Tattoo Laws Worldwide

Tattoo Laws Worldwide: Part I — Asia

Already in the 4th century, fishermen along the coast in what is today known as South Korea would get tattoos that were thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Then, as it was in many other places in the world, tattoos were used as a means to brand prisoners, and became associated with crime and vagrancy. Today (albeit still frowned upon by the older generation) a great number of young South Koreans are openly sporting various styles of ink as a form of self expression and creativity. Korean artists have followings numbering several hundred thousand on Instagram and their styles are creating trends all over the world, mostly recognisable by its miniaturised and intricate trademarks. But they are doing so while effectively hiding from the law. Having a tattoo on your skin is not illegal in and of itself. However, getting one, if not performed by a licensed medical professional, is. And so is being a tattoo artist. Unless you are a doctor. In which case you are most likely working in the lucrative plastic surgery industry — South Korea has the highest rate of such operations of any country in the world. But modifying the surface of your body is still highly regulated.

Tattoo Laws
Tattoo Laws

On the other half of the Korean Peninsula it is also illegal to give or receive a tattoo unless it is made by a medically trained and licensed practitioner. Having a tattoo is not illegal per se — as long as it is dedicated to the country’s leading family, the Kims, or has some otherwise previously approved political purpose glorifying them or the North Korean nation. If you are a traveller displaying tattoos other than these (and chances are if you have them, they would not be of Kim Jong-Un on a white horse, but you never know) you could face deportation or even be sentenced to hard labour in a camp.

While there is no legislation banning any kind of tattoo in Thailand, nor in Sri Lanka, both of these countries take severe offence at body art with Buddha motives, as this is considered highly disrespectful to the religion. The Thai government officially states them to be culturally inappropriate. Particularly imagery from below the waste and down, as the feet are seen as the most unclean place of the body, will get you into trouble. Sri Lanka is even more strict with this rule and has even arrested tourists who have publicly displayed Buddhas on their arms.

The Sak Yant tattoos to be continued …


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