All travellers face risks overseas. As attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) travellers can be very different from those in Australia, these risks can be heightened for LGBTI travellers.
This page provides you with information to help minimise the risks LGBTI travellers face when travelling overseas. It should be read in conjunction with the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and our advice for all travellers.
Be aware of the law
Research the laws, customs and attitudes of your destination with regard to LGBTI issues. The country-specific travel advisories outline some LGBTI risks in the Local laws section and will help you make well-informed decisions. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association contains information on laws affecting LGBTI travellers in countries various countries around the world.
You must obey local laws when overseas, even if you do not agree with those laws and believe they are out of step with Australian laws and values. Local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you and may include fines, deportation, imprisonment or, in a small number of cases, the death penalty.
Local laws affecting LGBTI travellers may be applied in an arbitrary or inconsistent manner:
- in some countries, same-sex relationships might be legal in certain regions, but illegal in others;
- some countries may not expressly prohibit same-sex relationships but may consider them taboo and socially unacceptable;
- some countries may not strictly enforce local laws prohibiting same-sex relationships; and
- some countries may prohibit male same-sex relationships but be silent on female same-sex relationships.
Local laws are often silent on relationships involving trans or intersex people, but travellers should be aware that these relationships may be arbitrarily captured by laws regarding same-sex relationships.
Sex and gender diverse passport holders should be aware that while Australian travel documents are issued in accordance with international standards, those travelling on a passport showing 'X' in the sex field may encounter difficulties when crossing international borders given their infrequent use. The nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate to your destination will be able to provide further information.
Be aware that some countries may have restrictions on free speech, political expression and advocacy on human rights issues. Research your destination, including our travel advice and consider carefully whether there are any restrictions in place that could affect your ability to make statements on social and political issues that could lead to legal consequences.
Consider carefully whether you are comfortable visiting a destination where the local LGBTI community does not enjoy legal protection or may be subject to intolerance or discrimination and assess whether another destination would be more suitable.
Be social safely
- Speak to other LGBTI travellers or the local LGBTI community about the safest locations for social activities.
- Don't drink to excess or take drugs that might make you more vulnerable or impair your decision making.
- Be aware of what you're posting on social media and through smartphone dating apps – you might like to increase your privacy settings while you're travelling.
- Be wary of new found 'friends', particularly those met through online forums or smartphone dating apps, as criminals may seek to exploit you or cause you harm as a result of your sexuality.
- Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger or new friend. Drink-spiking is common around the world.
Avoid unwanted attention
- Recognise that sometimes there are benefits in adopting a low profile, particularly in more conservative countries or rural areas as you may become the focus of unwanted attention due to your sexual identity.
- Ignore unwelcome attention or remarks about sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status and if harassed, maintain your composure and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible by moving to a safe, public location.
- Consider avoiding public displays of affection.
- Dress appropriately. This may involve wearing conservative clothing or for women to cover their head or shoulders in certain locations. Our country-specific travel advisories will usually note countries where conservative dress standards apply, or where women are legally required to wear certain clothing. In some places, consider dressing more like the locals.
Look after your health
- In some countries, supplies of contraceptives - including condoms - can be unreliable or unavailable, so it may be best to purchase in advance.
- When travelling with prescription medications, be sure to leave them in their original packaging and travel with a letter from your doctor authorising their use.
- Be aware that the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is much higher in some countries than in Australia.
- If you are travelling alone and become ill, get to a health facility quickly, as your capacity to do so may diminish with time.
- You can find more information about staying healthy overseas on our health pages.
Other areas of the Smartraveller website provide information for specific issues that may affect LGBTI travellers, including:
Final tips before you go
- Read the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and subscribe to receive a free email notification each time the advisories are updated.
- Many guidebooks and online forums cover issues for LGBTI travellers in great detail, including the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
- Before any trip, you should register your contact details and travel plans with Smartraveller so that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can contact you in case of a serious emergency.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home, and plan to keep in regular contact.
- Remember that careful planning before you leave is essential to help you choose a destination where you'll feel safe and comfortable, and be prepared for any issues you might face.