WARNINGS AND TRAVEL TIPS FOR BRUNEI
Warnings and Tips: 1) Don't photograph anything that can be construed as a military target. 2) Ask for permission before photographing people and some objects, especially with minorities and their village shrines. 3) Treat things related to religion and the royal family with respect. 4) Register with your consulate when you arrive and memorize their phone number. 6) Bring sunblock, condoms, tampons, razor blades, extra glasses or contact lenses, sanitary napkins, prescription drugs and a flashlight for your own use.
7) Drivers involved in automobile accidents sometimes end up jail. 8) Be careful about buying anything that might be construed as an antique or a treasure. Removal of antiquities from the country is serious crime. Tourists have landed in jail for this. Keep receipts of anything for anything questionable so you can offer them as proof that items are souvenirs not treasures. 9) It goes without saying that one should not sunbathe in the parks, have picnic on museums steps, or wear shorts and chew gum in museums. 10) Trekking: Police advise individuals against hiking alone in the forest, including at well-known recreation areas. It’s easy to get lost when visiting the rainforest. Use recognised and well-known guides, and stay on the footpaths.
Heavy rain in February 2018 caused flooding, landslides, and road closures. In June 2018, Brunei also experienced heavy rain resulting in landsides and flash floods. The Tutong River crested, causing substantial property damage in low-lying areas. Such environmental hazards typically arise during the monsoon seasons from October – February and May – June of each year. Brunei’s beaches are notorious for strong rip tides, which cause drowning deaths nearly every year.
The tourism industry is generally regulated and rules with regard to best practices and safety inspections are regularly enforced. Hazardous areas/activities are identified with appropriate signage and professional staff is typically on hand in support of organized activities. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is widely available throughout the country. In remote areas, it may take more time for first responders and medical professionals to respond, stabilize a patient, and provide life-saving assistance. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Handicapped Travelers: 1) Wheelchair ramps may not be available on all sidewalks, which often have very deep and wide gutters that may not be covered. 2) Buildings may not always have wheelchair-accessible doorways or elevators. 3) Crosswalks, elevators, and buildings do not generally have signage or warnings for the visually or hearing impaired. 4) There is no specific law governing accessibility.
Measurements and Dates: Brunei, like most countries in the world, uses the metric system to measure distances and quantities and the centigrade system to measure temperature. Clothing and shoe sizes are different from American sizes. But often Brunei uses the 24 hour clock (i.e 20:00 instead of 8:00pm) instead of the am and pm. system. They also write their dates different, with the year preceding the month and day. April 23, 1999 is 23/4/99 not 99/4/23 as Americans write it.
Travel Advisories and Advise: U.S. State Department Advisories: Tel: Emergencies Abroad: From the U.S. & Canada - 1-888-407-4747; From Overseas - +1 202-501-4444; Report a Lost or Stolen Passport: From the U.S. & Canada 1-888-407-4747; From Overseas +1 202-501-4444. website travel.state.gov ;
British travel warnings: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice ; Canadian travel warnings and advise: travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories ; . Australian travel warnings: dfat.gov.au/travel ; Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Travel Forum lonelyplanet.com/thorntree ; CNN Travel: edition.cnn.com/travel International SOS internationalsos.com ) Robert Young Pelton’s Dangerous Places comebackalive.com ;
Also See Health, Money Hotels, Air Travel, Driving, Alcohol.
Crime in Brunei
Brunei has a relatively low crime rate (partly because the punishments are so harsh) and Bruneians are generally a very law-abiding people. Violent crime almost never occurs and petty crime is rare but occurs from time to time. There is minimal risk from crime in Bandar Seri Begawan. Crimes against expatriates are uncommon. Most crimes are non-violent crimes of opportunity such as petty theft, residential burglary, and vehicle theft. Violent crimes are rare, but they do occur..
Credit card fraud is not rampant, but remains a risk on par with any major international city. If using an ATM, travelers are encouraged to search for an indoor area with controlled entry. Travelers should routinely monitor credit card and bank statements for any fraudulent transactions. [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
Firearms, alcohol, prostitution, drugs, and gambling are illegal. The importation of firearms, including parts or components, is strictly prohibited, and the illegal possession of firearms or explosives carries severe penalties. Harsh penalties can result from engaging in the solicitation of prostitutes. Police continue to target prostitution by foreign workers, and actively investigate reports of illegal gambling in the country.
