Laws in Thailand → The Best Ways to Stay Out of Jail

Your dreamy trip to Thailand could easily turn into a nightmare if you fall on the wrong side of the law. Imprisonment, the death penalty and other situations that can really ruin your holiday, not to mention your life.

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Some laws in Thailand might be considered odd, like the underwear law, but hey, we aren‘t here to pass judgment, we're here to keep you out of trouble.

Here's a quick guide to Thai laws you might cross knowingly, or unknowingly:

Drug Laws in Thailand

It doesn't get more obvious than the following statement taken from the Customs Department of the Kingdom of Thailand Website:

“Violators of laws related to illicit drugs, e.g., having and holding for use, or being a producer, seller, or transporter are subject to the death sentence.“

That‘s right, The Death Sentence.

The police probably don't give a damn if you say you didn't inhale, you'll be in serious trouble if you're caught. Thai prisons are not like their comfortable Norwegian counterparts. You won't be having a good time inside.

Don't be stupid in Thailand. Never buy, use or transport drugs in any manner during your stay.

Defacing Images of the King: Oh Boy, Is This Against the Law

This is a very important Thai law for tourists - don't defile any image of the Thai King. You can be arrested and sent to jail.

This includes defacing Thai money. Whatever you do, don't step on any Baht - it's against the law, and you could be arrested. This could be a very difficult thing to explain when you return home.

Visa Laws in Thailand: Overstaying Your Visa & Possible Consequences

If you overstay your visa, you can actually be detained at the immigration detention centre.

If however you make it to the airport, you simply pay your overstay fine, and off you go. We'd rather you be safe than sorry, so make sure your visa is in order.

Drinking Laws in Thailand: A Few Facts

The drinking age in Thailand is 20. It's in the interest of bar owners to enforce this, as establishments do occasionally get raided for underage drinkers and patrons under the influence of illegal substances.

This doesn't mean you can't buy alcohol if you are underage. Many people do, but we heavily advise you against it. Again, it can result in jail if the police catch you.

Drinking alcohol is illegal in the following locations in Thailand:

  • Temples or places of worship
  • Pharmacies
  • Public offices
  • Education institutions
  • Petrol stations
  • Public parks

Caveats apply, for example if a ceremony at a temple requires imbibing, then it is legally permitted. Probably a good idea not to get hammered at a temple ceremony. Just sayin'.

The penalty for illegally drinking alcohol at one of the above locations is 6 months imprisonment, and/or no more than a fine of ten thousand baht.

Bribery in Thailand: Where Thai Law is Subject to "Influence"

Bribery certainly occurs in Thailand. Get some tips on Bribery in Thailand here (you know what we mean).

Passports and Thai Law

Thai law requires that tourists have their ID on them at all times, but never leave your passport with anyone when renting a motorcycle or jet ski. They want it not for ID, but because it's so valuable it guarantees you'll return. Give them a photocopy, or other photo ID and a substantial cash deposit instead.

Here's why we actually recommend you don't rent a jet-ski in Patong ever!

Strange Thailand Law #1: The Underwear Law

Hey, who are we to judge, but technically it is illegal to leave your house in Thailand if you are not wearing underwear. Although we haven't had any stories of Nomads being arrested for this offence, do like your good Mother said and always leave the house wearing a fresh pair of undies.

Strange Thailand Law #2: Wearing a Shirt Whilst Driving a Car

Like strange Thai law number 1, we can't recall any Nomad being arrested for not wearing a shirt while driving a car in Thailand. You probably won't be driving a car anyway during your stay, but if you do, make sure you are wearing a shirt. Like the underwear rule your Mother taught you when you were young, make sure it's clean.

Littering Fines in Thailand: When in Doubt Think Green!

You can be fined up to $2,000 Baht in Thailand if you're caught littering on the pavement. If you are fined a sum over this amount, the individual may not actually be authorized to enforce the littering law! However we urge you not to get overly stroppy in the case of an “overfine“.

Members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) are qualified to enforce this fine - you can ask to see their license for this. By they way, don't forget this law applies to chewing gum. Don't spit it on the footpath - not only is really annoying to scrape off your flip flop, it's against the law and Thai Policemen love arresting people for this one.

