Countries Where Tattoos Are Illegal Or Limited: Where Can a Tattoo Get

The popularity of tattoos has never been higher. Over the past few decades, nearly 30% to 40% of all Americans have received at least one tattoo. These days (before the coronavirus), hundreds of thousands of people attend tattoo conventions across the western world.

Thus, it is safe to say that tattooing is widely accepted in countries in the western world, such as European countries, North American countries, and some cultures across the globe.

However, there are still places where getting a tattoo or getting a tattoo can cause you a lot of trouble. in some cases, people are even thrown in jail for being inked. In some areas, tattooing is considered blasphemous or related to crime and crime-related organizations.

So, in case you’re wondering where having or getting a tattoo could get you in trouble, you’ve come to the right place. In the following paragraphs we will look at countries where tattoos are illegal, prohibited and punishable, so let’s get started.

Countries where tattoos are illegal or restricted


It is illegal in Islamic countries, such as Iran, to get a tattoo. Under the pretext that “tattooing is a health risk” and “forbidden by God”, people who get tattoos in Iran risk being arrested, sentenced to heavy fines or even detained in prison. It’s even a common practice to “parade” arrested people through town, in public, so the community can shame the person who got the tattoo.

What’s interesting is that tattoos haven’t always been illegal in Islamic countries and Iran. However, Iranian authorities, under Islamic law, have made tattoos illegal and punishable. It is believed that tattoos are done by criminals, thugs or people who are not in Islam, which is considered a sin in itself.

Other Islamic countries with the same or similar tattoo ban are;

  • Saudi Arabia – tattoos are illegal due to Sharia (tattooed foreigners must cover them and they must remain covered until the person leaves the country)
  • Afghanistan – tattoos are illegal and prohibited due to Sharia
  • United Arab Emirates – it is illegal to get a tattoo by a tattoo artist; tattoos are considered a form of self-harm, which is prohibited in Islam, but tourists and foreigners do not have to cover them up unless they are offensive. In such a case, people can be banned from the UAE for life.
  • Malaysia – tattoos showing religious quotes (like quotes from the Quran), or illustrations of god or the prophet Muhammad, are strictly prohibited, illegal and punishable
  • Yemen – tattoos are not strictly prohibited, but a tattooed person may be subject to Islamic Sharia

Regarding these countries, foreigners and tourists with tattoos must cover them in public at all times, otherwise they could be fined or punished in the form of a ban on staying in the country, especially if the tattoo is offensive to local people and religion in any way.

South Korea

Even though tattoos are not illegal per se, in South Korea tattoos are generally frowned upon and considered dangerous. The country has extreme tattoo laws; for example, some tattoo laws prohibit tattooing unless you are a licensed physician.

The reasoning behind these laws is that “tattoos are not safe for the public due to numerous health risks”. These health risks, however, are anecdotal and based on a handful of stories where tattooing ended in a health-threatening event, such as a tattoo infection.

Luckily, many have seen through the act of medical and tattoo companies in South Korea promoting these ridiculous laws in an effort to rid themselves of competition. People are getting tattoos more and more in South Korea, especially the younger generations.

But, it is incredible that by deeming a practice dangerous when it is not practiced by doctors, there is a high chance that any other practitioner of the same will be fired, especially when it is deemed dangerous for the health.

Also Read: Are Tattoos Illegal in Korea, the Answer May Surprise You

North Korea

In North Korea, the situation is quite different from South Korean tattoo laws. The designs and meanings of tattoos are regulated by the North Korean Communist Party. For example, the Party is allowed to ban certain tattoos, such as religious tattoos or any tattoo that might represent rebellion of any kind. Until recently, the Party even banned the word “love” as a tattoo motif.

However, what the Party allows are tattoos showing one’s devotion to the Party and the country. Quotes like “Let’s keep the great leader till we die” or “Defend the Fatherland” are not only allowed but also very popular tattoo choices for the locals. The word “love” is also only allowed when used to express love towards North Korea, the communism of the country’s leader.

