Advice: Know your local laws and customs

Advice from John Heppenstall, head of consular campaigns at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

When making a booking for customers seeking 
a break abroad, how often do you consider the local laws and customs in different countries?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently issued a reminder as part of its Know Before You Go campaign on how travellers can ensure they are prepared for a holiday and don’t breach local laws and customs.

Last year, research issued by the FCO showed that while 70% of people believe researching local laws and customs would make their holiday more enjoyable, fewer than half would actually make this part of their preparation when visiting somewhere new.

For those visiting places they had been to before, just 40% said they would do this research, despite the fact that local legislation and even local customs can change at any time.

There is an opportunity for agents to pass information on to their customers, says John Heppenstall, head of consular campaigns at the FCO.

Here, he provides a lowdown 
on some customs and rules.


  • Swearing in public is against the law in parts of Australia, and can result in fines of up to $500 in New South Wales, and up to six months’ imprisonment in Queensland and Victoria.


  • Jaywalking is illegal. Fines up of up to $250 can be issued in Los Angeles, for example.

  • It is customary but not mandatory to tip waiting staff in the US. In general, 10% to 12% of the bill total is the norm.


  • Attaching a ‘lock of love’ to a bridge in Paris is a form of vandalism.

Havana, Cuba

  • Same-sex couples are expected to show restraint when it comes to public displays of affection.

  • Blowing your nose in public is frowned upon.

  • It is illegal to wear clothes designed for the opposite sex in public.

  • It is considered rude not to greet men with a handshake and women with a kiss on the cheek.

Riga, Latvia

  • It is possible to marry in Latvia only if one of the parties resides there.


  • Pedestrians have right of way, but drivers often ignore the law.


  • Eating and drinking in Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and the surrounding areas is permitted only in bars and restaurants.

  • It is against the law to walk around streets and squares, enter shops or use public transport with a bare chest or in swimwear.

Getting swept up in the excitement is part of the fun of jetting off overseas, but it’s important to do your research and keep your wits about you during your holiday.

While most holidaymakers behave appropriately when abroad, the best way to ensure your customer has a great holiday is to make sure they are prepared and understand the importance of research, and how customs work in a destination.

The Know Before You Go advice on the FCO website is a good starting point, but tourist boards will be able to offer more-specific tips. The more you know, the more likely a client will return to you.

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