9 Local Laws in Jordan: What Travelers Need to Know

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Some of Jordan’s local laws and customs may seem unfamiliar to visitors but it’s important to know about them – and respect them – during your visit.

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Roman temple of Hercules in the Amman Citadel in Jordan Photo © iStock/nailzchap

Jordan may be one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East but as much of Jordanian law is rooted in its Arab heritage Muslim tradition, some of the rules and customs may be unfamiliar to visitors. For a safe and smooth trip read up on Handy Travel Safety Tips in Jordan and familiarize yourself with these nine local laws and customs.

Religion and faith

It may come as no surprise that around 92% of Jordanians are Muslim (93% of them being Sunni Muslim). Consider that while Jordan may be home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world (about 6% of the population is Christian), technically, it's illegal to encourage conversion to the Christian faith and certain sects of Christianity, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, are not even officially recognized as religions.

Also, if you happened to have read somewhere online that attempting to convert a Muslim is illegal in Jordan, well, that’s not really true. The Jordanian constitution and law do not explicitly ban Muslims from converting to another religion, and there are no penalties under civil law for doing so but Muslims who do convert to another religion face societal and governmental discrimination. It’s 100% okay to have conversations with Jordanians about various religions – talk about your own religion, ask questions about theirs, share, learn, and be merry – just don’t get too carried away.

Drugs and controlled substances

Contrary to popular belief, both visitors and locals are allowed to drink alcohol in some Middle Eastern countries and Jordan is one of them. However, while alcohol is, technically, considered a controlled substance in Jordan, fines for public intoxication or drinking outside a bar are far less serious than those for the possession, use, or trafficking of harder drugs.

If you attempt to bring marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or any other drug into the country and they’re discovered, the authorities could be very heavy-handed. Even if marijuana is legal in your home state or country and even if you have a doctor-issued medical marijuana prescription, know that it won’t be valid in Jordan so leave the recreational substances at home.

Driving

It’s quite possible to get around the country by bus, ride share, private taxi, and shared taxi, but if you do plan on renting a car, keep in mind that, in Jordan, the driver is always considered guilty in an accident. A driver who is deemed guilty may have to cough up heavy compensation payments to other drivers and to pedestrians involved. Technically, the driver could also be imprisoned, but this rarely happens.

According to Ayman Abd Alkareem, the General Manager of the adventure travel company, Experience Jordan, Jordanians often say “the driver is always guilty” simply because it’s not easy to prove a pedestrian was at fault while crossing the road. According to Abd Alkareem, drivers are often found not-guilty in Jordan and he believes the phrase became popularized as a way to urge all drivers to drive carefully. Just like in other countries, when it comes to accidents between cars, the outcome can never be perfectly predicted and often depends on how insurance companies handle it.

Sexuality and LGBTQ+ travelers

Like most Muslim countries, homosexuality, the possession of pornographic material (even in the privacy of one’s home), and the consumption of alcohol outside of approved venues is not exactly celebrated in Jordan. And while the Middle East is definitely not leading the way in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, it’s also probably not as conservative as many people assume.

Homosexuality is legal in Jordan and the country even has a small LGBTQ+ movement, but public displays of affection (even between heterosexual couples) is frowned upon.

Jordanians living in large cities like Amman and Aqaba and in well-traveled places, such as Petra and Wadi Rum, are accustomed to seeing and meeting people from all different cultures and backgrounds. LGBTQ+ travelers do not typically have any issues in Jordan but they may draw some stares if they are affectionate in public. This is especially the case in rural areas and smaller villages.

Death sentence

Like many countries, including Singapore and the United States, Jordan also imposes the death penalty in the case of extremely serious offenses. Given that most travelers do not visit Jordan planning to commit treason or terrorism, this very likely will never apply to you but given that many Middle Eastern countries are often wrongly categorized as “extreme,” we wanted to break this down a bit. You will not risk death for wearing shorts, reading Western newspapers, or drinking alcohol in Jordan. That said, when there has been civil unrest in the region, the Jordanian government, like most governments, may be more anxious about foreigners speaking out against the status quo.