Countries with similar or identical policies and practices include;

  • China – tattoos are associated with organized crime and tattoos depicting religious symbols or anti-communist quotes are prohibited. Tattoos are frowned upon outside of major urban centers, but in cities, with the arrival of foreigners and tourists, tattoos have become more acceptable.
  • Cuba – religious and anti-government/system tattoos are not allowed
  • Vietnam – just like in China, tattoos in Vietnam are associated with gangs and organized crime. Tattoos depicting gang affiliation, religious symbols, or anti-political tattoos are prohibited.

Thailand and Sri Lanka

In Thailand, it is illegal to get tattoos of certain religious elements and symbols. For example, Buddha head tattoos are completely prohibited, especially for tourists. The law banning this type of tattoo was passed in 2011 when tattoos featuring the head of Buddha were deemed to be totally disrespectful and culturally appropriate.

The same tattoo ban applies in Sri Lanka. In 2014, a British tourist was deported from Sri Lanka after getting a Buddha tattoo on his arm. The person was expelled on the grounds that the tattoo “was disrespectful to the religious feelings of others” and insulting to Buddhism.


Even though tattoos in Japan have been considered gang-related for decades, public opinion of the ink hasn’t changed. Even though people can get tattoos without being punished or banned, they still cannot do normal activities like going to public swimming pools, saunas, gyms, hotels, bars, and even retail stores if their tattoo is visible.

In 2015, all visitors with visible tattoos were banned from nightclubs and hotels, and the bans keep piling up. These prohibitions and limitations are self-imposed by the Japanese public narrative and, more recently, even by law.

The reason for this is the long history of tattooing in Japan, where tattoos were mostly worn by Yakuza and other gang and mafia related people. The Yakuza are still powerful in Japan, and their impact never ceases or diminishes. This is why anyone with a tattoo is considered potentially dangerous, hence the prohibitions.

Read more: Are tattoos illegal in Japan? (A guide to visiting Japan with tattoos)

European countries

Throughout Europe, tattoos are quite popular and common to all generations and ages. However, in some countries certain tattoo designs are banned and can get you deported or thrown in jail. For instance;

  • Germany – tattoos depicting Fascist or Nazi symbolism and themes are prohibited and can get you punished and banned from the country
  • France – just like Germany, France considers tattoos with Fascist and Nazi symbolism, or political themes offensive, unacceptable and prohibits such designs
  • Denmark – in Denmark, it is forbidden to tattoo the face, head, neck or hands. However, it was believed that the liberal party of this country would impose changes regarding the ban under the pretext that every individual has the right to decide where they want to get tattooed. That was in 2014, and unfortunately the law still hasn’t changed.
  • Turkey – Over the past few years, Turkey has introduced a set of strict laws against tattoos. Tattoos are banned in schools and colleges, as well as throughout the education system, despite their popularity among young people in Turkey. The reason for this ban is the government of the Islamist AK party, which imposes religious and traditional practices and laws.

Things to do to avoid trouble

As an individual, all you can do is educate yourself and obey the laws of other countries. You should be aware of the things that a given country is sensitive to, especially the law of the land, which could land you in serious trouble.

People are banned or expelled from countries because they have an offensive or culturally appropriate tattoo. However, ignorance cannot be a justification because all the necessary information is available on the internet.

So, before getting a tattoo, be sure to thoroughly research the origin of the design, its cultural/traditional significance, and whether it is deemed offensive and disrespectful by any people or country.

However, if you already have a tattoo, be sure to keep it well hidden or check to see if you might get in trouble due to its design or exposure in a certain country.

So, to sum up, here’s what you can do to avoid potential problems;

  • Get educated and find out about tattoo laws and bans in other countries
  • Avoid getting potentially offensive or culturally appropriate tattoos in the first place
  • Keep your tattoos well hidden while in a foreign country where tattoo laws or prohibition exist
  • If you are moving to a certain country, consider laser tattoo removal

Final Thoughts

As ridiculous as it sounds, some countries take tattoos pretty seriously. As travellers, foreigners and tourists in other countries, we are expected to respect the laws and traditions of other countries.

We cannot simply flaunt our potentially offensive and insulting tattoos, or keep them on display when the law strictly prohibits such behavior. So, before embarking on a trip to a foreign country, make sure to educate yourself, inform yourself, and stay respectful.

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