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.
- Read our country-specific travel advice, inform yourself before travelling and get advice locally when you arrive.
- Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them.
- Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or even illegal.
Always be sensitive to local customs when you are abroad. In some locations, it is often best to behave conservatively. Avoid public displays of affection and dress modestly, particularly in places of worship.
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 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 are 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 can face particular issues around security and dealing with religious and cultural beliefs of the countries they visit (especially if 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:
- Always take basic personal safety precautions, such as not walking alone at night or in quiet areas
- Don’t leave your food or drink unattended
- Keep details of your travel plans and where you’re staying to yourself
- Dress modestly if you’re in a Muslim or socially conservative country
Homosexuality and homosexual activity is illegal in many countries. In some other countries, it is not against the law but there is a low level of tolerance. Do some research on your intended destination before you depart. Our LGBTQI+ travel advice has some more specific information, and other guides, like that provided by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, can be a useful resource.
While you are abroad you are 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.
In many countries you’re required to carry personal identification with you. Unless the law states that 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 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.
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.
Do not leave your drinks unattended and never accept drinks from strangers. Never 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.
Some countries may have bans on the import and use of certain products, such as alcohol, pork products and pornographic material. If you are found in possession of any of these items, you may risk imprisonment. Research your destination before you depart to avoid any difficulties.
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.
A Certificate of Freedom to Marry is required in some countries. Find out more here.
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.
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.
Most countries will not allow fresh produce to be imported by travellers. These items may include:
- Eggs and egg products.
- Dairy products.
- Un-canned meat.
- Seeds and nuts.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables.
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.
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. Most debit cards allow cash to be withdrawn 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.
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 are widely accepted in most countries but you should check this with your financial institution before you depart.
If you’re travelling to a country where ATMs are scarce and credit cards are not widely accepted, travellers’ cheques are still an 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.
Some countries do not permit access to certain social media or networks that may be commonly used in Ireland. In these countries, ensure that you have alternative communication channels with your family or friends back home.
What we can and cannot do
Our consular staff are happy to help if you run into difficulties abroad. However, there are limits to what we can do in some situations.