Sensitive photos

Taking pictures of government and military buildings in Jordan is forbidden, as it is in many places around the world. Are you sensing a theme here? The Middle East often gets a bad rap when it comes to security and customs but when you think about it, many of their rules also exist all over the world, including in English-speaking countries. If you do try to take a picture of a government building, you could get a stern warning, a fine, or a short imprisonment, depending on the mood of the guards.

Also, though it is technically not illegal, it's considered extremely rude (almost to the point of public indecency) to take a picture of someone without their consent. This is especially true of Bedouin women, who typically never consent to having their photo taken. Under absolutely no circumstances should you ever take a picture of a Bedouin woman without her permission but you may be given permission to photograph the woman’s hands. Come to think of it, it’s rude to take someone’s picture without asking anywhere in the world. If this is news to you, consider reviewing responsible photography tips before your trip.

Luggage searches

When you’re at the airport leaving Jordan, your luggage may undergo more security checks than you’re accustomed to. Not only are security officers typically looking for illegal drugs, but they are also looking to stop thoughtless visitors attempting to escape the country with precious antiquities.

Customs and manners

For the most part, people are understanding and they won’t expect you to understand all the finer points of Jordanian customs and manners, though it will always be much appreciated if you attempt to learn. At a bare minimum, it is essential to respect how people live and worship even if it differs from your own experience, lifestyle, or personal beliefs. 

If you visit places of religious significance, always display the utmost level of respect for whatever rules and customs are in place, regardless of your own political beliefs or religious philosophy. Dress modestly, behave courteously, and follow the lead of locals. The same goes if you visit during the holy month of Ramadan. Even if you do not observe fasting, you may be asked to not eat in front of those who are fasting. Do not be annoyed, do not try to talk your way out of it, and do not try to sneak food when nobody is looking. You are a guest and respecting the host is good manners in any country.

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20 Comments

  • jade said

    my friend and I think this is ridiculous who wants to be slapped on the wrist for taking a photo of a military building.....

    Reply

  • Lashyn said

    This makes Jordan seem way nicer and friendlier than it actually is. XD

    Reply

  • Nina said

    It would not surprise me if that rule about taking pictures of military buildings is an American rule. America plays a giant role in Jordan's military.

    My husband is Jordanian. I have noticed that what you do wrong is never pointed out to you, so you either have to be extremely careful to see people's reactions and ask, or watch as you see fewer and fewer people. They just stop showing up if they are offended in some way.

    Reply

  • Jordanian said

    The US embassy in Jordan is the most strict about taking pictures of it's building! It has signs of "no pictures" spread all around it's premises. So it's not a Jordanian "thing" no. If you take a picture of the US embassy you might as well get shot by one of the guards outside!

    Reply

  • William Clouse said

    I've lived in Jordan for roughly 55 years, and I've never experienced any of this. First of all, Narcotics are like everywhere else, illegal. The death penalty is not something that happens, it's legal, but it doesn't happen, also if you're a foreigner, your respective embassy will take responsibility for you. You can take pictures of people, but just don't be a dick about it, don't take a photo of them in their swim shorts and so on. There are Jews in Jordan, they don't appreciate them, but there are jews. Amman is a beautiful cosmopolitan, while it doesn't have many lavish western entertainments (strip clubs and night clubs), it has its beauties. I wouldn't recommend listening to any of the bullshit that comes out of Mr. Sylvester's mouth, all I can say is that it's a different experience.

    Reply

  • jehad malkawi said

    this is just bullshit, if you go around taking pictures of people in america you'll get the same response this dickhead is making jordan seem like a dictatorship.

    Reply

  • Cara said

    So basically they have strong morals and you couldn't understand it?... I see. Bro please review your articles before publish them and ask people around you "read this, does it look ignorant or poorly written" because this is ignoran and poorly written. You're going to a different country with deep culture embrace it.

