British holidaymakers 'caught out by foreign laws'

British passport
Image caption Many Britons treat their passport as a "get out of jail free card", says the Foreign Office

British holidaymakers have faced fines or worse for feeding pigeons, playing bingo or eating while sitting on a monument, the Foreign Office has said.

It warned that Britons booking foreign holidays without researching their destination risk being caught out by unfamiliar laws.

More than a quarter of consular assistance cases were for arrests or detentions last year, it found.

It said many could easily have been avoided by researching in advance.

Charles Hay, director of consular services, said: "Every year British nationals find themselves on the wrong side of the law unexpectedly, resulting in fines or in some cases arrests or even jail sentences.

"It is important to remember that laws and customs can vary greatly from country to country and what may be perfectly legal in the UK could be subject to a fine or even a jail sentence in another."

'Get out of jail free'

Mr Hay said that many Britons treated their passport as a "get out of jail free card".

But while the Foreign Office will always try to help, Mr Hay warned, "We can't interfere in another country's legal processes".

Image caption It is illegal to feed the pigeons in Venice

Last year the Foreign Office dealt with 19,244 consular assistance cases, including 5,435 arrests.

It said alcohol, drug and cigarette laws varied by country, warning that it was vital for British citizens to familiarise themselves with the relevant laws.

For example, while the Netherlands had a reputation for being tolerant of "soft" drugs, this was only the case in designated areas and possession could carry a prison sentence.

It listed some of the more unusual laws to watch out for, including:

  • In the Italian city of Venice it is against the law to feed pigeons, while in Florence it is an offence to eat or drink in the immediate vicinity of churches and public buildings
  • In Barbados it is an offence for anyone, including children, to wear camouflage clothing
  • Fiji prohibits topless sunbathing
  • It is illegal to take mineral water into Nigeria
  • Chewing gum is prohibited on Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system
  • Taking more than 200 cigarettes into Thailand is illegal
  • In Japan it is illegal to use some nasal sprays which are commonly available elsewhere

Further advice can be found on the Foreign Office's website or on Twitter @FCOtravel.

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