This is a list of shocking tattoo laws in countries that limit or ban tattoos.
South Korea passed tattoo laws outlawing tattooing unless you're a licensed doctor. Several countries pass various tattoo laws to "protect" citizens from "health hazards" based on actual but rare stories of tattoos ending negatively. Often laws are promoted by members in the medical or tattoo field who want to elbow competition out of the industry and sponsor the laws under the guise of wanting to make tattoos & piercings "safer." While tattoos must be safe, many tattoo laws are extreme considering people have successfully tattooed by rivers and huts for centuries with unsterilized tools for centuries before we built hospitals.
Meanwhile, in socialist North Korea, North Korean tattoos are regulated by their content. The North Korean Communist Party (WPK) regulates the meaning and ideology of Korean tattoos and ban tattoos that are religious. For example, the word "Love" was a banned tattoo quote until recently, but "Guard the Great Leader to our death" and "Defense of the Motherland" were popular approved Korean tattoos. The word "Love" was recently allowed when leaders decided it could mean love for North Korea or Communism.
Getting new tattoos in Iran just became illegal. Islamic Republic of Iran officials announced last month tattooing is a health risk, is forbade by the Quran, and is the practice of "thugs." In the past, it wasn't illegal, but Iranian authorities used Islamic law to denounce it. People with illegal tattoos have been known to get arrested by religious police and fined for showing tattoos. When they are arrested, for breaking tattoo laws, criminals are paraded in public, a common practice in Iran. In court, defendant's tattoos have been submitted as “proof” of guilt. Also, visitors to Iran must keep Christian, Jewish, and specific political illegal tattoos covered or risk refusal of entry or jail.
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Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Turkey’s top religious body) has reportedly issued a fatwa urging tattooed Muslims to repent and have tattoos surgically removed. Turkish government issued a similar decree last year banning makeup, tattoos and piercings for students. In its latest fatwa, the Diyanet reasserted tattoos are not allowed by the Prophet Muhammad. Fatwas and laws that ban tattoos are common in Islamic countries. However, this is unique because Turkey is arguably the most Westernized Islamic country. They're so Westernized, the European Union considered allowing Turkey to join. While Germany and France succumbed to pressure from Islamic leaders demanding women wear Burkas in public, Turkey banned Hijabs in schools. However, like many Islamic countries, Turkey has periodically banned components of Western culture. This includes YouTube, Twitter, Minecraft, and some cosmetics. So, as of 2015, tattoo laws add ink to the list.
In Japan, Japanese tattoos were made illegal, during the Meiji period in 1872, but currently Japan doesn't ban tattoos or tattoo content. However, Japanese stores have forbidden tattoos on customers on a wider scale than any other country that doesn't have tattoo laws. In America, in 2015, a sprinkling of convenience stores, bars, and night clubs started prohibiting customers with visible tattoos. In Japan, public swimming pools, bath houses, gyms, hotels, resorts, bars, restaurants, and some retail stores ban tattoos that are visible on customers. This self-imposed Japan tattoo ban by businesses is a rare but shocking surprise to tourists. See a list of Japanese hotels, pools and bathhouses that allow tattoos here.
UAE - United Arab Emirates
Tattoo laws in Dubai make tattooing illegal and visible tattoos usually have to be covered in public. UAE Islamic dress code policy will not penalize foreigners for getting tattooed. However, The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment considers it a form of self-injury and thus it is forbidden unless performed by licensed physicians. Also, tourists can be banned for life if their tattoo is offensive under UAE federal law. (Side Note: When our STAPAW crew visited UAE the blatant visible human trafficking was so repulsive it ranks as one of our worst international experiences.)
Thailand has forbidden tattoos of Buddha's head for tourists and citizens. The tattoo laws were passed in 2011 when the Thai Culture Minister felt tattoos of Buddha's head were disrespectful. However, in a country where human trafficking, child prostitution, and heroin is rampant, tattoos laws are sporadically enforced.
List of countries where tattoos are not allowed or limited:
China (Right wing and most religious tattoos)
Cuba (Right wing and most religious tattoos)
North Korea (All tattoos must be approved by the Communist Party)
Malaysia (Forbids Quran quotes, Allah, & Prophet Muhammad Tattoos)
Saudi Arabia (Islamic Sharia Law determines illegal tattoos)
Yemen (Tattoos are subject to Islamic Sharia Law)
Afghanistan (Ban tattoos that violate Islamic Sharia Law)
Pakistan (Bans Quran quotes, Allah, & Prophet Muhammad Tattoos)
Iran (Bans tattooing)
UAE (Bans tattooing by tattoo artists)
Germany (Ban tattoos with Fascist or right wing themes)
France (Ban tattoos with Fascist political themes)
Thailand (Tattoos of Buddha's Head)
Sri Lanka (Tattoos of Buddha)
South Korea (Tattoo laws ban tattooing by tattoo artists)
*This list isn't comprehensive*
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