    Reply

  • Jordanian said

    I see you very shy on writing this article!
    Most of things you didn't explain very well and actually they are way worse than what you wrote!
    I would like to add one point, most of the Jordanian nationals are greedy and they try to fool any foreigner, taking advantage of us foreigners or try to take money in an indirect way but never directly ask for it! If you say right in their face, they go like : Well I have morals and principles of cheating people like you! WTF

    Reply

  • Kelly said

    In most countries it's not legal to take pictures of military or even government buildings. Laws around drugs, homosexuality & marriage....almost exactly the same as Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Asian Sub-continent, Latin America & Sub-Saharan Africa. Respect for Islam, yes of course, the same is expected when you visit Christian countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Buddhist (checked the laws in Myanmar lately?) & Hindu majority India. Respect the monarchy? Same goes for Thailand - disparaging comments about the royal family could land you in jail. Drugs in Southeast Asia- life in prison or w]execution. This article is misleading and makes it sound like Jordan is unique with such considerations - it is not. Any well travelled person would now this - so whose the audience? If you're not prepared to respect the country you're traveling to - do us all a favour & stay home.

    Reply

  • R said

    And what is the root of these "weird" and "strange" laws? Islam, of course.

    Reply

  • Sanousy Howari said

    Jordan people are very nice people

    If you take special cases in your article its ok, but the general case people there welcome forigners and smile in their faces

    Jews and other religions co-exist in jordan

    Hate speech you will not hear there only if they see local news about Israeli army killing innocents by tons of bombs like in Gaza ( which your local TV will not show the truth about it)

    Life is simple ... cars are old ... people are not so rich and always busy in less paying jobs because it is all what they have ... no luxury shops or clothes ... taxes and prices are relatively high ... gas and fuel prices are higher than USA's

    No weapons in citizens hands there is no need ... police is so powerful to manage situation ... most people are caring about their daily bread they cannot smile all the day because they are running after essential life needs.

    No fruitful trees ... no rivers or plenty of water ... nothings grows by its own as a gift from the sky .. no wild ducks or rabbits or even doves ... hunting is allowed .. but there is nothing to hunt ...

    Sheeps are the only creatures can live in the hard geographic nature and lack of grass .. even wolves and hyenas left to better countries ... roards are old and have a alot of humbs and digs ... speed is at maximum up to 100km in the best situations ... you will see 100s of shops selling the same low quality goods imported from china with labels to look from europe ...

    Its just a place for people who find no other place to live .. thats why you find peoples in war leave their luxurous countries around jordan and refugee there .. hearts are broken no money no life ... but they still can smile and offer a free cup of coffee to forigner visitors and a smile with dark eyes and faces tired of running after daily bread over the years ...

    Reply

  • firyal said

    lemme alter a few things here based off of my own experience living in Jordan.
    i hardly saw anything "weird and strange" about these laws? the country has firmer morals and is more conservative than European culture, i mean obviously tho? and the law about the driving thing has been changed recently, so you should update that. i dont know why as a tourist you would want to get stinking drink in public in jordan anyways, but its fine if you do that at a designated place for it like a club or bar or house party, we got those.
    and the thing with drugs if u wanna do it so much, (again as a tourist i don't know why you'd come here to do that), do it at home if you're you've got one here or at your friend's house if they don't mind, it' not like soldiers are gonna come barging in the second you hit a blunt in your bathroom (unless you're at a hotel obvs).
    it's true public affection is not cool here, sure there's traditional reasons but like we also find it obnoxious and gross anyways (holding hands is fine tho if youre straight). the truth is tho we have plenty of gay people here, i have several friends that are, and i mean they're treated like everyone else bc like... they're people and there's not much difference as long as you don't make out with a dude of your gender in the mall or smthn.
    i can see one of the article's points implying antisemitism here, and i'd like to clarify that. There is a difference between Jews and Zionism that we do in fact differentiate. We do not discriminate against Jews that are unrelated to the Zionist movement, however Zionism is super touchy due to the sensitive situation in neighboring Palestine and Israel. We know sides to the story you'll never hear on Western radios nor would you want to hear (although there are quite a few articles online from BBC and Washington Post etc). Again, unless you're preaching Palestine doesn't exist from the roof of a building or something no one honestly cares tho?? if ya mind your business everyone else does too. Jordanians just like to look. we glance at everything going around us, you'll notice that, but we don't do messed up stuff (except the catcalls on Thursday/weekend nights when fuckboys prowl the streets).

    if there's one thing i do wholly agree on with this article it's the point about the monarchy. lmao people love the royal family here they're a point of national pride, and for those that don't, well, if with a group of people they'll just get totally bashed and told to shut up.

    anywho, that's my take on the whole thing. we're no Switzerland but we're definitely not Egypt either. I guess my final tip is just that if you're Caucasian looking or sounding you will be scammed an extra half dinar or so, it's inevitable, whether by a taxi or a vendor or at a stall at a bizarre. good luck!

