It may not be unsafe but still worth considering.
Laws are not made equal. Even in the U.S., they vary from state to state, so you can imagine the deviation when you cross the border. Some countries are welcoming to unwed couples, solo travelers, and the LGBTQ community, while many are not. These are serious considerations you need to take while planning your travels. Begin with this short, non-exhaustive list of countries that have laws that can land unmarried couples in trouble. As you will realize as you read further, foreigners are often not prosecuted as harshly as citizens, but you should still be cautious of local customs and laws.
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This month, the Indonesian Parliament passed a criminal code that outlaws sex out of marriage for its own citizens and visitors. If reported by close relatives, it could lead to a prison sentence of up to a year. There is also a ban on unmarried couples living together.
The Muslim-majority nation has a substantial expat population, especially in Bali. The governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, said that visitors to Bali don’t need to worry and they won’t be asked to show marriage certificates for accommodations. However, travel experts predict that it will deter travelers from flying off to the Asian nation.
Indonesia doesn’t criminalize same-sex couples (though exceptions exist), but they face harassment, and same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. This new criminal code may also make things more difficult for the queer community, human rights activists fear.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 has highlighted Qatar’s conservative laws, where alcohol is prohibited, women’s rights are non-existent, and homosexuality is illegal. Unmarried couples also face a host of other problems: pre-marital sex is illegal, and public intimacy can also land you in jail. If you get pregnant before getting married, you and your partner may be jailed or deported, according to the U.K. travel advisory.
Its neighboring country, the United Arab Emirates, also had similar laws pertaining to unmarried couples and pre-marital sex, but they were overhauled in 2022.
Saudi Arabia is a highly gender-segregated country. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. It’s one of the harshest countries with conservative laws. Pre-marital sex is also illegal, as is adultery, and unmarried couples can’t live together. Public intimacy can get you arrested. Women have limited freedoms, and they need to permission from their male guardians to marry, travel, and have an abortion.
However, a recent change in law has made it possible for foreign couples to stay in a hotel room without furnishing a marriage license.
Another nation that is intolerant of pre-marital sex is Malaysia. Muslims are ruled under Syariah law (Sharia), and there are penalties for unmarried couples. Homosexuality is also not permitted, and though convictions are rare, same-sex couples are harassed. This Halloween, 18 people were detained at an LGBTQ+ party, and activists are concerned about the turn things may be taking.
An Islamic country, Pakistan is also ruled under Sharia law. It is illegal to drink alcohol, have sex outside of marriage, or cohabitate with someone you’re not married to, and homosexuality is banned. Four years ago, the country passed a bill to protect the rights of the transgender community, which was often targeted, discriminated against, and brutalized. It was a historic win.
An Egyptian TV host was sentenced to three years in prison in 2017 for discussing pre-marital sex on TV. It is taboo to have sex outside of marriage in the country, and although there are no explicit laws banning homosexuality, LGBTQ+ Egyptians do get arrested and sentenced.
Forbes list Egypt as one of the 20 dangerous countries for gay travelers, explaining, “For LGBTQ+ travelers, it is recommended not to disclose your sexuality and avoid using dating apps since the local police have been known to create fake accounts to ‘catch’ LGBTQ+ travelers looking to engage in illegal activity.”
In 2019, a journalist was sentenced to a year in prison for pre-marital sex and illegal abortion. It was a way to clamp down on criticism of the government, but sex outside of marriage is prohibited in the country. So much so that hotels ask for a marriage license from couples to share the same room. After the pandemic, hoteliers pleaded with the government to change this law that can land couples in jail for up to a year if they are caught.
It is believed that Moroccans face the brunt of it, while foreigners may not be prosecuted. However, if one of the partners is a citizen, it will be a problem. The country also has laws against homosexual activities, and again, locals are treated harshly while foreigners are often given a pass.