The tattoo industry is no longer as bad as it seemed before. In fact, there are countries that don’t consider tattoos taboo anymore. However, if you are a frequent traveler, you should keep in mind that there are still areas in the world that don’t accept tattoos.
Tattoos are widely accepted in the Western world and European countries. However, having tattoos in some states and countries under the Islamic Law like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates can put you at risk of getting shamed, penalized, and jailed.
Planning a trip but unsure whether tattoos are legal there? Don’t worry! We’ve rounded up a quick list of the countries where tattoos are illegal and what designs to avoid.
Countries Where Tattoos are Limited or Strictly Forbidden
Tattoos and body art have gained immense popularity worldwide for the past few decades. What used to be rebellious and vulgar, is now viewed as a form of self-expression in this generation.
To give you an idea of how much the tattoo industry has grown, approximately 30-40% of Americans are inked. Pre-pandemic, tattoo conventions had hundreds of attendees including tattoo artists and audiences.
However, there are still several countries that find tattoos culturally inappropriate or blasphemous. Few of these have specific laws that make it completely forbidden. Take a look at the list below:
Tattoo and body art procedures are illegal in Iran under the Islamic Law and Sharia Law. According to them, having tattoos is sinful because it is mostly performed among organized crime groups and non-Muslims. Plus, they insist that getting a tattoo is highly dangerous to one’s health.
Being a tattooed person in Iran is not a fun experience. When caught with visible tattoos, you could get arrested, fined, and kept in prison for longer than necessary. Even worse, Iranians like to parade arrested people in public to shame them.
Interestingly, the tattoo industry in Iran has not completely shut down because of its high demand among young people. In fact, Iranian tattoo artists have an underground tattoo community where tattoo shops and body piercing studios are kept out of the public’s judging eyes.
Other Muslim countries where tattoos are illegal under such laws include:
- United Arab Emirates
- Saudi Arabia
2. South Korea
Unexpectedly, South Korea is not a big fan of tattoo artists and body art. Although it is not banned outright in the country, South Korea has pretty severe tattoo laws.
For instance, one public health law in 1992 states that only a licensed physician can perform body art procedures to ensure ‘safe practices’.
That’s right. If you want to get tattooed in South Korea legally, you’ll need to visit a hospital instead of a tattoo shop. Although it doesn’t make any sense, attempts to overturn this law are repeatedly shut down. Hence, tattoo artists are forced to operate secretly.
It’s easier to find a skilled South Korean tattoo artist through social media. Most tattoo shops don’t set up signages, so unless you know the exact address then you’ll definitely miss these gems. In Hongdae for instance, there are a lot of tattoo parlors hidden in plain sight.
Having visible tattoos isn’t much of an issue in South Korea, but it could attract a lot of dirty looks from local people. But if you’re planning on becoming a licensed tattoo artist in the country, then we suggest you think twice.
On the brighter side, South Korean artists and celebrities such as HyunA and Jay Park have been open to having tattoos in hopes to eliminate the stigma. So let’s hope to see some law changes in the future!
3. North Korea
In North Korea, the North Korean Communist Party runs the game. They regulate tattoo designs as they see fit and can ban religious symbols, rebellious signs, etc. They’ve even banned something as trivial as the word ‘love’ at one point!
What they do encourage though are tattoos that express love and dedication towards their leader, the Party, and North Korea.
In Thailand, having religious tattoos is illegal. Most especially, having a tattooed image of Buddha’s head. A law passed in 2011 recognized this act as an insult to Buddhists, regardless if you’ve done it as a sign of faith. It’s mostly the same case in other Buudhist-dominated countries like Sri Lanka.
Basically, it’s similar to how Muslim countries ban tattoos under the Islam or Sharia Law. So if you’re a liberated Buddhist with a tattoo of Buddha’s head on your back, then you might want to keep them hidden under your clothes during your Thailand or Sri Lanka trip.
Tattoo Designs that Could Cause Serious Trouble
One crucial part about getting a tattoo is making sure that you won’t regret choosing that design in the future.
For instance, a sleeve tattoo of your ex’s face, or a mistranslated Chinese character that meant nothing close to what you thought it was. Not only is that extremely embarrassing, but also a huge waste of money and space.
Now there are certain tattoos that will bring you something way worse than shame. Being careless about your new tattoo could get you caught up in tattoo laws and jailed.
The government might misjudge you as a member of an organized crime group, and worse, you might even get deported for it.
Here are some types of body art designs that you’ll want to avoid:
- Religious Symbols
Religious iconography is strictly forbidden in some countries. Most especially, in Muslim or Buddhist countries as they view this as immense disrespect to their religion. Hence, you might encounter a few body art practitioners refusing to do religious tattoos or suggesting a different design.
- Nazi Symbols
Another controversial tattoo that is inappropriate to have are Nazi or White Pride tattoos. Getting inked with these designs glorifies the Nazi regime and all the traumatic events that occurred in the past. These designs are illegal in Germany, France, and Slovakia despite them being generally accepting of tattoos.
- Face Tattoos
Although these won’t cause as much trouble as the previous two, face tattoos are also banned in some states like Georgia. According to their law, it is illegal to get tattoos around the eye socket, regardless if it is a cosmetic tattoo.
Tips to Avoid Trouble
You won’t lose anything from being kind. If you want your first tattoo to be a memorable one, then it’s best to do some research before getting inked. Some designs might look cool, but you won’t want to risk offending anyone.
It’s the same case if you’re planning to go on a trip to tattoo-sensitive places like Sri Lanka or Iran. Getting stares from local people is certainly bearable. However, you might end up in jail or deported because of certain tattoo laws.
So if you already have an existing tattoo that might seem offensive to certain cultures or groups, then it might be best to keep it hidden to avoid unnecessary issues.
Here are some tips for tattooed travelers who plan to visit the aforementioned countries:
- Do Some Research
Study the tattoo laws in the country you’re traveling to. Be familiar with what’s tolerable to them and which designs are taboo. You may also want to dive into their views on other types of body art as well, such as body piercing and cosmetic tattoo.
- Avoid Getting a Controversial Tattoo
If you’re still planning on getting a tattoo then we suggest getting a tattoo that won’t offend any culture or religion. As mentioned earlier, some countries have state law that bans certain types of tattoos like religious images, cosmetic tattoos close to the eye, and Nazi symbols. So you’ll want to avoid these if you travel a lot!
- Wear Clothes that Hide Your Tattoos
Unlike when you’re in New York, you can’t keep your existing tattoos and body art out and proud in these countries unless you want to be sentenced to a class B misdemeanor case. Hence, as a tattooed traveler, it would be best to wear clothes that keep your tattoos out of sight for the meantime.
- Consider Getting Your Tattoo Removed
Now if you’re planning to migrate to a country where tattooing is illegal, then you might want to consider tattoo laser removal. Tattoo laws aren’t very friendly although most of these claim to be for environmental control. Thus, being tattooed in these countries might affect your relationship, career, and overall living conditions.
It might be a shame, but definitely better than the consequences!
Tattoo is both an art and a responsibility. We can’t expect everyone to conform to our beliefs especially if we are just visitors in their country. The world is a diverse place and if we want to be respected, then we should do the same.
So if you plan to fly to a different country as a tattooed traveler, then take some time to sit and see if there are tattoo restrictions there.
If not, you’re lucky! But if they do, then it’s best to be open-minded and keep your art hidden for the meantime. As we said, you’ll never lose anything from being kind and sensitive.