Most crimes that occur in Brunei are non-violent crimes of opportunity, including residential burglaries and vehicle break-ins. Crime in Brunei peaks in July and December, due to the holidays and schools being out of session. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Precautions Against Crime
If possible keep valuables (money, passport and credit cards) in a hotel safe. Some hotels charge a fee to use their safes. Also make copies of all your documents (passport, Brunei passport stamp or visa, tickets, tour vouchers), credit cards and travelers checks receipts. Keep one set with you in a different place from your originals and another set at home.
It is a good idea to have 1) a money belt or neck pouch, and 2) buttoned pockets and 3) to distribute you money and valuables among them. Visitors are advised not to carry cash in their pockets and never count money in public. It also is a good idea to keep small bills in your pocket so you don't have to pull a big wad of cash, thus displaying your wealth, to make a small purchase.
While in Brunei, you can generally avoid becoming a victim of a crime of opportunity by practicing good security awareness. For example, secure your valuables (remove them from plain view), avoid secluded locations, properly secure your residence and vehicle, and do not travel alone late at night. It also unwise to wear flashy clothes or jewelry. Also, try to blend into the crowd and not look too much like a naive tourist. Don't carry a purse, wear a fanny pack or keep your wallet in your back pocket. Fanny packs and backpacks are vulnerable to razor attacks.
Be particularly careful at night because the streets aren't lit very well. Avoid unlit areas and underground passages. Watch your bags and cameras. It is not a bad idea to have a piece of wire running through the shoulder straps of your bags. If you sit at an outdoor café and have a bag it is a good idea to fasten your bag to chair somehow.
Victims of Crime in Brunei
U.S. citizen victims of sexual assault should first contact the U.S. Embassy. Report crimes to the local police at 993 and contact the U.S. Embassy at (673) 238-4616 ext. 2100 Monday – Friday from 7:45am. to 4:30pm., or (673) 873-0691 (24 hours). Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime. See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
The U.S. Embassy can:
1) help you find appropriate medical care
2) assist you in reporting a crime to the police
3) contact relatives or friends with your written consent
4) explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
5) provide a list of local attorneys
6) provide our information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.
7) provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
8) help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
9) replace a stolen or lost passport
10) Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the Embassy for assistance.
Police Response and What to Do if Arrested in Brunei
The two main civil law enforcement agencies are the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) and the Brunei Internal Security Department (BISD). The RBPF is a uniformed force comparable to any big-city police department. Officers are generally professional and courteous. Response times vary, and delays up to 30 minutes can be expected. Most officers speak English, but some, especially from the reserve units, have limited English ability. The BISD is similar to the FBI, with a broader mandate regarding national security concerns (e.g., terrorism, organized crime, smuggling, and internal threats). [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
The U.S. government strongly urge travelers to carry a copy of their passport on their person, as police will typically ask for identification for all parties involved in any type of incident. In the event of police detention, U.S. citizens should request that authorities contact the U.S. Embassy. The 24-hour number of the Embassy is +673-238-4616 x 2162 and the Duty Officer can be reached at +673-873-0691. The Embassy Local Guard Force operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and guard supervisors speak English.
Arrest Notification: 1) If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. 2) See our webpage on arrests and detentions for further information. 3) The Royal Brunei Police Force is generally professional and courteous. Most officers speak English but some, especially from the reserve units, have limited-to-no English speaking capability. 4) You should carry a copy of your passport with you as you will need to produce proof of your identity should an incident occur.
Dual Nationality: Brunei does not recognize or permit dual nationality. Brunei nationals are expected to enter and exit the country on their Brunei passports. Should Brunei authorities learn that a person is a dual national, they may require immediate renunciation of the citizenship of either the other nation or Brunei. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Terrorism and Civil Unrest Threat in Brunei
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Bandar Seri Begawan. There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations in Brunei, and the country is not a known base of support or sympathy for transnational terrorists. Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Brunei, attacks can’t be ruled out. Due to its close proximity to Indonesia and the southern Philippines, Brunei faces the same threat of transnational terrorism as other countries in the region; however, Brunei has not experienced any terrorism-related incidents, and the government remains proactive in countering potential threats. [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Bandar Seri Begawan. Demonstrations or large public gatherings are unlikely in Brunei. Demonstrations are prohibited without prior government approval, which is strictly controlled. There have been no recorded demonstrations or protests in the past decade, and none are anticipated in the near future. Keep yourself informed through the local media.
