Where are tattoos illegal?

AUGUST, 17, 2023

Are tattoos illegal in some countries?

It’s easy to forget at NAAMA studios that tattoos aren’t, in fact, everywhere.

We see tattoos every single day. They emblazon our walls. We see them on our social media accounts. They come alive and populate our dreams.

But there are places in the world where tattoos are nearly illegal.

As the laser tattoo removal experts we occasionally meet clients who are a little apprehensive about their next trip abroad. They are all too aware that cultural codes and conventions vary across the world, and in some places tattoos are taboo.

This is a rundown of the five places in the world where tattoos are if not illegal, then seriously frowned upon. So before booking your next trip to Asia, Europe, or the Middle East, best get familiar with what the law says about tattoo art in each of these five destinations.

  • Japan

  • South Korea

  • Denmark

  • Iran

  • UAE

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NAAMA studios

"We treat tattoos every single day."

Japan and South Korea

1) Japan

Historically in Japan tattoos were the preserve of criminal organizations, they were a way of distinguishing yourself as part of a shady underground scene.

Consequently they remain edgy symbols to this day, and while not explicitly illegal, there are many public places (hot springs, pools, and gyms) where you will not be permitted to display your beloved body art.

The notorious Yakuza gang ruined that opportunity for you.

Thankfully though, as is the case with tattoo culture all over the world, attitudes are changing and today you will find that tattoos are more acceptable in Japan than ever before.

2) South Korea

There is no law against tattoos in South Korea. The problem for tattoo lovers is that it is only permissible for medical practitioners to tattoo people in South Korea. So fewer tattoo artists and studios to pick from.

As is the case in Japan, there are also public places where tattoos are either prohibited or frowned upon. Bathhouses and some gyms have strict policies on tattoos because of their perceived connection with criminality.

You’ll also notice that tattoos are markedly absent from much of the advertising in South Korea.

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Iran, Denmark, and UAE

3) Iran

In Iran tattooing is seen as unpopular by the mainstream culture.

The Guardian reports that, “the authorities strongly reject [tattoos] as a Western phenomenon harmful to Iranian values.”

As with the aforementioned places, swimming pools will often display signs forbidding tattooed people to enter.

There are underground tattoo artists and young people do still get tattoos, but it is against the prevailing culture and you’d be best advised to keep your tattoos concealed on a visit here.

4) Denmark

Denmark has, since 1966, officially banned artists from giving face tattoos and tattoos on the neck and hands.

Having said that, you will still see people out in the streets of Copenhagen with examples of these tattoos.

It's an anachronistic law that the Danes don't bother to enforce anymore, and many tattoo artists feel it should be updated to reflect modern attitudes.

5) United Arab Emirates

In the UAE tattoos are not particularly popular, especially if they depict religious symbols or imagery. There are regulations in place that restrict who can work as a tattoo artist, and the industry is held to very high health and safety standards.

Any public display of tattoos is probably not the greatest idea, so best to keep tattoos covered up on a trip here.

There are places where tattoos are legal-ish

All of this is a lesson in cultural understanding and sensitivity. It can be easy to assume that the prevalence of tattoos among ourselves is symptomatic of a universal shift towards the acceptance of tattoo art. But there are many different points of view in the world and tattoos mean different things to different people in different places.

We absolutely love tattoo art but we also love world travel. So best tread carefully and respectfully if you want to enjoy both.