A true travel insurance claim story

Here's a tip: Never pat a monkey, even if it's on a leash: they can be vicious. I was out wandering with a friend on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan Island, when we ran into a local walking his pet monkey. My friend bent over and patted the monkey and the local kindly let her hold it. Nestled in her arms, it seemed so sweet. Then I reached out to pat it and it bit me on the thumb, breaking the skin.

How World Nomads helped? Medical expenses for treatment, including rabies vaccinations and antibiotics.
Nomad Traveler,
in Thailand

Cover your monkey business

Traveling to any other countries?

10 Comments

  • Nikko said

    Here are some laws that are missing:
    - helmet. In the main tourist venues, always wear a helmet or you will be fined 200 to 400 baht everyday and for your passenger as well.
    - take your driving license with you when you ride a scooter, it is 200 baht more.
    - do not take a scooter >125 or you will be fined 200 more.
    - do not rent a jetski in Pattaya or Pattong. Do not ask question just don't... it is a mafia working with police, you will loose a lot of money.
    - do not follow the taxis who propose you to bring you in a government owned jewelry... it is a scam, and even if the place is looking great, everything is over priced by +100% or is fake.
    - do not buy rubies, emeralds etc... unless it is in a reputable place and with a certificates. Most jewelry are selling both faked and real ones, the real ones are double the price of the fake ones, and have a certificate.
    - buy only gold in the official Goldsmith (red shops everywhere in Thailand). Do not buy more gold than you can wear, it is illegal to export Gold, so this gold will not leave Thailand and will be kept by at the airport...
    - never never let a Ladyboy or a lady hug you for no reason in the street. They are looking for your money in your bag and you back pocket. They are professional and well trained, you will feel nothing, and they will take only the bills.

  • Nomadictraveler said

    I rode a great deal and have seen tourists riding with no shirt on a motorbike. No issues.

    As far as not giving out your passport when renting a motorbike, good luck with that. Even a lady i am seeing who owns a fruit stand and two motorbikes wouldn't settle on a copy and deposit. I've been all over thailand and probably rented 13 motorbikes. Only one place in chiang mai didnt require holding my passport. Do you blame them?

    • Paul said

      In Koh Samui it wasn't much of a problem - maybe because you're not leaving unnoticed there? In Chiang Mai it took quite some convincing to let them settle for a cash deposit. In Phuket I couldn't rent anything without handing over my passport.

    • Thailand said

      I don't rent much because I own my bikes, but you can definitely find places to rent with no passport.

  • Claudio Machado Jr said

    Thailand is my favorite place on earth. It's not an 'odd' country nor has 'odd' laws. If you act like a normal human being and be respectable, you won't get in trouble. The problem is when foreigners decide to 'go crazy', just because they think they are in an 'exotic' country.
    By the way, if you litter a place like Thailand, you deserve indeed to spend some time in jail.

  • Tony said

    Its also worth mentioning here that gambling is also totally illegal in Thailand. other than the state run lottery and some horse racing events.

    Gambling is strictly prohibitied.

  • KK said

    The underwear law is misinterpreted. Nowhere in the penal law (translation is here: http://www.thailandlawonline.com/table-of-contents/thailand-criminal-law-translation) does it mention about not wearing any undergarments. It only states that you cannot appear in public wearing nothing else but just your undergarments.

  • Glen said

    Be carefull watching porn is also ilegal watching porn on the internet will put you in jail also pornography on your phone believe me be allowed guy's never watch it.

  • socrates said

    Watching porn on internet is illegal by thai authorities? This is the most stupid and hypocritical law by the Thai. In certain areas very very young girls are prostitutes and the law seems to close their eyes on such brothels, but if you do porn on the net, you can get busted? Crazy country...

  • scary said

    When I read all the issues to "be on guard" in Thailand, I guess that I will travel elsewhere!....Thailand used to be a paradise with great people - but currently the Thai people seen to consider the tourist or expat, as another "farang", only good to shell out his cash......such attitudes make tourism and expats relocate and their numbers will drastically fall in Thailand, with the sources or revenue.

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