U.S. citizens in Brunei should be vigilant with regard to their personal security, maintain a low profile, vary times and routes during their daily routines, and report any suspicious activity to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy. Noting several past anti-Western terrorist bombings in Indonesia, the Department of State continues to be concerned that terrorist groups, such as those claiming affiliation with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the region. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Local Laws and Special Circumstances in Brunei
Local laws reflect the fact that Brunei is an Islamic country. You should dress modestly and respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, or if you intend to visit religious buildings. His Majesty The Sultan and other members of the Bruneian Royal Family are highly revered and public criticism of them would cause great offence.
Islam is the official religion of the country and is intimately woven into the culture and life-style of Brunei Malays. Muslims take their religious beliefs and duties very seriously and expect non-Muslims to respect these beliefs. There is a government department of religious affairs to check on and prosecute breaches of Islamic conduct, and there have been a few occasions when expatriates too have been liable to prosecution in the Islamic Courts. Propagation of other religions is a serious offence and could result in deportation. [Source: gov.uk United Kingdom government, Foreign travel advice, 2019]
Local laws and penalties apply to visitors. Many crimes carry severe penalties, including jail, fines, or, in the case of foreigners, deportation; corporal punishment (“caning”) is prescribed for many crimes, ranging from vandalism to rape. Penalties for drug offenses and violent crimes are severe and can include the death penalty, although Brunei does not regularly carry out executions.
You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be subject to penalties as prescribed by local laws. Brunei’s civil penal code and Sharia Penal Code (commonly known as the sharia law) operate in parallel, and both include provisions for corporal and capital punishments. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Criminal penalties for some offenses are harsher than in the United States, including for some acts that are not crimes in the United States. As of April 3, 2019, the Sharia (Syariah, Islamic Law) Penal Code introduced new judicial procedures and punishments, including, for certain offenses and under certain evidentiary circumstances, amputation of hands or feet and death by stoning. The Sharia Penal Code applies regardless of an individual’s religion or nationality, although some sections of the law have specific applicability to Muslims.
Brunei adheres to conservative Islamic social values, and U.S. citizens are advised to learn and respect local customs and traditions. Any public criticism of the Sultan or other members of the Royal Family, Sharia Law, or Islam is illegal and punishable under Bruneian law. Gambling is illegal in Brunei. The illegal possession of firearms or explosives and drug use/possession carry severe penalties (See Below)
Do's and Don't's in Brunei
Bruneians are generally very tolerant and will understand that visitors are not familiar with all of their customs and Islamic traditions. Nonetheless, keeping these few things in mind will go far in showing the Bruneian people that you respect and appreciate their culture, enriching your experience: [Source: U.S. State Department Consular Information Sheet, October 10, 2006]
Tourists should observe the local dress code and dress modestly. Clothing comfortable for hot weather is acceptable, except when visiting places of worship or for social and business functions.
Bruneians shake hands by lightly touching the hands and then bringing the hand to the chest. Some people do not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. You should not point with your finger; instead, use the thumb of your right hand with the four fingers folded beneath it.
When visiting a mosque, all visitors should remove their shoes. Women should cover their heads and not have their knees or arms exposed. You should not pass in front of a person in prayer or touch the Koran. During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Muslims do not take food from sunrise to sundown. It would be inconsiderate to eat or drink in their presence during this period.
Gifts (particularly food) should only be passed with the right hand, although it is acceptable to use the left hand to support the right wrist. It is polite to accept even just a little food and drink when offered. When refusing anything offered, it is polite to touch the plate lightly with the right hand.
Sharia in Brunei
In 2014, Brunei began the introduction of a Sharia (Syariah) Penal Code, to run in parallel with the Common Law. The final phase was introduced in April 2019. It specifies severe punishments for certain crimes, including some that are not illegal in the UK. Most laws under Common Law and the Sharia Penal Code apply to all people in Brunei, regardless of nationality or religion. [Source: gov.uk United Kingdom government, Foreign travel advice, 2019]
Brunei is a Muslim nation, and the implementation of Sharia Law does have implications related to gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, and disability. It is an offence to criticise Islam. During Ramadan, Brunei prohibits Muslims and non-Muslims alike from eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the fasting hours. Accordingly, many restaurants are likely to be closed during daytime or may be available for takeout services only. [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
The Sultan of Brunei announced the adoption of a three-phase Sharia Penal Code (SPC) rollout in 2013. The first phase, which generally includes laws punishable by fines or imprisonment, went into effect in 2014. The second and third phases include more severe penalties, such as amputation or death for crimes including theft, apostasy, and sodomy. The Government of Brunei has neither implemented these phases, nor announced implementation dates. However, implementation may occur in the future with little to no advance warning.
