The Countries Most Likely to Lock You Up

Travelling or living abroad brings lots of new experiences, with new locations to explore, food to try, and things to do. But in a new country there will also always be local customs, traditions and laws that foreigners will need to learn and follow. Failure to do so could result in fines or even imprisonment and some countries may be more likely to lock up foreigners than others.

Recent data has revealed the countries with the highest proportion of foreign prisoners. We look into these countries and delve into why they might have such a high number of foreign inmates in their prisons.


Monaco has the largest percentage of foreign prisoners, with 92.3% of the prison population made up of foreign inmates. There are a few reasons why this percentage is so large.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world and foreign residents make up around 75% of the total population – 38,000 foreigners compared to 9,000 Monegasque nationals. The percentage of foreign prisoners could also be attributed to the fact that many Monaco citizens will serve their long prison sentences in French prisons, rather than in Monaco itself.

In addition to this, Monaco is known to have a large and powerful police force. It’s the largest police force in the world on both per-capita and per-area basis, working out to around 1 officer per 70 people. Combine this with the local law that states that people can be arrested for walking around bare-chested, barefoot, or in a swimsuit (when not on the beach or in a bathing area) and this could also contribute to the large foreign prison population.


The UAE has the second-largest percentage of foreign prisoners, with 87.8% of the total prison population being foreign. The UAE is known for having strict laws and rules that differ from those Western tourists may be used to. This could account for the large number of foreign prisoners in the UAE.

The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and drug-related offenses. There are severe penalties for trafficking, smuggling, and possession of drugs – having drugs in your system counts as possession in the UAE. Possession of even a small amount of drugs can result in a three-month prison term, plus a fine. There are also strict rules around alcohol. It is not permitted to drink or be drunk in public, although it’s possible to consume alcohol in some licensed venues like hotels and restaurants.

There are also strict laws around modesty and behaviour in the UAE. Swearing and other offensive behaviour can lead to jail time, as can swearing and being rude online, such as on social media. People can also be arrested for public displays of affection like kissing. Same-sex relationships are illegal, as is any unmarried couple living together or sharing a hotel room. Cross-dressing is also illegal and can lead to jail time.

There are many more strict laws in the UAE that many foreigners would be naïve to, which could result in jail time. It’s important for expats and tourists to ensure they’re properly informed of the rules and regulations in the UAE to ensure they can respect the local laws.


Liechtenstein has the third largest proportion of foreign prisoners, at 83.3%. The reason for this could, like Monaco, be related to the fact that Liechtenstein is a small country with a large foreign population. The country has around 38,557 people and around 44% are foreigners. In addition to this, only short sentences are served in the country – sentences over two years are transferred to Austria, which could account for the higher number of foreign and tourist prisoners who may be serving shorter sentences for smaller offenses.

Many of the crimes that affect Liechtenstein are international in nature and are related to financial and/or drug crimes. Liechtenstein also sees a high number of border crossings, being a landlocked country in the heart of Europe between Austria and Switzerland.


Luxembourg has a prison population that consists of 73.7% foreign inmates. It’s unclear why Luxembourg has such a high proportion of foreign prisoners. With a total population of around 626,108, 47% are foreigners, so the prison population is not reflective of the total population.

Crime is generally low in Luxembourg and there are few laws that tourists and expats would not already be familiar with. The most common types of crime in Luxembourg are non-violent, such as theft and burglary.


Qatar’s total prison population is 73.3% foreign inmates. Foreigners make up the majority of the total population in Qatar, with only 11.6% being Qatari nationals. Plus, as an Islamic country, there are strict laws in place that Western tourists and expats may not be used to. This could account for the larger proportion of foreigners in Qatari prisoners.

Like the UAE, there is a zero-tolerance policy for drug-related offenses, including jail time for using, possession, trafficking and smuggling. Being drunk in public could also result in jail time, with sentences going up to six months depending on the severity of the offense. People can also be arrested for swearing and offensive behaviour. Living together and having sex whilst unmarried is illegal, as are homosexual relationships. Financial crimes such as not paying your bills or bouncing cheques can also lead to jail time.


Macau’s prison population is 70.7% foreign inmates. This large proportion could be accounted for due to the fact that 60% of the population was born outside of Macau.

Macau has some strict laws which foreigners may not be accustomed to. These include strict rules around using and carrying drugs, which can lead to jail time. There are also strict laws around importing and possessing weapons or items that resemble weapons, including fashion accessories. It’s illegal to photograph military sites and also to join a public protest that is taking place without government approval.


Switzerland’s prison population consists of 70.1% foreigners. Only around 26% of the total population is foreign and it is unclear why there is such a large proportion of foreign prison inmates in the country.

In Switzerland, crime is mostly combatted and managed via cantonal police forces, with each of the 26 canons in Switzerland having its own police agency. Switzerland is generally seen as a safe country, with a low rate of violent crime. Most crime in Switzerland is related to theft and criminal damage, with pickpocketing being especially rife in tourist areas. 

The Gambia

In The Gambia, 66.7% of the prison population are foreigners. This is contrasted with just 9.4% of the total population being foreign. The Gambia is an Islamic country, so, like the other Islamic countries on this list, the high foreign prison population could be related to strict laws that western tourists and expats aren’t familiar with.

These laws include zero tolerance toward drugs. There have been cases of foreigners carrying a minimal amount of cannabis being sentenced to ten years in prison. Causing a public nuisance can result in five years in jail. Homosexuality is illegal and can lead to 14 years imprisonment, or even a life sentence for “serial offenders”.

Researching the laws of a country and ensuring you’re properly informed of the local customs can help to keep you out of prison. To further protect your health and safety when travelling, you should make sure you have proper travel health insurance or international medical insurance. Expatriate Group is an expert in international healthcare, giving our customers the confidence to embrace life abroad by providing the safety and security they need.

Related News