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Travel Essentials

Security Briefing: Local Laws

The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (, 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (, and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website ( Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.

United States: Department of State International Travel Information


While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even though you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence of alcohol could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. If you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport will not provide you any additional courtesies. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not where you are going. It is also important to note that there are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. For example, you can be prosecuted in the United States if you buy pirated goods, engage in sexual conduct with children, or use or disseminate child pornography in a foreign country even if those activities are not illegal in that country.

Each of India’s states has independent regulations concerning alcohol purchase and consumption. Legal drinking ages range from 18 to 25 and can vary by beverage type. Some states permit alcohol use for medicinal purposes only, others require you to hold a permit to buy, transport, or consume alcohol. Penalties for violation can be harsh, so travelers are advised to check with Indian authorities in the states they plan to visit.

While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested, local Indian authorities do not always do so. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.


 In 2013, several U.S. citizens were arrested at Indian and international airports for attempting to smuggle illegal drugs from India.  All claimed that they did not realize they were carrying drugs.  Never transport or mail packages that do not belong to you and maintain direct control of your luggage at all times.

Dual nationality

India does not permit its citizens to hold dual nationality. In 2006, India launched the "Overseas Citizens of India" (OCI) program, which has often been mischaracterized as a dual nationality program. It does not grant Indian citizenship. If you are a U.S. citizen and obtain an OCI card you will not become a citizen of India; you will remain a citizen of the United States. An OCI card is similar to a U.S. "green card" in that a holder can travel to and from India indefinitely, work in India, study in India, and own property in India (except for certain agricultural and plantation properties). An OCI card holder, however, does not receive an Indian passport, cannot vote in Indian elections, and is not eligible for Indian government employment. The OCI program is similar to the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card introduced by the Indian government several years ago, except that PIO holders must still register with Indian immigration authorities, and PIO cards are not issued for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens of Indian descent can apply for PIO or OCI cards at the Indian Embassy in Washington, or at the Indian Consulates in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Houston. Inside India, U.S. citizens can apply at the nearest FRRO office (please see “Entry/Exit Requirements” section above for more information on the FRRO). U.S. citizens are required to travel on a U.S. passport when traveling in and out of the United States.

Religious activities

If you plan to engage in religious proselytizing, you are required by Indian law to have a "missionary" visa. Immigration authorities have determined that certain activities, including speaking at religious meetings to which the general public is invited, may violate immigration law if the traveler does not hold a missionary visa. Foreigners with tourist visas who engage in missionary activity are subject to deportation and possible criminal prosecution. The states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh have active “anti-conversion” legislation regulating conversion from one religious faith to another. Arunachal Pradesh currently has an inactive “anti-conversion” law awaiting accompanying regulations needed for enforcement. If you intend to engage in missionary activity, you may wish to seek legal advice to determine whether the activities you intend to pursue are permitted under Indian law.

Tourists should also be mindful of restrictions and observances when planning to visit any religious establishment, whether Hindu temples, mosques, churches, or other locations considered sacred by the local population. Many individual temples and mosques do not permit non-members to enter all or parts of the facilities, and may require the removal of shoes, the covering of the head, or have other specific requirements for appropriate attire.  

Customs restrictions

Before traveling to or from India, you are urged to thoroughly inspect all bags and clothing that might inadvertently contain prohibited items. Since January 2010, several U.S. citizens have been arrested or detained when airport security officials discovered loose ammunition and weapons in their luggage. If you are found to have loose ammunition or bullets (including empty bullet shells used in souvenirs) on your person or in your bags, you could be charged with violation of the Indian Arms Act, incarcerated, and/or deported from India. In addition to firearms and ammunition, Indian customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from India of such items as, antiquities, electronic equipment, currency, ivory, gold objects, and other prohibited materials. Permission from the Government of India is required to bring in restricted items, even if you are only transiting through India. If you do not comply with these regulations, you risk arrest or fine or both and confiscation of these items. If you are charged with any alleged legal violations by Indian law enforcement, have an attorney review any document before you sign it. The Government of India requires the registration of antique items with the local police along with a photograph of the item. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of India in Washington or one of India's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. More information is available from the Indian Central Board of Excise and Customs.

Indian customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212) 354-4480, or email USCIB for details. Please see our section onCustoms Information for more information.

Natural disaster threats

Parts of northern India are highly susceptible to earthquakes. Regions of highest risk, ranked 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, include areas around Srinagar, Himachal Pradesh, Rishikesh and Dehra Dun, the northern parts of Punjab, northwest Gujarat, northern Bihar, and the entire northeast. Ranked 4 (high damage risk) is an area that sweeps along the north through Jammu and Kashmir, Eastern Punjab, Haryana, Northern Uttar Pradesh, central Bihar and the northern parts of West Bengal. New Delhi is located in zone 4. Severe flooding is common in hilly and mountainous areas throughout India. In June 2013, flooding in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh left thousands of people presumed dead and stranded dozens of U.S. citizens. August 2010 flash flooding and mudslides in Leh killed 300 people and stranded hundreds more for several days. 

