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Authored by Dan Hunter

To much of the developed world, especially in recent years, tattoos are seen as beautiful/trendy additions to one’s personality, with many tattoos succeeding in telling interesting stories about a person’s past.

But in some countries, tattoos are still seen as extremely taboo. Exposed tattoos in such countries can commonly result in arrests, and where a traveler is concerned, sometimes deportation.

So the following is a list of countries where you should be extra careful about flaunting your ink – otherwise you may end up in more trouble than previously thought!

Many countries in this list might not have an outright ban on tattoos, and in these cases we have explained exactly what you can get into trouble for (ie Nazi symbols will land you in hot water in Germany).

 Illegal Ink – 11 Countries Where Showing Your Tattoos Could Get You Kicked Out!

Germany, France & Slovakia

Each of these three countries practice specific laws that prohibit the display of any tattoos symbolizing or otherwise glorying Nazi culture. Exposing any such tattoo can lead to arrest and potential deportation.

The attitude towards tattoos in Germany, France, and Slovakia in general is totally accepting, but if you have anything that symbolizes or even looks like it supports the previous Nazi regime, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of trouble.

Sri Lanka & Thailand

Sri Lanka has seen many arrests within the last decade due to travelers and expats exposing or showing their Buddha/Buddhist tattoos in public.

Sri Lanka as a country has extremely strong Buddhist beliefs, and as such, the government is very sensitive about their religion being defaced in any way – especially when an ‘outsider’ is seen displaying a tattoo that marks something so symbolic within the country.

Like Sri Lanka, Thailand is also cracking down on tourists who expose religious-themed tattoos. The Thai government states that they believe religious tattoos to be culturally inappropriate and that they erode the respect of the native religions.

Non religious tattoos in these countries are typically fine, and as both countries have established themselves as leading tourist destinations, locals are typically pretty accepting of foreigners who have tattoos.

Japan

Kansai during fall

Japan is surprisingly strict when it comes to tattoos, especially considering that it is often seen by many as one of the original birthplaces for the art form.

In recent history, tattoos have carried negative connotations throughout much of the country, and officials are strongly opposed to any exposed ink that can be perceived as being shocking or offensive. This is especially if it relates at all to any organized crime gangs within the country.

Many public areas within Japan ban entry if you have visible tattoos. Popular places that regularly ban tattoos include bath houses, gyms and resorts. A recent government survey discovered that 56% of hotels and inns actively ban tattooed visitors from their public bathing areas.

North Korea

Although some tattoos are allowed within the country, they’re subject to very strict regulations. All tattoos exposed within North Korea must show praise towards the Kim (leaders) family or otherwise have some kind of approved political purpose attributed to them.

If you’re found to have tattoos unrelated to these specifications then you could potentially be deported or even sentenced to hard labor in prison.

Vietnam

Tattoos once had a stigma in Vietnamese culture; they were viewed as being associated with criminal and illegal activity, and operating or owning any kind of shop/studio within the country was banned.

But influenced by international trends, the Vietnamese people have become more receptive to the concept and the tattoo industry is growing fast.

If you’re traveling outside the main cities, and find yourself receiving negative attention for your tattoos, this could be a result of old mindsets and attitudes. Which still exist among older generations and more traditional communities. So have something on hand to cover up with if you have exposed tattoos.

If you’re travelling with a brand new tattoo, and the healing process becomes problematic, try and reach a specialized tattoo studio in one of the main cities. But always prioritize looking looking after your tattoo to prevent any potential infections.

Iran

Getting tattooed or showing tattoos in public has become a touchy subject in this country in recent years.

Government officials and country leaders have publicly stated that they believe the practice of tattooing is associated with devil-worshipping, and that being tattooed is seen as a sign of Westernisation, which is strongly opposed.

If going to Iran, be extremely careful about exposing any kind of ink – especially anything based around religion.

Turkey

Istanbul

Although tattoos are not currently illegal within the country, Turkey’s top officials have become increasingly hostile towards body art in recent times.

