In the United States, it’s easy to take for granted a certain amount of freedom. We can travel freely from state to state, and — by and large — each of us is in control of our own destiny (socioeconomic or intellectual limitations notwithstanding). That’s not the case for several places throughout the world. And while that information may not be particularly revelatory, the extent to which some countries go to crack down on perceived bad behavior for both residents and visitors is pretty amazing. From Singapore to Iran, here are the world’s strictest countries.
Visitors to Cuba are usually treated very well. In fact, most tourists get easy access to amenities we take for granted (like the internet). For those people who live in the communist nation, however, things are different. Incoming and outgoing news is strictly controlled, for example, and those who are critical of the government are jailed. With the ease on travel restrictions, it’s hoped that the country will gravitate to a more liberal position, but at the moment, living there isn’t exactly a treat.
Another communist nation with a real jones for controlling the flow of information, China runs a very tight ship for its citizens. Like Cuba, most tourists are allowed a little bit of leeway, but it’s a tough row to hoe if you live there. The biggest hardship is the government’s harsh control over the flow of information into and out of the country. Hollywood films aren’t even regularly allowed in China unless they pass a rigorous screening process — even then there’s a strict limit on the foreign films that can be shown in the country.
The concept of religious freedom is nonexistent in Eritrea, an African country located in the region of the Horn of Africa. Though the country represents a mix of both Christianity and Islam, sects like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are actively forbidden from worshipping openly. The regime also eagerly controls the media and censors most information from the outside world.
Most Americans would get completely shut down if they tried to enter Syria legally. Of course, that’s because the government has bigger fish to fry. These days, you could probably enter Syria illegally with little to no trouble, because the country is in the midst of a years long effort to oust entrenched jerk (and Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad. As a result of the combat, those people struggling to live a normal life in Syria must endure a statewide communication blackout that’s essentially stopped the influx of information.
Iran is still ruled by Sharia Law, a religious tradition that’s especially tough on women. Along with the obligatory prohibitions on speaking out against the government, Sharia Law enforces a whole lot of social crimes with some pretty brutal punishments. Those found guilty of adultery are publicly stoned (women get buried up to their neck first). Men and women’s hair styles are strictly enforced. Women must cover their heads in public, and must adhere to strict dress codes. Most “Western” music and movies are strictly prohibited, as are social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube. For those people trying to gain access to the country, it’s best just to give it up now.
The current American President may have no problem buddying up to the folks who run Russia, but the country still has a reputation for old school oppression. Vladimir Putin has overseen a crackdown on the LGBT community that’s positively draconic. He’s also ransacked the offices of supposed detractors. What’s more, Putin’s political opponents have a weird way of getting shot in the street or disappearing. It’s nuts. If you’re an American hoping to visit Russia, you could experience some issues. Not only do most people need to be explicitly invited, but there’s also an obligatory form that asks entrants to fill out their personal information along the lines of where you went to high school, the last three places you’ve worked, your parents names, etc.
4. Saudi Arabia
In spite of the fact that the United States counts Saudi Arabia as one of its allies in the Middle East, the country’s inner workings are as different as night and day. Its social rules — even for visitors — are strict. Women aren’t allowed to drive, or spend time with a man to whom they are not related. Anyone daring to speak out against the government or its policies faces excoriation and potential job loss. While business travel into the country is increasingly relaxed, it’s still extremely difficult to get into the country on a tourist visa.
3. Equatorial Guinea
The dictator in Equatorial Guinea only approves state-run programming. There’s one newspaper. Citizens are actively discouraged from reading. Of course, thats not a big deal for most Americans, because most people actively petitioning for entry into Africa’s only Spanish speaking country have their visas denied immediately. In fact, to even visit Guinea, you have to go to Lisbon in Portugal, because there’s not an embassy in the US or the United Kingdom.
2. North Korea
The North Koreans make no attempt to hide their suspicion of visitors. Provided you’re not from South Korea or the United States, you can visit, but you’ll be followed by a constant chaperone, called a “minder” whose sole purpose is to make sure tourists don’t break the rules. Locals, meanwhile, are diligently policed to ensure that they’re not doing crazy things like loitering in a park. In North Korea, citizens have to have an express purpose for being on the street and walking around. “I felt like it,” doesn’t work as an excuse in Pyongyang.
Singapore may have an international reputation for prosperity and safety, but that success comes at a cost. The city is extremely strict for both travelers and residents. Want to behave badly? You better have lots of money or thick skin, because Singaporean authorities will issue fines or corporal punishment for anything from smoking in public to wearing the wrong clothes when you’re traveling. People can’t even spit in public.