Business or Crime? Countries Where Prostitution Is Legal [2022]

Societies have different views on prostitution. So we dug up facts on the sex work policies to understand where prostitution is legal and in what countries. Read on:

where is prostitution legal countries

The world is divided on prostitution. Many people think it’s immoral to pay for sex, while others believe it’s a natural transaction and a legitimate occupation. Dozens of nations around the world have outlawed the practice, dozens more have legalized it, and several fall somewhere in the middle. 

No matter your opinion on the subject, it’s important to know the law – even if you’re only trying to avoid it. Prostitution laws are different everywhere, so we put together a comprehensive guide on the sex work policies of every country we could.

We also dove into the nuance of prostitution law in Las Vegas and Nevada; paying for sex in sin city isn’t as simple as you might think.  

Here are some highlights from our research:

  • 10 of Nevada’s 17 counties have legal prostitution. 
  • 53 countries have legal prostitution, and 12 have limited prostitution. 
  • Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas or in Clark County, Nevada.
  • 51% of American men think it should be legal to be a prostitute, and 50% think it should be legal to pay for sex; for women, these percentages are 30% and 29%, respectively. 
  • Only 1 in 5 people who think prostitution should be illegal believe it should be punished with a prison sentence. 
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of Americans think that prostitution is morally acceptable.

What Is Prostitution?

First thing’s first – what is prostitution? It sounds like a simple question, but millions of people work as prostitutes all around the world, and it’s important to know exactly what that means.

  • Prostitution involves engaging or agreeing to engage in sexual activity with another person in exchange for a fee. (Cornell Law School, 2020)1
  • An estimated 40 to 42 million people work as prostitutes worldwide, 75% of whom are aged 13 to 25. (Le Figaro, 2012)2
    • 80% of the world’s prostitutes are female, and 75% of them are also aged 13 to 25. 

Where Is Prostitution Legal?

You may be surprised to learn that prostitution is legal in more countries than it isn’t. By population, however, it’s pretty close to an even split. 

Here are the numbers we found:

  • Prostitution is legal in 53 countries, limitedly legal in 12 countries, and illegal in 35 countries. (ProCon, 2018)3
  • Billions of people are affected by the legality of prostitution; the numbers break down as follows: (ProCon, 2018)3
    • Legal – 2.93 billion people live in areas with legal prostitution (51%)
    • Illegal – 2.13 billion (37%)
    • Limitedly Legal – 698.87 million (12%)

  • The following countries have legal policies regarding prostitution: (ProCon, 2018)3
    • Legal
      • Argentina
      • Austria
      • Bangladesh
      • Belgium
      • Belize
      • Bolivia
      • Brazil
      • Bulgaria
      • Chile
      • Colombia
      • Costa Rica

      • Cuba
      • Cyprus
      • Czech Republic
      • Denmark
      • Dominican Republic
      • Ecuador
      • El Salvador
      • Estonia
      • Ethiopia
      • Finland
      • Germany

      • Greece
      • Guatemala
      • Honduras
      • Hungary
      • India
      • Indonesia
      • Israel
      • Italy
      • Kenya
      • Kyrgyzstan
      • Latvia

      • Luxembourg
      • Malta
      • Mexico
      • Netherlands
      • New Zealand
      • Nicaragua
      • Panama
      • Paraguay
      • Peru
      • Polan
      • Portugal

      • Senegal
      • Singapore
      • Slovakia
      • Slovenia
      • Spain
      • Switzerland
      • Turkey
      • Uruguay
      • Venezuela

    • Limitedly Legal/Partially Legal
      • Armenia
      • Australia
      • Canada
      • France
      • Ireland
      • Japan
      • Malaysia
      • Norway
      • Sweden
      • United Kingdom
      • United States

    • Illegal
      • Afghanistan
      • Albania
      • Angola
      • Antigua and Barbuda
      • Bahamas
      • Barbados
      • Cambodia
      • China
      • Croatia
      • Dominica
      • Egypt
      • Grenada
      • Guyana

      • Haiti
      • Iran
      • Iraq
      • Jamaica
      • Jordan
      • Korea, North
      • Korea, South
      • Liberia
      • Lithuania
      • Philippines
      • Romania
      • Rwanda
      • Saint Kitts and Nevis

      • Saint Lucia
      • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
      • Saudi Arabia
      • South Africa
      • Suriname
      • Thailand
      • Trinidad and Tobago
      • Uganda
      • United Arab Emirates

Understanding the Legality of Prostitution

Even in places where prostitution is legal, it isn’t always the same. Some countries criminalize the practice altogether, while others only prosecute the customers. 