Earlier this year for example, the top religious body in Turkey issued a request for all Muslims with tattoos within the country to either repent or have the tattoo surgically removed.

Malaysia

Tattoos are largely forbidden within Malaysia due to religious reasons.

Many government and public groups within the country believe that by getting tattooed, you are deciding to change the way that god initially created you – which is seen as a terrible sin.

Summary

Although tattoos can be seen as extremely positive means of self-expression in many areas of the world – you must remember that other countries dissimilar to the ones you know best may not see them this way.

Always be wary when travelling to new countries when carrying tattoos, and always do a little bit of research on how your ink may be perceived within any new country that you’re thinking about entering.

Your Feedback

Have feedback or updates re the information in this post? Leave me a comment to let me know! I would love to hear about your experiences, and will happily make edits to reflect the most up to date information.

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Urban CoCo Open front Blanket Poncho

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Dan, a Master of Fine Arts and a participating member of the tattooing community for over 10 years is the resident writer at AuthorityTattoo.

While no longer as active in the tattooing community, Dan still attends many tattoo conventions around the country and is here to help educate, teach and advise readers on all things tattoo related.

    82 Comments

  1. I never knew this- that’s so crazy. I’ve been to many of these countries but I suppose the laws are more aimed at locals than tourists. Very good to know.

    • Definitely more of a list aimed at *could* rather than *will*, but we’ve had a couple travelers write in with their experiences that many countries have been reasonably tolerant of tourists in regards to their laws. Still a law so not something I would like to risk personally though :)

  2. Of these I was aware only of the situation in Japan which I’ve chatted love visited a few times. Because of that yakuza association, tattoos have a very negative connotation. That said most Japanese do appreciate that this is not the case for foreigners and their tattoos. I think it’s really just the shared bathing where it’s an issue for visitors. I’ve seen people suggest that those with tattoos they can’t cover easily should luck places that offer family baths which can be booked privately. Lucky for me I’m too scared of needles to have had a tattoo!

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences from Japan … Seems to be across the board that countries with these kind of laws or attitudes are at least willing to accept that tourists may have tattoos for different reasons :)

      Booking an experience at a family bath is a great way to get around the shared bathing issue. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Wow! I am amazed to see some countries on this list. Muslim nations are understandable, even a military regime like North Korea but hearing that countries like Japan and some other Asian countries are also not happy with tattoos!!
    Good info to know for future travels.

    • Do not presume that North Korea is tolerant of visitors’ tattoos, they are not even tolerant of visitors. NK visitors are at the whim of their ruler, he can kick someone out or detain them for any reason he dreams up.

    • NK is definitely a country I wouldn’t be willing to break even the slightest law in. Not a tattoo related story, but recently an American student got sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for stealing a propaganda sign from his hotel. Yikes right!!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. Oh wow I didn’t know this. I am headed to Vietnam soon ,so this comes at a good time. I need to ensure I carry clothes that cover my ink – I def dont wanna stand out in any way. I hope bigger cities are more accepting/open about tattoos though with the country attracting so many tourists.

    • We’ve heard from a couple of people who have traveled throughout Vietnam since publishing, who have said they haven’t had any issues with standing out. But I would take clothes to cover it up just in case you’re in a really regional area or something does come up about it :)

      Happy travels!

    • I would advise you to uncover your tatoo in big cities in Vietnam. Yes, local people might think you are not a peaceful person, but the thief and back snathcers will stay away from you. (they might thnk you are even a more fierce gangster). Is that a good point?

    • That’s actually a really good point! Keeping that in mind lol maybe I’ll employ that tactic in a couple of other places as well :)

    • Most of these countries are fine with tattoos excluding Iran and North Korea I’m covered in tattoos and have never had a problem.

  5. I knew about Sri lanka and Germany but others are news to me. I strongly believe we must respect each country’s faiths and beliefs!

    • Absolutely Indrani! I’m also a very big believer in respecting the cultural climate in each new country we travel to :)

    • Specifically in Germany it is the Nazi ones though. My husband is German and he and I are fully sleeved with space or animal themes. No issues accept from older generation. Even then they just gave us strange looks. Many of the younger generation don’t care or have tattoos.

