Drone flight emerged as a hobby during the 2010s, and many travellers bring their drones to take photos or enjoy the sport of flight at a foreign location. However, drone flying is restricted in many places.
Film • Full systems • Video recording • Wildlife photography • Drones
Hobby-model drones are similar to remote-control planes. The latter ones are usually scale models of fixed-wing aircraft, made to fly within the operator's line of sight. Amateur drones are usually rotary-wing vessels carrying mounted cameras to be used in their operation. Although this in theory allows flight farther from the operator, they are usually kept within a similar range.
Photography is restricted or prohibited at many venues, including military and security installations. Many urban locations and airports have a general ban on private drone flight, and restrictions may apply generally out of privacy concerns (watching people in private yards by technical means is forbidden in Finland, for example).
A drone getting out of control (because of operator mistakes, high winds, damage or any malfunction) can be dangerous for people on the ground, and drone flying is often subject to permission at public events.
Drones may also fall under general aviation laws, forbidding unauthorized flight near airfields, higher than some limit or requiring a licence for any flying. There are also specific laws on drones in some countries. Some drones are programmed to follow local regulations and cannot be flown into restricted areas, but don't rely on that: often only some of the restrictions are taken into account, and there may be human errors or lack of updates.
For consumer drones, the global market is dominated by Chinese company DJI, though there are also numerous other companies to choose from.
Taking your drone abroad
|O'er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.
—Grímnismál, the Poetic Edda.
While there are legal ramifications of drone operation, ownership and importation in many countries (see below), for practical purposes another issue is more likely to cause problems: drones are usually equipped with lithium ion batteries and their big cousins, commercial aviation, usually have a pretty low weight limit for lithium ion batteries. While you can of course bet on local airline employees not knowing and thus slipping through the cracks, the risk of having an expensive battery pack confiscated or even being denied boarding for your flight is a concern.
Prohibitions in countries
As of February 2020, the use of drones is banned entirely in the following countries: Algeria, Antarctica, Bhutan, Brunei, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Morocco, Nicaragua, North Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Syria, and Uzbekistan.
Due to escalating tensions, drones made by Chinese company DJI, despite leading the global market share by far, are illegal in the United States.
In many of these countries, the importation of drones is also illegal: your drones may be confiscated at the border.
Many other countries permit the use of drones only where you have applied for and received a permit or appropriate license. In the European Union an online exam is required for drones of over 250 g, drone users must be registered, and maximum flight altitude is 120 m. You may also need to obtain specific use and location clearance for drone flying, especially close to military facilities, airports, or residential areas.
Be sure to check whether the importation and use of drones is permitted in the country you are planning to visit.
Prohibitions at tourist sites
Some countries have banned the use of drones at certain tourist sites due to security risks and safety risk to the site and other visitors. Be sure to check whether the use of drones is permitted at each site before sending your drone up.
Recreational drones are still quite new, so regulations are changing rapidly. Some examples of sites where the use of drones is prohibited as of 2020 are:
- Cambodia: Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
- Canada: All Parks Canada locations, including many historical sites, are “no drone zones” for recreational use: flying a drone without park or site approval may result in law enforcement action and a fine of up to C$25,000. Drones are also banned in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park.
- Japan: almost anywhere in Tokyo.
- Myanmar: near the Parliament building
- South Africa: Kruger National Park
- Sweden: much of central Stockholm: Gamla stan, Norrmalm, eastern Kungsholmen
- United States: all national parks; Statue of Liberty, New York, NY; U.S.S. Constitution, Boston, MA; Independence National Park, Philadelphia, PA; Folsom Dam, Folsom, CA; Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ; Grand Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, WA; Hoover Dam, Boulder City, NV; Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis, MO; Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, SD; and Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake, CA
Where drone flying is allowed, it may cause hazards and irritation.
Think to yourself – if there are people around, what if the drone gets out of your control (e.g. bird collision, communication problems, or engine failure)? Can it reach people and hurt them?
Privacy is a concern, whether or not a legal matter. A drone flying over somebody sunbathing might cause irritation even if you aren't looking or filming that way.
Serene sights, such as most natural attractions, don't benefit from noise and foreign objects. This is especially true if both you and somebody else go to the site in early hours to avoid the later crowds. Nesting birds may be outright scared.
Aviation legislation forbids drone flying where you could interfere with other air traffic. You don't need to get in front of a passenger plane to cause disturbance.
Air photos can be very useful – provided they are good and available – while flying is equally disturbing regardless of photo usability. Plan well, so that you get good shots, avoid annoying people and don't needlessly go where photos are already available. Cooperation with locals may help. When done, make your photos widely available (such as by uploading them to Wikimedia Commons under a free licence), so that they are as useful as possible and others don't need to go doubling your work.
If you want to fly as a sport, make contacts with a club at your destination. In addition to the social aspect, they may have a suitable area where third parties aren't disturbed.