Some of these laws – such as those against eating during fasting hours of Ramadan, drinking alcohol in public, and cohabitation by an unmarried couple, if one or both are Muslim – may be unfamiliar to Westerners, and especially non-Muslims. There has been limited enforcement of the SPC, and it mostly does not affect U.S. citizens. There has been one prosecution of a case under new statutes that involved an immigrant Indonesian worker charged with smoking during the fasting hours of Ramadan. The accused was convicted and served a six-month sentence in lieu of a fine.
There have also been cases of khalwat, or close proximity between members of the opposite sex causing suspicion; these cases were brought under the more limited Sharia law that predated the SPC. There have been at least two cases investigated under the SPC of men wearing women’s clothing in public, with at least one conviction.
Sex, LGBT, Religion and Modesty Laws in Brunei
Prostitution and possession of pornography are illegal and can result in harsh punishments. Non-Muslims may be arrested for khalwat (close proximity between the sexes) under the Sharia Penal Code provided that the other accused party is Muslim. Khalwat may include activities from holding hands or public displays of affection to sexual activity. U.S. citizens are also subject to khalwat laws. Extramarital sexual relations between a Muslim and non-Muslim are considered a crime in Brunei and may lead to severe punishment. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Visitors should be especially mindful of laws concerning the “outrage of modesty.” Any unwanted advance, touch, or statement can mean criminal charges and jail time. Avoid any behavior that could be interpreted as molestation or unwanted touching. [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
In Brunei, it is illegal to proselytize to Muslims any religion other than Islam. In recent years, Brunei has prohibited public celebrations of Christmas; private observations of faith may proceed, provided they occur in a home or religious institution. Limit all religious activities to places of worship or private homes.
Homosexual activity is illegal. LGBTI sex acts are criminalized in Brunei under Civil Law and also under the Sharia Penal Code. As of April 2019, possible penalties for LGBT acts under the Sharia Penal Code include fines, imprisonment, caning, and death by stoning. Under the civil penal code, possible punishments include a fine and up to 10 years in prison. [Source: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019]
Illegal Drugs, Drinking and Smoking in Brunei
Brunei has strict drug laws. There are severe penalties for drug offences in Brunei including, in some cases, the death penalty. Other crimes may attract caning and lengthy prison sentences. Brunei has a mandatory death penalty for many narcotics offenses. The penalty for trafficking drugs is death. Possession of the following carries the death penalty: more than 15 grams of heroin, ecstasy, and morphine derivatives; more than 30 grams of cocaine; more than 500 grams of cannabis; more than 50 grams of methamphetamine; or more than 1.2 kilograms of opium. Possession of lesser amounts can result in a minimum 20-year jail term and caning. [Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
Trafficking charges may be brought based on the quantity of illegal drugs in a subject's possession, regardless of whether there is any proven or demonstrated intent to distribute the drugs. Police may have the authority to compel both residents and non-residents to submit to random drug analysis, and do not distinguish between drugs consumed before or after entering Brunei in applying local laws.
In deference to the Muslim majority, alcohol is not sold in Brunei, but private consumption by non-Muslims is allowed. Non-Muslims over 17 years of age may import a limited amount of alcohol, but must declare it to the customs authorities on arrival Non-Muslim tourists are allowed a generous duty-free allowance of 2 bottles of alcohol (wine, spirits, etc) and 12 cans of beer per entry, and may consume alcohol with sensible discretion in hotels and some restaurants. Under Brunei’s Sharia Penal Code, it is also an offense to consume any food, drink, or tobacco in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan. [Sources: Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, May 2019, gov.uk United Kingdom government, Foreign travel advice, 2019]
Alcohol may only be consumed in a hotel room, residence, or other private venue. Brunei permits non-Muslim foreigners to import two liters of any alcoholic beverage and twelve cans of beer for personal consumption. There are no public commercial establishments that serve alcohol legally. Attempts to circumvent alcohol controls can result in arrest and criminal prosecution. In late 2018, a Dutch citizen was charged with possession of alcohol in excess of the allowable limit. This case is pending in the Brunei Judiciary.[Source: Brunei 2019 Crime & Safety Report, OSAC, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]
Smoking is prohibited in both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned areas. It also banned in specific areas places, including public areas, government buildings, hospital, recreational, airport building, educational centers, restaurants, shopping and eating areas, bus stops and stations, car parks and near buildings, and on public transport.