      I’m a world traveler and only places I did not show were in Muslim countries. Vietnam was no issue at all.

    • Absolutely Volker, I have a small tattoo on my back and didn’t have any trouble in Germany either. Glad to hear that the country overall is on board with heavier sleeves as well :) 100% behind the banning of Nazi symbols though, obviously given the context.

  6. I got really shocked to see Slovakia on top of the list! But it is true that any symbols propagating nazist ideology, even symbolically, are forbidden and for a good reason as we have a terrible history during the WWII and even currently there are groups supporting this kind of ideology. Howwever, a normal tattoo is no problem, many of my friends are inked and except for older people, nobody bats an eye.
    Great article!

    • Absolutely Karin, normal tattoos are no problem :) I think a lot of people have skimmed through our list quickly and assumed that we mean all tattoos for each country Dan listed, but it’s usually a specific type of art or image which is prohibited.

      As you said, completely understandable that anything promoting or endorsing Nazi ideology would see this kind of law in place.

  7. Interesting article..I just got a Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand by a monk and had NO idea! it could be a problem in the future traveling.

    • My understanding though is that Sak Yant tattoo’s are culturally appropriate, where-as the tattoos Thailand is cracking down on are religious-themed tattoos which are offensive in nature.

    • Me too but it’s fine I’ve got one on my hand and have never had a problem in Thailand

  8. This is useful information. Of course as travelers we need to be sensitive to the culture and traditions of the countries we visit and respect their laws and traditions.

    • Absolutely Sandy N Vyjay :) It’s always about respect when we’re visiting someone elses land. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. I never really thought about it before, though I did know that you can’t have tattoos if you visit an onsen in Japan. It’s very important that we try to respect the laws of the places that we visit. If they prohibit tattoos, we should try our best to cover them up!

    • Absolutely Lauren, it’s always about respect and acknowledging that different parts of the world have different cultures, beliefs and laws :)

      Happy travels!

  10. I have to say, I’ve spent a month or two in several of these countries and had almost none of the issues described. In Japan there are plenty of public onsen you can go to with tattoos, and most accomodation with a public bath you’ll be the only one in there so nobody will notice. I definitely had no issues in Vietnam or Malaysia, we were welcomed into people’s homes, dinners etc, I can only assume people weren’t horribly offended. My tattoos aren’t religious (or Nazi!) so I can’t comment on that. But frankly, most westerners will stand out as differrent in Asia anyway, so unless your tattoos are potentilly offensive in their design I really wouldn’t worry too much. And I definitely wouldn’t wear a massive poncho in 35 defree heat, which you’ll encounter in plenty of these places. Wear a light cotton shirt if you must.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Kristie – a couple of people above have mentioned running into the no entry with visible tattoos in Japanese onsen, but that’s a great point that accomodation with a public bath is usually a private experience :)

      A lot of people have commented since we published and shared that their experiences in many countries have been reasonably tolerant of tourists in regards to tattoos. As you said, you’re going to stand out anyway, but carrying a light cotton shirt or something of the sort is a great idea if anyone does run into issues.

      Happy travels!

    • I am in Vietnam and see that we Vietnamese has a different feeling about tatoo. For us a person with tatoo is a fierce person. More tatoo in body will lead a person to the rank of gangster. Many offices do not recruit a person with tattoo. So, we also have many services like clear tattoo without scar.

    • Really interesting, thanks for sharing your local insight Long. I wasn’t aware they were able to remove tattoos without leaving a scar, so that’s neat!

  11. Wow, Japan is surprising! I’ve never even thought about this. I need to tell a few friends, ha. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Because of that yakuza association, tattoos have a very negative connotation in Japan. But Kavey mentioned in her comment above that from chatting with locals most Japanese do appreciate that this is not the case for foreigners and their tattoos :)

      Happy travels!

  12. Wow, this seems really surprising. We haven’t had ourselves inked so can’t comment but hadn’t heard of it being a problem. Always good to know!

