and is valid for ten years. While in Brazil, foreigners must carry an official photo ID or a photocopy of their passports at all times.

Other restrictions to keep in mind are that cell phone use in many banks is prohibited, gambling is largely banned, and—surprisingly, considering the teeny bikinis the country is famous for—sunbathing topless is illegal for women.

Japan

If you have one or more noticeable tattoos, you may not be allowed to bathe in some of the famed Japanese natural hot springs, called onsen. Historically, there's a social stigma attached to tattoos, which are associated with outlaws and organized crime syndicates, including Yakuza. While there are some tattoo-friendly onsen, it's also considered taboo to show off your body art in gyms, swimming pools, and at the beach.

The Caribbean

Think twice before you pack your favorite camo baseball cap, T-shirt, swimsuit or cargo pants. In certain Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, wearing camouflage is against the law. This is because you could be mistaken for a member of the military.

If you’re caught wearing or carrying camo print items in any color in these countries, local authorities will confiscate the items (this includes children’s items) and you could be fined about $2,000, or imprisoned.

Special Considerations for Gay Travelers

Check the U.S. State Department’s website (travel.state.gov) before booking any foreign travel—especially if you are an LGBTQ+ traveler. Many Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Dominica and Granada, are among the approximately 70 nations worldwide that criminalize same-sex sexual activity and may be unfriendly to same-sex couples and queer-presenting individuals. Most of the others are in Africa, the Middle East (including Dubai and other Arab Emirates) and in some countries that include and surround Indonesia. While some Caribbean nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, have struck down discriminatory legislation, social attitudes across the mostly conservative, Christian Caribbean are slower to change.

Follow Article Topics: Culture-&-Style