Warning to Women and Islamic Dress Code
Ideally, women should always be accompanied by a male, ideally again, in strict Islamic terms, a male who is either a husband or a relative. With that said, some solo women travelers have ventured to Brunei on their own and didn’t experience any problems. Allowances are made for foreign women travelers. A single woman visiting museums, shopping malls and the main tourist spots should be okay. Things could be a different in places where you are rubbing elbows with locals, such as Kampong Ayer (the water village) or a busy night market or if you are in area rarely visited by foreigners. Under these circumstances it is probably a good idea to have a guide, which you probably need anyway to figure out where your are going.
Women should dress modestly. You don't have to wear a veil or anything like that (most Bruneian women wear head scarves which western women are not obliged to wear) but don't wear revealing halter tops, sleeveless dresses or blouses, or short shorts or skirts unless you are at the beach. Ideally the arms and knees should be covered and a bra should be worn. If jogging wear long pants. Otherwise, Bruneian men generally don't hassle women.
Some Bruneians follow a strict Islamic dress code but as a rule Bruneians and visitors are not obliged to observe it. The majority of Muslim women wear ankle-length caftans and teregas, hair covering that are pinned under their chins, that expose only their faces. These give Bruneian women a gentle, Pharaoh-like appearance. The caftan covers their legs, arms and hair. Conservative men wear a head covering of some sort and often have a beard.
Most visiting Western women wear long pants or long skirts and blouses in tourist areas, and ankle-length skirt and a loose-fitting, thigh-length blouses or jackets with a head scarf in conservative areas. Skirts at knee level or less are unacceptable in conservative areas. In some places you can get away with a mid-calf-length skirt. In ultra-conservative areas you may need a skirt that goes all the way to the ground. Some women carry a shawl, which they can use as a head scarf or shoulder covering. Others bring a loose caftan-style dress which they can wear over their clothes in conservative areas.
According to expat-blog.com: “Ladies, please note that there are certain strict restrictions that govern dress in Brunei. Modesty and conservative dress are the norm for women. Never show too much skin! It is offensive to the locals and you do not want to be addressed about this. As a guideline, cover your arms to the elbows, cover your chest so that no sign of cleavage is possible, cover your legs to calf length and ensure that all clothing is NOT see-through in any way. No slacks and no long slits up the side of the leg. If you plan to go swimming or sunbathing, it is advisable to wear baggies and a T-shirt, Even a full body costume is not acceptable, unless you are at a private pool.
Mosques and shrines are sometimes not open to women or non-Muslims. Those that do welcome them expect them to be appropriately dressed: no shorts, short skirts, revealing halter tops or exposed shoulders. Mosques that allow women often require them to at least wear a head scarf. Some require them to cover their entire bodies, except the face, hands and feet, and not wear trousers. Sometimes mosque provide women who don’t have one with a head scarf. Sometimes they have robes for men wearing shorts.
The Muslim faithful are expected to remove their shoes and wash their feet in a sacred basin before they enter the mosque. If no water is available Muslims are supposed to wash themselves with sand. Foreigner visitors s can usually get away with just removing their shoes and are not required to wash their feet. In any case, make sure you feet or socks are clean. Dirty feet in a mosques are regarded as an insult to Islam. In large mosques you remove your shoes and place them on a shelf with a number.
Inside a mosque don't walk in front of someone who is praying, don't touch the Koran, never sit or stand on a prayer rug and never place a Koran on the floor or put anything on top of it. Also, don't cross your legs in front of an older people and don't step over someone who is sitting down Show respect, remain quiet and stay out of the way. Taking photographs is frowned upon.
Some historical mosques require visitors to pay an admission fee. Some also require them to pay an attendant a small fee for taking care of their shoes. It is best for foreigner to avoid visiting mosques at prayer time of on Friday. Women and men are often segregated in some mosques.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Brunei Darussalam tourism websites, Brunei Darussalam government websites, Wikitravel, Wiki Voyage, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020