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Local laws and customs

As a visitor to a foreign country and an ambassador for Ireland you should always respect the local laws and customs of the country you are visiting. Read our advice for tips on how to avoid getting into trouble, either with the law or by offending the locals.

Quick tips

Local customs

Always be sensitive to local customs when you’re abroad. It is often best to behave conservatively, at least until you know your way around. Avoid public displays of affection and dress modestly, particularly in places of worship.

Muslim culture

Conservative strands of Islam and other religions exist throughout the world. When travelling in such areas, you should dress conservatively and take care not to offend local culture or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or other religious festivals. Be conscious of your dress and behaviour if you intend to visit places of worship.

During Ramadan, Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours. To avoid offence, you should not eat, drink or smoke in public during this time.

Guide books, local hoteliers and tour guides can be good sources of information for how to behave and dress respectfully.

Sharia law

Sharia law is an Islamic body of law and moral code. Penalties under Sharia law can be very severe, particularly for offences such as theft and adultery. If you’re travelling in an area governed by Sharia law, we advise you to respect local religious traditions and avoid offending local sensitivities. Travellers should dress conservatively and women are advised to cover their legs, arms and head.

Female travellers

Female travellers can face particular issues around security and dealing with the religious and cultural beliefs of the countries they visit (especially if they’re travelling alone). We advise you to do some research before you travel, so you know what to expect from the country you’re visiting.

Some quick tips include:

LGBT

Homosexual activity is illegal in many countries. In some other countries, it is not against the law but is still seen as an unacceptable life choice. Do some research on your intended destination before you depart. Our LGBT travel guide has some more specific information, and other guides, like that provided by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, can be a useful resource.

Local laws

While you’re abroad you’re subject to local laws, including ones that may not apply in Ireland. If you have to deal with any legal matters, we advise you to get professional local legal advice. We cannot provide you with legal advice, or represent you in court, but your nearest Irish Embassy or Consulate can usually provide a list of local, English-speaking lawyers.

Personal identification

In many countries you’re required to carry personal identification with you. Unless the law states you must carry your original passport at all times, we advise you to carry a photocopy of the relevant page and keep the original in a safe place. The passport card can be a useful substitute for carrying your passport book with you.

Illegal drugs

Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) usually carries stiff penalties, including fines, long prison terms, and in some countries, even the death penalty. Be careful with your luggage and belongings when you’re travelling and avoid any contact with prohibited drugs.

Alcohol

Never drink in countries where it is prohibited. In other countries, always use alcohol responsibly. Drinking in public areas is often illegal and public drunkenness may be dealt with severely by the authorities.

Don’t leave your drinks unattended and never accept drinks from strangers. Don’t drink and drive, as the penalties can be severe. You should also avoid getting into any vehicle with a driver who you think may have been drinking.

Remember to look out for your friends and take care of each other when you have been out drinking.

Forbidden products

Some countries may have bans on the import and use of certain products, such as alcohol, pork products and pornographic material. If you’re found in possession of any of these items, you risk imprisonment. Research your destination before you depart to avoid difficulties.

Getting married

If you want to get married or enter into a civil partnership abroad, make sure you do the necessary research. Different countries have different requirements so contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the relevant country for more information.

Be aware that marriage to a foreign national could affect your legal rights in that country, particularly in regard to issues around children and freedom of movement.

You should also remember that marriage to an Irish citizen does not guarantee that a visa will be granted to a non-Irish spouse.

You can read more about marriage and civil partnership abroad on our website in the Travel section.

Buying property

If you’re intending to buy property abroad, we strongly advise you to consult an independent legal advisor from the beginning of the process. Procedures around buying property often differ significantly from those in Ireland and you should research the matter thoroughly before entering into any agreement.

Commercial disputes

In some countries, if you are involved in a commercial dispute with a company or individual, the authorities may stop you from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved.

Importing food

Most countries will not allow fresh produce to be imported by travellers. These items may include:

If you’re a commercial importer, you’ll likely need a permit to import any food. Check ahead before packing any food items in your luggage as these items will be confiscated on entry to the country. If you are required to make a declaration as to whether you have any food goods in your luggage, ensure you answer it accurately as penalties may apply.

Money

ATMs

You may need to notify your bank before you leave that you will be travelling to a foreign country and will require access to your account. Provided you have a Cirrus or Maestro facility on your debit card you should be able to withdraw cash from ATMs while abroad.

In some countries ATMs can run out of cash, be out-of-order or subject to withdrawal limits for long periods at a time so you may need to bring additional cash.

Some countries have limited or no access to ATMs so you may wish to check Visa’s ATM locator and Mastercard’s ATM locator before you travel.

Always be aware of security when you’re using ATMS. Avoid using them after dark, particularly if you’re alone and make sure no-one follows you after you’ve finished withdrawing cash. You should always take the same precautions to protect your PIN as you would at home.

Credit cards

Credit cards are widely accepted in most countries but you should check this with your financial institution before you depart.

Travellers’ cheques

If you’re travelling to a country where ATMs are scarce and credit cards are not widely accepted, travellers’ cheques can still be a good option. Banks and bureaux de change will usually change travellers’ cheques for local currency, or main currencies such as euro or dollars.

Importing or exporting currency

Some countries have strict rules about entering or leaving the country with foreign currency and/or the country’s own currency. Check with the Embassy or Consulate of the country you’re travelling to for more information.

You may be asked to declare at arrival or exit from the country how much currency you are carrying. You should always answer such declarations honestly as strict penalties may apply.