Travellers to some of the most popular and more exotic holiday locations risk fines and even prison through a lack of understanding about local laws.

According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), more than a quarter of cases that required consular assistance in 2012-13 were for arrests and detention as a result of British tourists failing to abide by local laws.

Visitors to Barcelona risk being fined if they wear a bikini or swimming trunks away from the beach, while it is an offence to eat or drink while sitting on the steps of churches and public buildings in Florence.

Further afield, passengers who chew gum while travelling on the Mass Rapid Transit system in Singapore face fines. It is also illegal to take bottles of mineral water into Nigeria, which could lead to fines and confiscation.

More seriously, taking photos of government buildings, palaces or military bases is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, leading to fines and detention. Smokers also risk large fines and confiscation if they are caught taking more than 200 cigarettes into Thailand.

The FCO emphasised the importance of respect for local laws and should not think that holding a British passport is the equivalent of a “get-out-of-jail card”.

“Every year British nationals find themselves on the wrong side of the law unexpectedly, resulting in fines or in some cases arrests or even jail sentences. It is important to remember that laws and customs can vary greatly from country to country and what may be perfectly legal in the UK could be subject to a fine or even a jail sentence in another,” said Charles Hay, director of consular services at the FCO.

“We want Brits to have a great time when they travel abroad so it is also a good idea to research the country they are visiting before they travel.”

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