Legalities of Flying Drones Abroad – Why is No One Talking About This?

A couple of weeks ago I was flying my drone high above myself and my friends as we chilled in a swimming pool belonging to the place we were staying at in a residential resort. The inflatable toucan bobbed precariously in the icy blue waters as two of my friends tried to board it. Two other friends were sat at the edge of the pool, dangling their legs into it casually. We were the only ones there - there was definitely no one else within the frame as my drone filmed and took photos. It was all going to well and I was marvelling at the images coming through on my live-feed.

Suddenly, a woman bounds over the crest of a hill waving and frowning. I had never seen anything like it and was utterly horrified. I was also baffled as to where she came from. In a very aggressive voice she yelled, "No! Privacy! No!"

I quickly took the drone down, fuming inside. I'd only just arrived having travelled with my drone all morning. Barely any clothes could fit in my bag alongside the drone as it took up that much space and now I'm not even allowed to fly it? The police wouldn't do much about it. I'm not doing anything illegal. I thought to myself.

I was raging inside for the rest of the day, irritated that a grumpy resident could ruin my holiday. I was too polite to ignore her yelling or to attempt to fly it again in the same spot. Later that evening I spotted another drone flying right above us. I felt even more irritated. They were only avoiding the grumpy woman because the operator was standing far enough away. I think he was concealed behind a bush.

So here's some background. I'm actually very well acquainted with my drone rules, certainly for my home country anyway. Don't fly near an airport. Don't fly in cities or other built-up areas. Do not fly within 5 metres of another person. Don't fly in certain National Parks. In this situation, I wasn't breaking any of these rules. I also wasn't flying my drone above anyone else's house. I was flying above an empty swimming pool with just my friends in it.

I didn't think about this again and continued to fly my drone outside the residential area which seemed fine. Even though the shots I was getting were practically identical. You could see the pool and everything.

It was only a couple of days ago that I thought anymore about drones and the legal requirements for flying in different countries. I was watching a vlog on YouTube. The Vlogger had just got a permit to fly in an African National Park. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder what the drone rules are like in Namibia. I'm going to Namibia soon and of course was planning on taking my drone with me.

I researched drone flying in Namibia and was shocked at what I came across. Drone flying of any sort, including recreational, cannot be done without official permission from the Namibian Aviation Authority. Oh my goodness. How had I not researched this before? I didn't have my permissions. As you can expect, I started to panic.

Side note, I have just looked up drone flying regulations in Spain (where I got told off by a grumpy resident) and the details are: "for recreational or hobby flights, the drone flight in urban areas or over crowds of people such as parks, public or private gardens, streets, beaches, concerts, weddings or demonstrations is completely forbidden". Seems I wasn't breaking any laws anyway.

The most annoying thing is that it is so hard to find information on drone regulations. No one (bloggers, vloggers or influencers) ever talks about what permissions they had to apply for to fly their drone in all the destinations they have visited. I naively assumed it would be okay if you followed the basic drone rules which I have already heard about. But no, every country has its own regulations so it is so important to do research on this before travelling with your drone.

I understand why restrictions are in place and that exact details of restrictions will vary from country to country. I'm just confused why I have never ever come across a blog post talking about this. I think it should be talked about more, especially as drones are getting more common. They're fairly easy to access so more aspiring bloggers will be able to pick them up and try to travel with them. I'm always worried my drone will get confiscated which would be a crushing blow considering how much I love it and how expensive it is. I didn't realise just how close you can be to getting it confiscated.

I read the other day that someone did get their drone confiscated when they arrived at their destination and the airport held the drone until the person was leaving the country. I would be devastated if this happened to me.

So here's my advice.

Always research drone regulations for a country you wish to visit before you go

I can't stress this enough. If you want to get through customs without problems and to fly your drone without problems, it's essential you know the rules. I will be travelling to Namibia with an official document from the Aviation Authority granting me permission to fly. Without this it would be illegal for my to fly the drone anywhere in the country and who knows if customs will have let it through without it.

Remember that regulations vary from country to country so just because you read up on the rules for one country, doesn't meen you're covered if you travel elsewhere.

There may be some overlap in regulations. As a general rule:

It is Illegal to Fly in National Parks

There are some exceptions for this. For example I was able to fly my drone in Snowdonia National Park in Wales. However, I know that it is illegal to fly a drone in any National Park in USA, Canada and any African country.

You can however apply for permits to fly in National Parks but as I've never done this before, I'm unable to offer any useful advice on it.

Conclusion

So the conclusion to my long and mostly useless rant is that you must always research drone regulations prior to any trip you undertake. Regulations are constantly changing. Don't assume because you've seen hundreds of influencers using a drone in a particular place that it will be as easy as taking yours and flying it. You don't know what permissions they may have received beforehand or if what they are doing is actually illegal and you are at risk of being fined or having your drone confiscated.

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