In a few places, the law doesn’t address prostitution at all. The following data explains the different philosophies for prostitution law as well as which countries and territories ascribe to each.  

  • Prostitution exists with different legal statuses in different countries: Prohibitionism, Neo-abolitionism, Abolitionism, Legalization, and Decriminalization. (World Population Review, 2022)4
    • Prohibitionism is where prostitution is criminalized and prohibited. Selling, organizing, buying, and soliciting sex for money are all illegal. 
    • Neo-abolitionism is a philosophy that views prostitution as violence against women. Technically, selling sex is legal; however, buying, organizing, and soliciting sex are outlawed. 
      • If caught, prostitutes are legally blameless. Instead, their clients and pimps are prosecuted. This is intended to suppress demand. 
    • Abolitionism is where selling and buying sex are both legal, and it’s the most common approach to prostitution worldwide. However, pimping, brothels, and public solicitation are illegal; this is intended to prevent exploitation. 
    • Legalization is where buying, selling, organizing (brothels), and soliciting sex are all legal and regulated. Prostitutes are often required to register, and the practice is sometimes limited to specific districts. 
    • Decriminalization is where prostitution is completely legal or not addressed by law at all. In these cases, it’s subject to little or no regulation. 

  • By region and nation, the different legal approaches to prostitution are implemented as follows:

Prohibitionism

  • Africa: (ChartsBin, 2010; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022)5, 6
    • Angola
    • Burundi
    • Cameroon
    • Chad
    • Comoros
    • Djibouti
    • Egypt
    • Equatorial Guinea
    • Gabon
    • The Gambia
    • Ghana
    • Guinea
    • Liberia
    • Libya
    • Mauritania
    • Mauritius
    • Morocco
    • Niger
    • Republic of the Congo
    • Rwanda
    • São Tomé and Príncipe
    • Seychelles
    • Somalia
    • South Africa
    • Sudan
    • Swaziland
    • Tanzania
    • Uganda
    • Zimbabwe

  • Americas: (ChartsBin, 2010; Norden, 2008; ProCon, 2018; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Guardian Liberty Voice, 2014; Justia, 2019)5, 7, 3, 6, 8, 9
    • French Guiana
    • Greenland
    • Grenada
    • Guyana
    • Haiti
    • Jamaica
    • Puerto Rico
    • Saint Kitts and Nevis
    • Saint Lucia
    • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    • Suriname
    • Trinidad and Tobago
    • United States (except Nevada state)
    • U.S. Virgin Islands

  • Asia (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2007; ChartsBin, 2010; ProCon, 2018; CNN, 2009)6, 10, 5, 3, 11
    • Afghanistan
    • Armenia
    • Azerbaijan
    • Bahrain
    • Bhutan
    • Brunei
    • Cambodia
    • China
    • Georgia
    • Iran
    • Iraq
    • Japan
    • Jordan
    • Kuwait
    • Laos
    • Maldives
    • Mongolia
    • Myanmar
    • Nepal
    • North Korea
    • Oman
    • Pakistan
    • Palestinian Territories
    • Philippines
    • Qatar
    • Russia
    • Saudi Arabia
    • South Korea
    • Sri Lanka
    • Syria
    • Thailand
    • Turkmenistan
    • United Arab Emirates
    • Uzbekistan
    • Vietnam
    • Yemen 

  • Europe (ProCon, 2018; ChartsBin, 2010; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; HM Government of Gibraltar, 2011; Republic of Kosovo, 2009)3, 5, 6, 12, 13
    • Albania
    • Andorra
    • Belarus
    • Croatia
    • Gibraltar
    • Kosovo
    • Liechtenstein
    • Lithuania
    • Moldova
    • Montenegro
    • Russia
    • San Marino
    • Serbia
    • Ukraine

  • Oceania (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; ChartsBin, 2010; Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, 2020)6, 5, 14
    • Guam
    • Marshall Islands
    • Northern Mariana Islands
    • Palau
    • Papua New Guinea
    • Samoa
    • Vanuatu

Neo-Abolitionism

  • Asia: (The Jerusalem Post, 2018)15
    • Israel 
  • Americas: (ProCon, 2018; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; France Antilles, 2014)3, 6, 16
    • Belize
    • Canada
    • Martinique
  • Europe: (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; ProCon, 2018)6, 3
    • France
    • Iceland
    • Ireland
    • Northern Ireland
    • Norway
    • Sweden

Abolitionism

  • Africa: (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; ChartsBin, 2010; University of Georgia, 2018; WIPO, 2000)6, 5, 17, 18
    • Algeria
    • Benin
    • Botswana
    • Burkina Faso
    • Central African Republic
    • Côte d’Ivoire
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo
    • Ethiopia
    • Lesotho
    • Madagascar
    • Malawi
    • Mali
    • Mozambique
    • Namibia
    • Sierra Leone
    • South Sudan
    • Togo
    • Zambia

  • Americas: (Anguilla Laws, 2010; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Bermuda Laws, 2021; British Virgin Islands Government, 1997; Cayman Islands Government, 2013; ProCon, 2018; Falkland Islands Government, 2014; The Guardian, 2011; Government of Montserrat, 2014; New West Indian Guide, 1999; Magnetic Media, 2015)19, 6, 20, 21, 22, 3, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27
    • Anguilla
    • Antigua and Barbuda
    • Bahamas
    • Barbados
    • Bermuda
    • Brazil
    • British Virgin Islands
    • Cayman Islands
    • Costa Rica
    • Cuba
    • Dominica
    • Dominican Republic
    • Falkland Islands
    • Guadeloupe
    • Guatemala
    • Honduras
    • Montserrat
    • Nicaragua
    • Paraguay
    • Saint Martin
    • Turks and Caicos Islands

  • Asia (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; ProCon, 2018)6, 3
    • Cyprus
    • Hong Kong
    • India
    • Kazakhstan
    • Kyrgyzstan
    • Macau
    • Malaysia
    • Singapore
    • Tajikistan
    • Timor-Leste

  • Europe (U.S. Department of State, 2004; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; ProCon, 2018)28, 6, 3
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Bulgaria
    • Czech Republic
    • Denmark
    • Estonia
    • Finland
    • Italy
    • Luxembourg
    • Malta
    • Monaco
    • North Macedonia
    • Poland
    • Portugal
    • Romania
    • Slovakia
    • Slovenia
    • Spain
    • United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland)

  • Oceania (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Ser + Portuguese Association for the Prevention and Challenge of AIDS, 2011; ChartsBin, 2010)6, 29, 5
    • Australia
    • Cook Islands
    • Fiji
    • Kiribati
    • Nauru
    • Solomon Islands
    • Tonga
    • Tuvalu

Legalization

  • Africa: (Indian Streams Research Journal, 2012; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022)30, 6
    • Eritrea
    • Senegal
    • Tunisia
  • Americas: (U.S. Department of State, 2013; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Curacao Chronicle, 2012)31, 6, 32
    • Aruba
    • Bolivia
    • Bonaire
    • Chile
    • Colombia
    • Curaçao
    • Ecuador
    • Nevada (state; except Carson City and Clark, Douglas, Lincoln, and Washoe counties)
    • Panama
    • Peru
    • Saba
    • Saint Eustatius
    • Saint Maarten
    • Uruguay
    • Venezuela

  • Asia (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; Taiwan News, 2017)6, 33
    • Bangladesh
    • Lebanon
    • Taiwan
    • Turkey
  • Europe (ProCon, 2018; Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022)3, 6
    • Austria
    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Hungary
    • Latvia
    • Netherlands
    • Switzerland
  • Oceania (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022)6
    • Australia (ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria)

Decriminalization

  • Africa (WIPO, 2003; ChartsBin, 2010)34, 5
    • Cape Verde
    • Guinea-Bissau
  • Europe (Le Monde, 2022)35
    • Belgium
  • Oceania (Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022; WIPO, 2007; The Government of the Pitcairn Islands, 2017)6, 36, 37
    • Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory)
    • New Zealand
    • Niue
    • Pitcairn Islands

Prostitution in Nevada

Since its puritan days, America hasn’t been big on the idea of prostitution – at least not legally. Nevada is infamous for being the only place in the U.S. where it’s legal to pay for sex, but there are some stipulations. 

In fact, Nevada actually has laws on how sex work should be conducted. Here’s what we found.

  • Prostitution is legal on a county-by-county basis in Nevada. (The Defenders, 2019)38
    • The county’s population must not exceed 700,000, and state-licensed brothels are the only places where it’s legal. 
    • 10 of Nevada’s 17 countries have legal prostitution.
    • 21 state-licensed brothels are currently in operation in Nevada. 
  • Employees in state-licensed brothels must meet certain criteria: (The Defenders, 2019)38
    • They must be at least 18 years old. 
    • They must have work cards and work of their own free will
    • They must get regular medical exams to detect sexually-transmitted infections and must use condoms. 
  • A brothel in Nevada may not be located within 400 yards of a school or church and must not face a main street. Outside of the circumstances mentioned above, soliciting or practicing prostitution is subject to legal penalties in Nevada. (The Defenders, 2019)38

  • The following Nevada counties have legally licensed brothel prostitution: (The Defenders, 2021)39
    • Churchill County
    • Elko County
    • Esmeralda County
    • Humbolt County
    • Lander County
    • Lyon County
    • Mineral County
    • Nye County
    • Storey County
    • White Pine County
  • In the following Nevada counties, all forms of prostitution are illegal. (The Defenders, 2021)39
    • Clark County
    • Carson City
    • Douglas County
    • Eureka County
    • Lincoln County
    • Pershing County
    • Washoe County
  • Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas or in Clark County, Nevada. (The Defenders, 2019)38

Legal Penalties for Prostitution in Nevada

Where it’s illegal, prostitution in Nevada carries significant consequences. These are typically worse for customers than they are for prostitutes, but it varies on a case-by-case basis. 

Here are the legal consequences of prostitution in Nevada:

  • Prostitution is defined by Nevada law as engaging in sexual activity for a fee. This includes intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or even groping/touching over the clothing. (The Defenders, 2021)39
    • Outside of licensed brothels, it is typically charged as a misdemeanor. 
  • An alleged customer trying to solicit a prostitute in Nevada faces the following punishments: (The Defenders, 2019)38
    • First offense – A misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to 6 months and/or up to a $1,000 fine, an additional $400 fine, and a civil penalty of no less than $200. Records may be sealed after one year. 
    • Second offense – A gross misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to 1 year and/or up to a $2,000 fine, an additional $800 fine, and a civil penalty of no less than $200. Records may be sealed after two years.
    • Third or subsequent offense – A gross misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to 1 year and/or up to a $2,000 fine, an additional $1,300 fine, and a civil penalty of no less than $200. Records may be sealed after two years.

  • An alleged customer trying to solicit a child in Nevada faces the following punishments: (The Defenders, 2019)38
    • First offense – A category E felony with a prison sentence of 1 to 4 years and/or up to a $5,000 fine. If convicted, records may not be sealed. 
    • Second offense – A category D felony with a prison sentence of 1 to 4 years and/or up to a $5,000 fine. If convicted, records may not be sealed. 
    • Third or subsequent offense – A category C felony with a prison sentence of 1 to 4 years and up to a $10,000 fine. If convicted, records may not be sealed. 
  • A prostitute trying to solicit a customer in Nevada is charged with a misdemeanor and given a jail sentence of up to 6 months and/or a $1,000 fine. (The Defenders, 2019)38
  • A prostitute who knows they have HIV trying to solicit a customer in Nevada is charged with a category B felony and given a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and/or up to a $10,000 fine. (The Defenders, 2019)38

How Do Americans Feel About Prostitution?

Despite their laws, a large percentage of Americans believe that prostitution should be legal, and nearly one-quarter think it’s morally acceptable. 

Men tend to view sex work more favorably than women, and most of those who think it should be illegal are in favor of light punishments (such as community service). 

  • One survey asked Americans whether they thought it should be legal to accept money for sex: (YouGov, 2016)40
    • Gender:
      • Male:
        • Legal – 51%
        • Illegal – 36%
        • Not sure – 13%
      • Female:
        • Legal – 30%
        • Illegal – 50%
        • Not sure – 20%
    • Total:
      • Legal – 40%
      • Illegal – 43%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • The same survey asked if it should be illegal or legal to pay money for sex: (YouGov, 2016)40
    • Gender:
      • Male:
        • Legal – 50%
        • Illegal – 37%
        • Not sure – 13%
      • Female:
        • Legal – 29%
        • Illegal – 52%
        • Not sure – 20%
    • Total:
      • Legal – 39%
      • Illegal – 45%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • Participants in the survey who said prostitution should be illegal were also asked what the punishment should be: (YouGov, 2016)40
    • Punishment for paying money for sex
      • Prison – 20%
      • Community service – 42%
      • Small fines – 22%
      • Not sure – 16%
    • Punishment for accepting money for sex
      • Prison – 20%
      • Community service – 41%
      • Small fines – 22%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • When asked if they think prostitution is moral or not, Americans responded with the following: (YouGov, 2016)40
    • Paying money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%
    • Accepting money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%

  • When asked if they think prostitution is moral or not, Americans responded with the following: (YouGov, 2016)40
    • Paying money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%
    • Accepting money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%

Conclusion

Prostitution will always be a part of human society, whether it’s legal or not. As long as humans have sexual needs, they will seek to meet them. Whether it’s right or wrong is a tough question, and the world is roughly split down the middle on it. 

Millions more people live in places with legal prostitution than without, and many governments have developed laws to regulate the industry. Some, like Nevada, have state-licensed brothels and mandatory medical checks for sex workers. 

Half of American men think prostitution should be legal, but less than a third of American women do. Regardless, very few people think it should be punished with prison time – even if they believe it should be illegal. 

Ultimately, prostitution laws change and develop alongside society. The industry is never going away, but we can learn from examples around the world to make sex work safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable.

For more interesting sex studies and statistics, head over to our guide here.

Footnotes

  1. Cornell Law School, 2020. A small article on the legal definition of prostitution and its context in court.
  2. Le Figaro, 2012. An article on the number of people who work as prostitutes worldwide and how the industry operates.
  3. ProCon, 2018. An article on the legal prostitution policies in place in 100 different countries.
  4. World Population Review, 2022. An article on the legal statuses of prostitution in different countries as well as what those statuses entail.
  5. ChartsBin, 2010. An infographic article on the legality of prostitution in countries around the world.
  6. Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, 2022. An article on the laws regarding sex work around the world.
  7. Norden, 2008. A comprehensive report on the state and legality of prostitution in Nordic countries.
  8. Guardian Liberty Voice, 2014. An article on the proponents of legal prostitution in Puerto Rico.
  9. Justia, 2019. The 2019 legal code relating to prostitution and similar offenses in the US Virgin Islands.
  10. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2007. A report on anti-trafficking training for law enforcement in the Republic of Armenia.
  11. CNN, 2009. An article on reports of the trafficking and forced prostitution of Palestinian women.
  12. HM Government of Gibraltar, 2011. A 2011 comprehensive crime bill for the territory of Gibraltar.
  13. Republic of Kosovo, 2009. Laws relating to order and public peace in the Republic of Kosovo.
  14. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, 2020. General laws and provisions relating to prostitution in the Northern Mariana Islands.
  15. The Jerusalem Post, 2018. An article on Israel’s law criminalizing the hiring or attempted hiring of prostitutes.
  16. France Antilles, 2014. An article on the dangers and discrimination faced by prostitutes in Martinique.
  17. University of Georgia, 2018. An article on the state of illegal prostitution in South Sudan and possible resolutions to the issue. 
  18. WIPO, 2000. The penal code of the West African country of Togo.
  19. Anguilla Laws, 2010. The criminal code of the Caribbean territory of Anguilla.
  20. Bermuda Laws, 2021. The criminal code of the North Atlantic territory of Bermuda.
  21. British Virgin Islands Government, 1997. The criminal code of the British Virgin Islands.
  22. Cayman Islands Government, 2013. The penal code of the territory of the Cayman Islands.
  23. Falkland Islands Government, 2014. The crimes ordinance of the territory of the Falkland Islands.
  24. The Guardian, 2011. An article on the severity of crime and unemployment in the region of Guadeloupe.
  25. Government of Montserrat, 2014. The penal code of the Caribbean territory of Montserrat.
  26. New West Indian Guide, 1999. A study on human trafficking and sex tourism in the Caribbean.
  27. Magnetic Media, 2015. An article on the crackdown on prostitution in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
  28. U.S. Department of State, 2004. An article on the human rights practices in Monaco.
  29. Ser + Portuguese Association for the Prevention and Challenge of AIDS, 2011. An article on legal factors, human rights, and HIV in relation to sex workers in Asia and the Pacific.
  30. Indian Streams Research Journal, 2012. A sociological study on prostitution in the Eritrea region of Africa.
  31. U.S. Department of State, 2013. A state department report on human trafficking in Aruba.
  32. Curacao Chronicle, 2012. An article on legalized prostitution in St Maarten, Saba, St Eustatius, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
  33. Taiwan News, 2017. An article on the 2011 legal amendment to set up specially-managed legal sex trade zones.
  34. WIPO, 2003. The penal code of the Republic of Cabo Verde.
  35. Le Monde, 2022. An article on the decriminalization of sex work in Belgium and legal protections given to sex workers.
  36. WIPO, 2007. A reprint of the Niue Act of 1966 that includes the repealing of prostitution laws.
  37. The Government of the Pitcairn Islands, 2017. The laws governing the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno Islands.
  38. The Defenders, 2019. An article on the unique legality of prostitution in the state of Nevada.
  39. The Defenders, 2021. An article outlining the specific laws governing prostitution and brothels in Nevada.
  40. YouGov, 2016. Data chart from a survey of 998 American men and women about their opinions on prostitution.
Dainis Graveris

Dainis Graveris

Over last 4 years Dainis have helped millions of people through his advice on this site (200+ guides and 1M+ visits/monthly). His work & advice has appeared on sites like: Healthline, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, WomensHealthMag, MindBodyGreen & more. Read More

Got Questions? Ping me on Twitter.