A Quick Guide to Local Laws and Customs in Jordan

Whether you’re a solo traveler or a couple, here’s what you need to know about public displays of affection and how to behave as an unmarried couple.


Photo © iStock/Joel Carillet

Perhaps you'd like to take your partner to see the ancient city of Petra, or the ruins of Crusader forts. But, before you indulge in a passionate fling in a desert tent, there are some local rules, laws, and customs to be across.

Desert Delight

From the bittersweet taste of cardamom, to richly-scented pipes and perfumes, from the bustle of the market to the silence of the desert, the sensuality and rich variety provided by Jordan – and indeed the entire Middle East – is incredibly sexy to many. Add this to the famed passion for life enjoyed by many Jordanians and it would seem like the perfect place for a romantic vacation.

However, don't be fooled by how the place sounds, looks, or feels. Laws regarding sexuality and relationships are incredibly conservative by Western standards, and travelers have landed in serious trouble for flaunting them.

While the country is rapidly reforming its economy and international standing in the world, Jordan is still very culturally conservative. You will be welcomed as long as you don't behave in a way that would make locals embarrassed about your liberal Western ideas about sex, love, and relationships.

Tips for Singles

There are only two rules you have to remember if you're single and traveling in Jordan.

1) In Jordan, sleeping with any unmarried member of the opposite sex is considered adultery.

2) In Jordan, adultery is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Most vacations tend to last between a week and a month. After three years in a cell, you'll probably start to miss home just a little bit. So remember that when passion seems to be taking hold, and you'll find you sober up real quick.

These rules apply whether or not you or your partner are Jordanian citizens. If you're going to nightclubs in Amman and you meet a cute Western traveler, you should seriously consider keeping your budding romance in the friend zone until you get out of the country. There are plenty of exciting things to do in Jordan that don't involve twisting the sheets.

If sexual relations are urgent, you should maintain lodgings at a Western-style hotel rather than a locally-run place, and you should make sure to close the door, shut the windows, and keep it quiet so you don't disturb anyone else. Be smart about it.

Furthermore, even public displays of affection such as holding hands, caressing or kissing in public are frowned upon. If they're construed as being overtly sexual in any way, you could be charged with public indecency or worse – so keep your body parts to yourself!

By no means does this mean you can't become friends with members of the opposite sex. Jordan is very pro-Western in many respects: women are not required to wear the veil and they enjoy many of the same freedoms that men do, especially compared to the rest of the Middle East. Western clothing is the norm, especially in the cities, as is the Western concept of having personal and professional friends of both genders.

Nevertheless, if you are caught getting too close to a member of the opposite sex in Jordan, you may be charged with adultery – especially outside of the cities.

Finally, because Jordan isn't the sexual Mecca of the world, it's doubtful you'll have an easy time finding condoms or other forms of protection, making it difficult for singles to engage in quick, safe, romance.

Tips for Same-Sex Couples

First, if you're a couple but not married – even if you're both not citizens of Jordan – having sexual relations is against the law.

Some hotel proprietors will be quite forward and ask if you're married. They may even ask to see a marriage certificate, though this is quite rare unless one of you is a Jordanian citizen. The best way to go, is to say that you are married to your significant other – that way hotel owners will allow you to share a room.

If you are a married couple, but you like to engage in the whole touchy-feely thing, it is advisable to keep it to a minimum as you travel through Jordan. As mentioned, it's dubiously legal to fondle another person in public, even if that person happens to be your husband or wife.

Tips for Homosexual Couples

As a Muslim nation, homosexuality is frowned upon at best, and criminalized at worst.

If you are caught engaging in sexual activity with a member of the same gender, even if you are legally married in your home country, it will be considered adultery. Public displays of affection between members of the same gender are also frowned upon.

It's sometimes hard to believe, but Jordan is one of the most progressive Middle Eastern countries in this area. Homosexual couples traveling in Jordan will be okay, as long as they simply act like good friends while in public, and make sure to stay in Western style hotels.

Final Thoughts

Whether or not you're in a relationship or if you're just holding out the possibility that something might come up on your trip to Jordan, it's important to be aware that you can't just behave the same way you might behave at home. The results of this hubris may lead to a prison sentence or worse, depending on where you are and who catches you. There's so much to see in Jordan that there's little reason to risk your good vacation on the consequences of a romantic fling.

Whether you're a Western man or a Western woman, keep it friendly – but not too friendly – and your trip to Jordan will be sure to go smoothly.

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