    Reply

  • Sharon Dolores said

    I just got back from a month-long trip in the Middle East with Jordan being my second stop. I am a single older woman who travels alone and can't say enough wonderful things about Jordan. I felt safe and was respected everywhere I went. I met wonderful people and found Arab men particularly helpful coming to my aid and offering to help me in Jordan and in Israel. Jordanians are easy going, happy, fun and go out of their way to help Tourist. I have learned much about Islam and have a deep respect for this beautiful culture. I found nothing weird about this beautiful country and wish people in the U.S. were more respectful and open to Islam. I met a gay Jordanian man on my second day and we hung out together for several days, He acted as a guide and helped me tremendously in maneuvering through the city. I did get charged a couple of times too much by taxis drivers but that happens even in many countries in Europe. I am planning on going back again it is my favorite country. I have made many friends in Jordan and am a changed person as a result of the sites, ancient history and personal interactions I had on this trip.

    Reply

  • Kg Shravan said

    These don’t seem like strange ... instead they seem like strong morals.Its like Europians find everything strange if they are not in their favour.

    Reply

  • Alisha Ross said

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog

    Reply

  • Abdullah said

    This isn't the worst i've seen.. i live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has 3x stricter laws... check those out before you get mad at this

    Reply

  • Vicki said

    I'm thinking of going to Jordan to be with a Jordanian man but I don't know the rules and he's also in the army there and a Muslim can someone help me please to understand what I have to do

    Reply

  • Kendra said

    Well I’m disappointed at the comments as some are quite rude. I appreciate the article and the insight. Didn’t seem offensive at all to ME. I guess you just have to really read it and pick up on the entire sentence or paragraph. When you do that you’ll see everything was pretty much offered in a neutral way. That’s what I took from the article. Maybe I’ll reread and see what offensive things I missed.

    Reply

  • Alan said

    Hi,
    I was just wondering where to go for my soon-to-expire free night in the Marriott Bonvoy system, I entered my location here in Jerusalem, and one of the closest hotels that popped up was the Dead Sea Spa....in Jordan...so here I am wondering if it's safe for me to visit Jordan these days (April 2022). It's just an hour from Jerusalem by car, and it looks quite beautiful there, so...any ideas? Is it safe for me? Yes, I can wear a baseball cap or taxi-driver cap and tuck in my tzitzis (ritual fringes) as I did in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey etc, but I will need to wear them under my clothing, and I will need to bring Tefillin (Phylacteries) and Tallis (Prayer Shawl) in my bag, to wear when privately praying in my hotel room. My wife covers her hair with either a wig or headscarf (but headscarves are in Jewish styles). We have both USA and Israeli passports to choose from. Any thoughts? Thanks! :)

    Reply

  • Shmerel said

    Hi,
    2nd attempt at posting a comment.
    If I look Jewish - beard, sidelocks, and all, is it safe for me to travel to Jordan? I can wear a baseball cap or taxi-driver cap and tuck in tzitzis (ritual fringes) like I did in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey etc, but many people still figured out I was Jewish from my looks and/or name. I wear a suit and tie- no jeans and t-shirt. And of course, I'll need to have in my bag my Jewish ritual things (Tefillin and Tallis) to pray with, and would pray only privately in my hotel room. My wife covers hair with wig or Jewish-style snood/scarf/kerchief, so I guess wig is better? (Or pick up a Muslim style head scarf somewhere?)
    We are American and have US passports, and I was thinking to take a taxi from Jerusalem to the Marriott Dead Sea Spa in Sweimeh. It's just an hour away and looks really nice!
    Thanks for your input! :)

    Reply

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