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How to Avoid Accidentally Packing Something Illegal

How to Avoid Accidentally Packing Something Illegal

My friend James was given a magazine in Germany. It was a copy of Maxim, a magazine targeted towards male readers who are interested in cars, sports, films and – of course- women.


It isn’t a pornographic magazine – it’s probably even a little tamer than Playboy. However, it certainly does have provocative photos of beautiful women posing in lingerie. James was warned that he would not be allowed to bring the magazine to Egypt, because it is considered pornography and he would be arrested. (Pornography is banned in Egypt, as it “allows immorality to spread in society.”)


It’s fascinating to me that some items which are considered completely acceptable in one location can be illegal in another country. For example, I have certain medications that are perfectly legal in the USA and were prescribed by my doctor. However, in South Korea, they are illegal and cannot be purchased or found anywhere. I have to be careful when taking medications abroad.


This is something very important to remember when you are traveling. Sometimes a simple object that seems completely innocent can get you in a lot of trouble. It doesn’t matter if you are unaware of the fact that an item is illegal – ignorance of the law doesn’t work as a defense.

Always Do Your Research

To avoid accidentally bringing something that will attract the wrong kind of attention, it’s important to research your destination before you go abroad. There will likely be a list on the official customs website of prohibited materials that you are not allowed to bring into the country.


You might come across something that you’d never have guessed is against the law. For example, did you know that it is illegal to bring foreign cigarettes into Sri Lanka? Or that stand-alone GPS device are banned in Cuba? (Don’t worry, the GPS feature in your smartphone is fine.)


Believe it or not, camouflage clothing is banned in Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica, and some other Caribbean countries. This is because of concerns that people will try to impersonate the police or military. So, you should leave your camouflage shirt or shorts behind. Who would have guessed?


Many of these items are seemingly innocent and you might never consider that they would be banned. This is why it’s so important to do some research whenever you travel to a new destination because you never know what odd item might be banned there.

Be Careful Where You Bring Anything Sexual

If the Maxim magazine example teaches us anything, it’s that items that can be considered sexual in nature are risky to bring to conservative countries. If you don’t want to risk getting fined or arrested, it’s best to leave sex toys, pornographic magazines, erotic fiction, and other NSFW materials at home.


For example, here’s a list of countries where sex toys are banned and you could get in a lot of trouble if you arrive with a vibrator in your luggage. For example, sex toys are prohibited in the UAE and those who bring them into the country could face legal action. The same is true for Thailand – as they fall under the category of “obscene objects” in the list of prohibited goods.

Watch Out With Food Too

Food items are another tricky category when it comes to packing your luggage. For example, you could get in a world of trouble just for bringing along a poppy seed bun or bagel if you are traveling in Singapore or the United Arab Emirates. Poppy seeds are illegal and you can be at risk of prosecution.


Sometimes food items, especially fruits and vegetables, are prohibited due to the fear of introducing pests and disease into the agriculture of that country. For example, New Zealand banned any watermelons from Australia after a plant virus was spotted on a batch of them.


It’s really important to check the list of food products you are allowed to bring into the country. Here’s an article with food items that are banned in other countries. For example, you cannot bring any meat products from other Southeast Asian countries into Singapore.

Medication Can Be Tricky Too

The medicine you are allowed to have in your possession depends on the country you are in. Over-the-counter cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine (such as Vicks inhalers or Sudafed) are legal in the USA but are banned in Japan.


In the United Arab Emirates, you’ll need to show a doctor’s note is you want to bring your prescription or non-prescription medications into the country. If not, you are at risk of jail time.

Be Extra Wary in Extremely Religious Countries

It might be obvious that you shouldn’t bring pornographic materials or liquor into a very religious Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia. However, many people don’t realize how far the ban goes. Anything that is considered “incompatible with religion and Islamic faith” is not allowed.


Even mainstream fashion and culture magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan could be taken away at the border if the customs officer believes they contain images that are sexually risque in nature and are against “traditional Islamic values.”

When in Doubt, Leave it Out

If there is some ambiguity and you aren’t sure whether or not an item is illegal in your travel destination, it’s better to leave it behind just in case. If you aren’t sure whether or not you will get in trouble for bringing it with you – it’s not worth the risk.


If you pack the wrong thing, it has the potential to ruin your trip. You can be subjected to fines, interrogation and even jail time. So, leave your pornographic magazines, sex toys, fruits and vegetables, and other questionable items at home whenever possible.


By researching your destination in advance and avoiding bringing anything that could potentially be banned, you can avoid any issues on your trip.

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