Tattoos have become socially acceptable in most countries; however, in some cultures, you could do jail time for getting inked or get deported if your body art is deemed profane or offensive.
Cultures that do not like tattoos are Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia, Yemen, Turkey, North and South Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Including Slovakia, France, and Germany, where Nazi tattoos are illegal, and Denmark, where some tattoos are illegal.
While some cultures across the globe have made all tattoos illegal, other cultures have only banned certain images, and some of their tattoo laws are simply ridiculous! So, if you want to know what they are – read on!
Islamic Cultures That Do Not Like Tattoos
In most of the following Islamic countries where Sharia laws are strictly enforced, tattoos are either illegal or severely restricted. So, if you are traveling to any of the following countries, it would be wise to cover them up, especially if they might be seen as religiously offensive.
It is strictly illegal in Iran to get a tattoo; anyone caught will be arrested, spend time in jail, or be heavily fined. In fact, seeing tattooed arrested people shamed for their body art by being paraded in public is not uncommon.
While tattoos were not always prohibited in Islamic countries like Iran, Country leaders and government officials have stated that getting tattoos is strictly forbidden as it symbolizes devil-worshipping and being Westernized.
In Islamic countries like Afghanistan, criminals and non-Islamic people are widely believed to create tattoos. Therefore, it is deemed a sin and illegal under Sharia Law.
It is yet another country where foreigners must cover up their body art for the duration of their stay in Saudi Arabia.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
While it is illegal to get tattooed in the UAE as it is seen as a form of self-harm, tourists with body art that may be viewed as offensive will be given a lifelong ban from entering the UAE. So, rather play it safe.
All tattoos with religious quotes, illustrations, or depictions are strictly forbidden and punishable by law in Malaysia.
Even though tattoos are not forbidden by law, they are seen as offensive in Islamic countries like Yemen.
Even though young people like body art in Turkey, and it is very popular, the Islamist AK Party government has introduced punishable laws against displaying tattoos in their education system.
North And South Korea Tattoo Laws
North and South Korean perceptions of tattoos vary dramatically, which is evident by their laws and their reasons for implementing them.
The North Korean Communist Party is predominantly concerned with what tattoos represent, so any religious symbols or rebellious tattoos are illegal.
The word “love” was also forbidden until recently. However, it can now legally be tattooed together with the leader’s name, North Korea, including Communism.
Patriotic tattooed quotes like: “defense of the fatherland” and “guard the great leader to our death” are incredibly popular and admired.
While tattoos are not illegal in South Korea, they have been deemed a health hazard, and as a result, they have imposed severe tattoo laws that most people would find laughable.
Only a licensed doctor is allowed to tattoo a person according to the law in South Korea due to rumors that tattoo infections have endangered people’s lives in the past.
So, it’s no wonder that “legal” medically trained tattoo companies are harping on about protecting the public from harm so that they can rid themselves of potential competition, especially because tattoos are trendy amongst the youth.
Asian Cultures That Dislike Tattoos
While most of the following countries dislike tattoos due to their associations with crime, other countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka have banned tattoos that are seen as religiously offensive.
Though tattoos are tolerated in big cities where foreign tourists often travel, they are mostly disliked in other areas, so any tattoos with anti-communist slogans, including religious and organized crime symbols, are forbidden by law.
Even though tattoos are technically legal in Japan, they are still associated with the Yakuza and other mafia-like gangs, which are still incredibly powerful and sometimes dangerous.
So, people with visible tattoos are barred from entering various establishments like swimming pools, beaches, hot springs, gyms, nightclubs, and major stores. Up to 56% of hotels prohibit tattooed guests from using their facility’s bathing areas.
Tattoos and studios were banned in the past because it was associated with criminal activities. However, it is now a thing of the past as the tattoo industry is starting to thrive.
Although the influence of international cultures has made the Vietnamese population more open-minded concerning body art, the following images are still banned: religious symbols, anti-political, and gang affiliations.
Thailand and Sri Lanka
While both these countries are prime tourist destinations and welcome tourists with non-religious tattoos, some images are seen as highly offensive and could get you into a lot of trouble!
In Thailand, all tattoos that have religious connotations, like Buddha’s head or other symbols, are prohibited. The law was promulgated in 2011 when Buddha tattoo images were seen as cultural appropriation and disrespectful.
Sri Lanka has a similar law that prohibits religious images, and in 2014 a British citizen was deported for getting a Buddha tattoo which was seen as an insult to the nation’s religious feelings.
European Countries Where Some Tattoos Are Illegal
While the tattoo industry is thriving across Europe, for the most part, there are countries where certain tattoo images are seen as highly offensive and can result in jail time or being deported.
Slovakia, France & Germany
Although these countries are generally accepting of tattoos, should you have a visible tattoo that could even vaguely resemble a Nazi or Fascist symbol, you will be in a ton of trouble as they are illegal.
It has been illegal to get a tattoo on your hands, neck, head, or face in Denmark since the 1960s, and even though efforts have been made to overrule this law, individuals should have the legal right to choose where they want their tattoo, it is sadly still in force.
Although we naturally assume that our body art is beautiful and socially acceptable globally, some cultures do not like tattoos as they are associated with powerful criminal gangs in Asia or because they are seen as sinful. So, before you grab your passport- do some research!
Some of my favorite designs, tattoo books, and aftercare products, selected for you
Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.
Design and tattoo ideas
For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):
- Great Book of Tattoo Designs, Revised Edition: More than 500 Body Art Designs (Fox Chapel Publishing) Fantasy, Celtic, Floral, Wildlife, and Symbol Designs for the Skin by Lora Irish
- The Big Book of Small Tattoos – Vol.1: 400 small original tattoos for women and men by Roberto Gemori
- Tiny Tattoos: Over 1,000 Small Inspirational Artworks by Rebecca Vincent.
If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).
The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):