Typhoons/Cyclones and subsequent flooding are common along the Indian coasts, in particular the Eastern coastal states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, and have at times resulted in massive loss of life.  Tourists and residents in areas prone to these events should keep vigilant during severe weather, monitor local media for latest developments, and heed all municipal warnings.


While in India, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than what you find in the United States. Despite legislation that all public buildings and transport be accessible for disabled people, accessibility remains limited. One notable exception is the Delhi metro system, designed to be accessible to those with physical disabilities.

LGBT Rights

 An 1861 colonial-era law, known as Section 377 of India’s penal code, makes homosexual acts illegal in India.  A 2009 New Delhi High Court ruling decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults.  However, in December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court overturned the 2009 decision, again criminalizing homosexual acts.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court stated such a change to the law must be made through the legislative process, not a court decision.  Although prosecution under Section 377 is rare, LGBT visitors may wish to avoid drawing attention.  LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page.

Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice

When you are in India, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Matters concerning dowry have resulted in some Australian citizens being subject to arrest upon arrival in India. The act of giving or receiving a dowry is prohibited. Claims for dowry can result in an arrest alert notice being issued by a court at the request of an aggrieved party.

In December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court set aside the 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court that decriminalised homosexuality. Homosexuality is a criminal offence in India. Though prosecutions are rare, you should be aware that a conviction for homosexual behaviour could carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. See ourLGBTI travellers page.

Legal processes in India generally take several years to conclude. Australians arrested for major offences may be imprisoned for several years before a verdict is reached in their case. The requirement for official approvals by Indian authorities can cause delays in consular services being provided to Australians in prison.

Penalties in India for some crimes, such as murder, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery with murder, and treason, include the death penalty. Penalties for drug offences are severe and include mandatory sentences and the death penalty.

You are required by law to carry your passport at all times and you will need your passport to check into hotels.

Trespassing and photography of airports, military establishments and dams is illegal with penalties ranging from three to 14 years imprisonment. Some places of worship and temples do not allow visitors to take pictures or videos; travellers need to check beforehand with the temple’s administrative office.

It is illegal to carry or use a satellite phone in India without permission. The penalty for doing so could include imprisonment.

Some states prohibit the carriage of alcohol brought in from outside the state, and police may perform checks on vehicles to enforce this law.

Maiming or killing of a cow is an offence which can attract a punishment of up to five years imprisonment.

Some states within India have passed religious anti-conversion legislation making conversion to another religion by force or inducement an offence. Penalties include imprisonment. Foreigners planning to do missionary work must have a missionary visa. Those who do not hold a missionary visa risk criminal prosecution and deportation.

Strict regulations apply for the possession and export of antiques, with penalties of up to three years imprisonment. The government of India requires the registration of antiques. For further information contact the High Commission of India in Canberra or the Indian Central Board of Excise and Customs.

There are strict rules governing the purchase of property by foreigners in the state of Goa. The Reserve Bank of India website has some information, however Australians should seek reliable legal advice and familiarise themselves with applicable laws before entering into agreements to purchase property.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, child sex tourism, and commercial surrogacy, can apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are strong codes of dress and behaviour in India, particularly in northern India and at religious sites, and you should take care not to offend.

Physical contact between men and women in public is not considered appropriate. If in any doubt, seek local advice.

Information for dual nationals

The Indian constitution does not recognise dual nationality. However, local law allows persons of Indian origin in a number of countries, including Australia, to apply for Overseas Citizenship of India. Further advice is available from the Overseas Citizenship of India section of the Indian Government's Ministry of Home Affairs website.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice

Drugs are illegal in India. There is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts deemed for personal consumption only. A 10-year sentence for possession of other amounts applies. The judicial process is slow and pre-trial detention lasting several years is normal.

During elections bans on the sale of alcohol are often imposed.

On 11 December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court set aside a 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court that decriminalised homosexuality. Although prosecutions of gay people are rare, conviction for engaging in a homosexual act could lead to a prison sentence. See our advice page for LGBT travellers.

British nationals have been arrested for bringing satellite phones into India without prior permission from the Indian authorities. More information on the use of satellite phones can be found on the Department of Telecommunications’ website.

You may need prior permission from the Indian authorities to bring equipment like listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars into India. Seek advice from the Indian High Commission in London.

There may be very serious penalties for breaking a law which might seem trivial to you, or for doing something which may not be illegal in the UK. Hobbies involving cameras and binoculars, like bird-watching or plane spotting, may be misunderstood particularly near military sites, government buildings, airports and railway stations.

The penalties for paedophile offences are severe.

Indian family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue.