15 Countries Where Prostitution Is Legal and How It Works

The number of countries where legal prostitution is treated as a controlled industry is astounding. In fact, there are 77 countries that have completely legalized it and 11 that have limited prostitution but still allow it. Some places, like the United States, have made it illegal with a few exceptions. In the US, prostitution is legal in some rural counties in Nevada, but sex workers are required to register with the state and undergo regular health checks.

Many countries have cut down on prostitution in a roundabout way by confining it to red light districts or by making it extremely difficult for sex workers to actually get clients. For example, prostitution is technically legal in the United Kingdom, but they’ve outlawed brothels, solicitation, and advertising of any kind, making it difficult to actually work as a prostitute within the confines of the law. This list explores the ins and outs of legal prostitution around the globe.

  • In Denmark, prostitution was decriminalized in 1999, partly because it seemed like keeping watch over the industry would be easier if it were happening out in the open - it’s always easier to police a legal trade than an illegal one. Third-party activities such as coercion, procuring, trafficking, and the solicitation of minors remain illegal. But that’s not to say this legalization hasn’t brought in some strange legal issues.

    Apparently, in Denmark, local authorities compensate those with disabilities for extra costs that are related to their disabilities… which opens the door to whether or not needing a prostitute is related to having a disability. The case of Torben Hansen has raised questions about exactly what kinds of extra costs the government is willing to pay for. Hanson has cerebral palsy, which affects his mobility and speech immensely, so it’s not really possible for him to go out and meet a woman and have a normal sex life.

    He believes his local government should be paying the extra charges he incurs for needing to hire sex workers. His request to have the costs covered was denied, but Danish government workers are allowed to arrange meetings between sex workers and disabled people, should the disabled person request it.

  • Prostitution is legal in Finland, but selling and purchasing sex in public is illegal, as is purchasing or pimping a trafficking victim. Prostitution pretty much exploded during the recession in the 1990s, although it was mainly limited to private apartments, erotic restaurants, and nightclubs in larger cities. Street work is banned, but like many industries nowadays, the Finnish "red light districts" are all accessible through the Internet and personal ads.

    In addition to decreasing street-workers, cyberspace has also contributed to a growing number of foreign sex workers operating in Finland through ads and massage parlors.

  • Prostitution is completely legal in Costa Rica. In fact, it’s a common profession, especially in popular tourist destinations. The problems are with the activities surrounding prostitution. Pimping is illegal, prostitution rings are illegal, and there is also a huge problem with child prostitution and human trafficking. Costa Rica is, unfortunately, a common transit and destination point for women and children who are being trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes. 

  • Prostitution is legal in Argentina as long as the participants are over the age of 18. It’s the promotion, facilitation, and exploitation of others that are troublesome - specifically, the trafficking of women and children for prostitution to and within the country has become a problem. Human sex trafficking, owning a brothel, pimping, or coercing an individual into prostitution in any way is illegal.

  • Canada has no law against the exchange of sex for money; it’s pimping or owning a brothel that is prohibited. It’s also illegal to market or communicate publicly regarding prostitution. Much like Belize, Canada has established contradicting laws. It is legal to be a sex worker, but as of 2014, it’s illegal to purchase sexual services.

  • While anti-prostitution laws and how they are enforced vary by country, they also vary within certain areas of any given country regardless of what nation-wide laws state. While Belgium allows prostitution and prohibits brothels, many brothels are still openly operated without any consequences. They are seen as a nuisance, but authorities put no effort into policing red light districts.

    Places like Villa Tinto, the self-proclaimed most high-tech brothel in Europe, has an elaborate operation that involves prostitutes clocking in via biometric fingerprint scanner and posing in a boutique-like display window to lure in potential clients.