    • I have one on my lower back (lol a tramp stamp if you will), but this has always been very easy to cover up.

      Happy travels!

  13. I have lived in Japan off and on for about 3 years and I definitely feel the negative vibe around tattoos occaisonally, even as a foreigner. During my first visit I studied Japanese at a language school and decided to get a part-time job to even out my income a bit. My first interview was for a cleaning company (nothing glamorous, obviously, but considering my limited Japanese at the time, I was happy anyway) and I was hired on the spot. Mind you, I showed up completely covered so none of my ink was showing. However, I wasn’t paying attention to the uniform I’d be wearing at work so I showed up the first day relatively unprepared for the fact that my work-uniform would have short sleeves. Only one of my tattoos (a small one on my wrist) was visible and I tried my best to hide it, but of course they spotted it anyway. Still, they didn’t say anything to me the first 2 days, so I thought it was okay anyway.. Until day 3 when my manager came into the lunch-room during my break, apologizing profusely and giving me some excuse about how they’re not allowed to hire foreigners all of a sudden. Considering how they knew I was a foreigner several days before my interview, I knew that that wasn’t really the case and that my tattoo was what had ultimately given me the boot – a Japanese friend agreed with me.. Kinda sucked because I really loved the people I worked with there, but at the same time I knew about the taboo before I even arrived in japan the first time so it didn’t necessarily surprise me.
    As a rule, I always try to cover up whenever I am in Japan. While most people I’ve met there seems to be totally fine with tattoos, or even curious about them, I feel like it’s just easier to cover them and “act normal”. As a foreigner, you stand out like a sore thumb anyway.
    I love the country, but I really wish they would put that taboo to rest.. If nothing else, then for the fact that Japanese tattoo art is so famous world wide that I think they should actually be a really proud of it. It’s such a shame that they’re not..

    • Hi Niko, thanks for sharing your experience with us. So sorry to hear that you were fired over such a small tattoo. It’s interesting though that they won’t admit that this was the reason, or at least tell you to cover it up first. That sucks :(

      I agree with you that it’s just easier to cover them up … even if most people are fine or even curious about them, no need to cause unnecessary offence when we don’t have to.

      Hopefully the taboo is something which will die out over time with the older generation. I think it’s one of those things where you can’t really change the ideals of people who have held them for decades, but the younger generation is usually more open to new ideas and change.

  14. Iran doesn’t surprise me – my dad was born there. However, Japan and Thailand do! Really interesting read, thanks for sharing :)

    • Glad you found the post interesting Lauren :) Yes, Japan surprised me too with it’s tattoo taboo!

  15. Meg, the more we travel the more we learn! In Thailand is offensive to have tattoos or wear t-shirts with Buddha’s head. It is actually written in many places that Buddha’s head on any prints or accessories is a crime.
    Ok fair enough…than we flew to Nepal and Buddha’s head is everywhere, in every souvenir shop hahaha
    We are heading to Sri Lanka next, after India, looking forward to see what is happening there. :)

    I have 2 small tattoos, and unless I am wearing a bikini, people can never see them. Rule number one for any traveler: on the first day observe how the locals dress up. That always works for me!

    Have you had any issues before?

    • Absolutely Telma! Always learning as we take in new cultures, ideas and ways of life … that’s a great idea to spend the first day observing how locals dress. I really like that tip :)

      I haven’t personally had any problems, mine like yours is very small and only shows if I’m wearing a swim suit … mine is on my lower back, a “tamp stamp” if you will lol!

      Hope you have a wonderful time in Sri Lanka! It’s a beautiful country with really welcoming and friendly people :)

      Happy travels!

  16. the more we venture to every part of the more we learn! In Thailand is hostile to have tattoos or wear shirts with Buddha’s head. It is really composed in many spots that Buddha’s head on any prints or embellishments is a wrongdoing.

    • Absolutely Jasmine :) I figure the whole point of traveling is to experience new cultures, ways of thinking and open ourselves to new ways of life, and part of that is respecting the values and beliefs of the countries we’re immersing ourselves in :)

      Happy travels!

  17. Hi,

    I’m from Austria and here it’s forbidden to show Nazi-themed tattoos in public (as in Germany).
    Apart from that, showing tattoos is totally normal and accepted in Austria, at least in your leisure time. :)

    • Thanks for sharing info on Austria Victoria :) Yes, completely understandable the prohibition on Nazi themed tattoos.

  18. Would it be problem.. If I have a tattoo of Karma… Is it offensive in any country….. Pls reply

    • Hi Rajat, I am not aware of Karma being offensive in any country. However if you’re traveling to a country where tattoos in general are offensive, be sure to cover up :)

      Happy travels!

  19. Awesome Environment Awesome people GREAT GREAT ARTISTS

    • Glad you enjoyed the post

  20. I hope the USA is next

    • I highly doubt it – tattoo culture in the US is probably one of the strongest in the world.

  21. Hi everyone,
    I am Turkish nation and lived many years in different city such Ankara (capital) – Istanbul – Izmir – Antalya and in this country people use to go without any restriction to public area with tattoos such as gym centers – hotels – pools – beaches. Please feel free to visit – do not hesitate :)

    • Hi Murat, thanks for sharing your local knowledge on Turkey – we loved our time in Istanbul recently, and can’t wait to get back to explore the country further :)

  22. what about exceptions ?
    If the tattoo is small like 2 to 3 inches, will these countries allow?

    Because I am not aware of this and had tattoos on my hand few days back, which is clearly visible, it is hardly 3 inches.
    Just 3 letters of my wife.

    • Hi Naren, it will depend on the country you’re going to – most of these countries are fine with tattoos in general, for instance Austria, but won’t allow specific tattoos, like Nazi Symbols. So a lot of the time it’s more of a ban on tattoos which are offensive or symbolize violence.

      But if you arrive and start noticing that your tattoo is causing negative or unwanted attention, maybe you can have a bandage on hand to cover it up.

      I wouldn’t let it stop you from traveling, but once you choose a destination, do some quick research on the attitude towards tattoos and how they’re perceived by the local people, and you should be able to gauge whether you’ll need to cover it up.

      Hope that helps!

  23. This post is outdated; not only have I gotten multiple tattoos in Vietnam in the last five years (most recently November 2017), but there are many award winning tattoo shops there and I have had people on the street express admiration for my tattoos.

    • Hi Eric, thanks for your feedback, I’ll update the section on Vietnam based on your info. Fabulous to hear that the locals you’ve encountered have appreciated your tattoos and that really good shops are starting to pop up :)

    • My pleasure, Meg!
      Happy to help!
      Eric

  24. I recently travelled through japan in the warmer months.
    I have some forearm tattoos which are hard to cover in the hot weather.
    Tried to be respectful as possible, covering up most of the time, though noticed a strong reaction from a lot of people whenever they spotted them.
    Mainly in businesses and from older people.
    Went to 3 gyms wearing a long sleeve shirt before 1 let me in. They all asked if I had tattoos and the size of them.
    I really like Japan though it is a very traditional culture, which can be good and not so good.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Steve, I’m glad to hear you made every attempt to be respectful as possible, sorry to hear you did run into problems though. Yes, I think the younger population in Japan might be becoming more tolerant of it, but it definitely still provokes strong reactions from the older generations and more traditional communities. I had to bandage my lower back before I was admitted into any onsen while I was there.

  25. I have a question. I have a crucifix with rosary tattoo in my arm and a dream catcher in my legs.. is it forbidden in Thailand and Korea?

    • Hi Sherry, if you’re heading into North Korea I would make sure they’re covered at all times as they are very against religious tattoos. But if you’re heading into South Korea it’s more tolerated.

      For South Korea I would still cover them up if you can because you’ll notice that people might become apprehensive about being around you – many Koreans often associate tattoos with gangsters. But they’re not ‘forbidden’. People are generally more understanding towards foreigners but you still might get stared and leered at, especially if you’re visiting conservative parts of the country.

      For Thailand, it’s now so touristy that you shouldn’t have an issue, but I wouldn’t flaunt it. Take clothing with you that will cover them both and you can then gague the atmosphere once you get there.

      Hope that helps! Have an amazing trip :)

  26. I have a Ganesh tattoo on the back of my leg, would that be an issue in Sri Lanka or Vietnam?.

    • Hi Linus. I would just wear long pants to cover it up and you definitely won’t have an issue :) I’ve been told that attitudes in Vietnam over the last couple of years has become more tolerant of foreigners tattoos, so that one you can probably gauge when you get there, see what the reactions are towards you, but easiest way to avoid any trouble is just to wear long pants :)

      Happy travels!

  27. I have a tatoo of my girlfriend name on my chest.is that be a problem? In such countries like dubai,malasyia,sharja and such arab countries

    • Hi Gokul, if it’s on your chest I would just make sure it’s covered with a shirt and then you won’t have any trouble. Have a great trip!

    • From my experience, in Malaysia, will not put you in any trouble. Dubai is also a very developed country with many Europeans (who have tattoos) are traveling to. My advice is to always ask a local who have _lived_ in the country and has inside insight.

    • Great advice Merry, thanks for sharing your input :)

  28. This blog is a reminder to all us. We must be careful at all times to avoid conflict.

    • Absolutely Darryl, always about being mindful. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  29. Denmark. Ever since 1966, Danes have been forbidden from getting their face, head, neck.

    • Thanks for the heads up John! One we didn’t know about yet :)

  30. Many of the information on this topic is outdated. I have lived in both Iran and Malaysia for many years. My uni lecturer at University was covered in tattoos from head to toe. Seeing people in the street with tattoos is very common as well. In Iran as well many have tattoos and has become a norm.

    • Hi Merry, thanks for the feedback. We’ve been updating the information in this post as people leave comments based on their most recent experiences, so I’m happy to hear that the stigma around tattoos has been changing in both Iran and Malaysia.

      Thanks for reading and leaving your feedback :)

  31. And thanks for the feedback.
    But I want to know about south korea.
    In south korea foreigner worker like eps examer people who have tattoo they are allowed or not.

    • Hi Prabin, tattoos aren’t illegal in South Korea, and it’s a lot more tolerated than other parts of Asia. I would still cover them up if you can because people could become apprehensive about being around you – many Koreans often associate tattoos with gangsters. But they’re not ‘forbidden’. People are generally more understanding towards foreigners but you still might get stared and leered at, especially if you’re visiting conservative parts of the country. So you can play it by ear when you get there, but if it’s easy to cover it up just do that :)

      Happy travels!

  32. Your information about Iran is totally incorrect.

    • Hi MJ, as you can see here, we are very on top of keeping the article up to date, so if you have actual constructive feedback to share beyond just bashing the post, you are welcome to contribute with your actual experience. Otherwise your comment doesn’t serve any purpose.

  33. Well, I was not aware of these facts, truly. As far as my observation or knowledge, I am shocked to see the name of Thailand and Malaysia because people are highly excited about body arts in those countries. If such a situation continues to prevail, it will be quite troublesome to travel to foreign countries with tattoos that are banned in that country. I feel that getting tattoos should never seek any validation from society and nor from any religion. It should be barred from any such restrictions; after all, it’s a form of art and art should not be suppressed.

    • The laws in Thailand are mainly around religious tattoos, a lot of the time a country might not have an outright ban on body art, but more about the type of tattoos you can / can’t get.

      I agree with you that body art is a personal choice, and it’s quite rough to restrict that freedom, but at the same time I also completely understand decisions in country’s like Germany to ban Nazi tattoos, given the terrible history. So I think it’s about balancing freedom of expression while being respectful of other country’s histories and cultures :)

  34. Thank you so much for your work.It’s very helping to me.give me some advice.I will wait for your reply

    • Glad the post was helpful for you Md. Happy to give you advice, though will need more specifics from you. Let me know what your question is and if I’m able to answer it I can :)

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