Sasquatches, rodeo clowns and paying your taxes – things you want to know before making a move
Before you decide which country you intend to move to and set up shop, it is a good use of your time to get a handle on the types of laws that exist and whether they are going to conducive to the kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Many countries have unusual laws that can be ignored. Other laws are so archaic that they are most likely never enforced. However, there are some laws you definitely need to be aware of. Let’s explore some of each variety below.
Examples of laws that are outdated:
- It is illegal in Massachusetts to have sex with a rodeo clown in the presence of horses
- In London, it is illegal to flag down a taxi if you have the plague
- In British Columbia, it is illegal to kill Sasquatch
- It is illegal to die in the British Houses of Parliament
- In France, it is forbidden to call a pig Napoleon.
- In New York, the penalty for jumping off a building is death.
- In England it is illegal for a male to urinate in public. It is allowed only if the person aims for the rear wheel of his motor vehicle and his right hand is on the vehicle at all the time.
- In California it is illegal to set a mouse trap without a hunting license.
Laws that probably aren’t enforced (although I am happy for someone to prove me wrong!):
- It’s illegal for anyone in Thailand to leave your house if you’re not wearing underwear, and to drive a car in Thailand if you’re not wearing a shirt.
- Any woman in Swaziland who wears pants faces a possible punishment of having the pants ripped off her and torn to pieces by soldiers.
- In Samoa, it is illegal to ignore your wife’s birthday
Laws you shouldn’t ignore:
- In the Maldives, public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and it’s an offense to import bibles into the country.
- In Bhutan, smoking is illegal and brings a 3-5 year jail term
- In Cuba, the crime of peligrosidad (dangerousness) allows you to be sentenced to up to four years in prison because the authorities believe you have a “special proclivity” to commit crimes, even before/without committing them.
- Dubai has handed out 30 days of jail time to couples who peck each other on the cheek as well as to those who kiss in public
- There is a strictly enforced ban on chewing gum in Singapore. Not only are you not allowed to import gum, spitting that gum out in the street will result in a $500 fine.
Out-of-date or unusual laws clearly exist in every country, but apart from the well publicized (and often more humorous) ones, there is another set of laws that is far more boring, receives far less attention, but is a lot more important to what you want to do – setting up and running a business. These regulations are things you should pay very close attention to, as they can make the difference between a good and bad business experience. For these laws, a little bit of research goes a long way.
For example, the complexity of tax law in some countries can make tax filings almost a full-time job. Panama’s tax system is supposedly so all-consuming that a 2013 report suggested it would take 417 hours to properly report taxes. Assuming you work a 8 hour day, this is equivalent to 52 days of tax work, or slightly over 10 weeks assuming you take weekends off!! Holy moly. Better cut back on some of that time at the beach! Although with Panama’s extremely low tax rates, maybe you can afford a house closer to the beach…
Laying off staff can be an unfortunate necessity in business – especially if you have hired the wrong person for the job. However, labour laws make this particularly hard in many countries. In The Gambia for example, you are obliged to provide 26 weeks notice that you intend to lay an employee off if they have been with you for over a year. There are 34 countries that require government approval for any redundancies you want to make.
Sometimes, it is not only hard to lay employees off, but incredibly expensive. In the Central African Republic and Indonesia, you have to provide 17.3 weeks of redundancy pay to an employee who has been with you for at least 1 year. This increases to 144 weeks pay (!!!!) for an employee who has been with you for 10 years in Sierra Leone.
Even day-to-day stuff can be a challenge if you don’t do your homework. You’d think that once you agree on a salary, you know how much your employees are going to cost. Not so in Costa Rica where, you are required to pay double salaries to staff in December. A similar thing happens in Ethiopia, which has a 13 month calendar year (it is also currently 2006 AD in Ethiopia).
Government laws can make even seemingly simple things quite complicated. For example, if you want to connect your new business to electricity in Bangladesh, it can take 404 days to make that happen.
So before you choose one country over another, just make sure you feel confident you can do business there. It would be an awful shame to be living in paradise yet unable to enjoy it because of the business issues you are facing.
Share some of the crazy laws you have had to deal with below. Have you been totally blindsided by laws you were sure weren’t real? What about laws that came out of nowhere or challenges in dealing with the government on stuff that really should have been simple.
Photos: Peachland Joe, Discola, Yulia Volodina