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Top 10 laws to beware of in Thailand

Jack Burton

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Did you know that it’s illegal in the UK to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armor? Or that it’s legal to shoot a Scotsman with a crossbow under certain circumstances? Most countries have outdated laws on the books that seem odd today, but as a visitor to Thailand, there are some laws you should always be aware of; some perhaps eccentric, some just common sense:

1. Drugs: Don’t import, buy, sell or use illicit drugs in Thailand. Just don’t. The penalties are severe, including the death penalty in some cases.

Importation of a trafficable quantity of illicit drugs could technically result in a death sentence; other offences carry lengthy prison terms. (Thai prisons are not known for their comfortable conditions or rehabilitation.) If you’re wrongly accused, sign nothing, contact your nation’s embassy immediately, and find a good lawyer.

2. Never deface any image of the Thai King or insult HM or members of the Thai Royal Family in any way. Thailand has, and enforces, strict lèse majesté laws, which provide severe penalties for anyone, Thai or foreigner, who insults HM or the Royal Family. While it may seem like an infringement of free speech to non-Thais, it’s the law of the land and the penalties are real.

Some people have even been sentenced in absentia for offences, real or otherwise, committed online and/or in foreign media. You can actually be arrested for treading on money, including coins, or anything with the image of a member of the Royal Family. So just don’t.

3. The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20. Don’t be seen drinking with anyone under that age, and be sure before you buy a round. “Sorry officer, I swear to God she told me she was 21” isn’t going to get you off the hook.

4. It is a legal requirement for all foreign nationals to carry their passports at all times. In actual practice, this is rarely an issue, and generally a copy will suffice, but the copy must include not only the identification page but also the latest visa and entry permit. It’s recommended that you carry laminated copies if you plan to stay in Thailand for more than 60 days

5. It is against the law in Thailand to “go commando.” It is actually illegal to go in public without underwear in the Kingdom. It’s the law. If you do, you could (theoretically) wind up in jail. And that’s no way to start the week. More practically speaking, skimpy clothing is generally frowned upon, especially away from the tourist areas. Keep you shoulders covered and wear a longer skirt (or shorts), especially if you’re entering a temple or public building.

6. Do not drive topless. It’s against the law to drive an automobile in Thailand without wearing a shirt, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s unclear whether the regulation applies to motorcyclists, but the Thaiger recommends playing it safe. Really, no one wants to see you torso unless you’re under 30 or a supermodel.

7. It’s illegal to remove Buddha statues or images from Thailand without a permit. Clearly this one is demonstrated more in the breach than in the observance, but be aware: you can be fined or even arrested and jailed if you stick a Buddha image or statue in your luggage. It’s also considered bad taste by devout Buddhists to adorn your house and garden with images and statues of Buddha.

8. Don’t litter, especially throwing chewing gum on the ground. It goes without saying that littering is an offence, but The Thaiger has heard reports that Thai police, perhaps inspired by Singapore’s draconian laws, particularly enjoy fining those who spit out chewing gum, for sums of up to 10,000 baht. Chew and dispose of in a rubbish bin (if you can find one).

9. Don’t overstay your visa. As a foreigner, you can be stopped and interrogated at any time by Thai police, and you must be able to show your current visa status. If you have overstayed your visa, even by a few hours, you can be detained and heavily fined. If you’re leaving Thailand and it’s discovered you’ve overstayed your visa, you will be fined 500 baht for each day you’ve overstayed, and there may be a nominal “handling charge’ for “expediting your case.” The Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok is not known for its high comfort levels! Play by the rules.

10. Don’t be noisy. Thais dislike noise, especially at night (Soi Cowboy and Bangla Road are exceptions). It may not be an actual law, but if you’re on holiday, you may enjoy a bit of revelry into the wee hours on… a few nights. Be respectful of your Thai hosts and neighbours, who may not share your exuberance or late night spontaneous parties. Rest assured they can put a stop to it if you push them too far.

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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