12 Laws in Thailand: How to Stay Out of Jail

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What travelers need to know about drug laws, the legal drinking age, visa restrictions, littering, the Thai king and photography.

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Your trip to Thailand could easily turn into a nightmare if you fall on the wrong side of the law. We take a look at how you can avoid copping a fine or time in jail.

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

Disrespecting the Thai royal family

Lese Majeste is a law which was introduced in Thailand in 1908 and states that it's a serious offense to defame, insult, threaten or defile any image of the Thai royal family.

This also includes defacing Thai money, so don't step on the local currency, Thai baht (THB). It's against the law and could result in imprisonment.

Even talking about the Thai king and his family is generally frowned upon, especially in public areas. You can be arrested and sent to jail.

Visa rules in Thailand

If you overstay your visa, you will be detained at the immigration detention center.

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 and don't overstay your welcome.

The legal drinking age and alcohol laws in Thailand

The drinking age in Thailand is 20, and it's in the interest of bar owners to enforce this, as establishments do occasionally get raided by police looking 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 advise against it. Again, it can result in jail time.

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, in which case it is legally permitted.

The penalty for illegally drinking alcohol at one of the above locations is six months' imprisonment, and/or no more than a fine of 10,000 Baht.

In July 2017, Thai police announced the monitoring social media closely to further enforce the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (2008). This law prohibits "the display of logos and brands of alcoholic products in order to persuade people into drinking alcohol whether directly or indirectly." Anyone found breaking the law can be charged, so think twice before taking that selfie with the Singha by the pool or it may cost you a US$1,500 fine.

Photography and drone laws in Thailand

Photography

Street photography is generally allowed in Thailand, however there some places where you cannot take photos.

Some temples won't allow photography, while others are more relaxed but will still prohibit photographing images or statues of Buddha. Check before taking photos inside temples (if permitted) and avoid taking photos of people praying or worshipping.

Photography is forbidden inside bars and other venues in red light districts including Patpong and Cowboy.

If you want to take a photo with or of locals, including monks, always ask first. If it's permitted, don't forget to smile in your photo and thank the person with a wai (slight bow) afterward, especially if you are younger than the person you had the photo taken with.

Avoid giving money to children who ask for it if they end up in your photos, as it promotes a begging culture.

Taking photographs of the Thai royal family is also a no-no, as are photos of military posts and border points.

Drones

Want to put your drone in the air for a bird's eye view of it all? Think again. There are many regulations around operating drones in Thailand whether for recreational or commercial use.

Because drones have a camera, you will need permission from the relevant authorities.

You will need drone insurance and also have to apply for a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority Thailand (CAAT) well in advance of your trip, as the application can take anywhere from 75 to 104 days.

Gambling in Thailand

Apart from the government-supported National Lottery and betting on horses at the racetracks, gambling is largely illegal in Thailand. There no casinos in Thailand, although gambling dens can be found throughout the country, and online betting does occur. However, both are illegal, and being found participating can lead to a fine or jail time.

Littering fines in Thailand

In February 2018, Thailand authorities banned littering at 24 of its most popular beaches due to increasing environmental concerns. Litterers will be prosecuted and either fined 100,000 THB (US$3,190) or ace a year in jail.

You can be fined up to 2,000 THB if you're caught littering on the sidewalk. If you are fined a sum more than this amount, the individual may not be authorized to enforce the littering law. However, we urge you not to get overly stroppy in the case of an “overfine“. Some travelers have reported that when they were pinged for a littering offense they offered what little money they had on them which was generally accepted.

Members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) are qualified to enforce this fine - you can ask to see their license. This law also applies to chewing gum, so don't spit it on the footpath; not only is really annoying to scrape off your flip-flop, but Thai police love arresting people for this one.

Smoking ban in Thailand

Smoking is now banned at 24 beaches in popular tourist spots including Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chon Buri and Songkhla provinces. This has been initiated by the Thai government to reduce the impact on the marine environment and damage to drain systems. After a three-month trial period, this ban may be rolled out on passenger and tourist boats in Thailand.

Breaking this law attracts a fine of 100,000 THB fine, a year in prison or both.

Smoking is prohibited in outdoor exercise spaces, facilities for sports training/playing and competitions, public parks, zoos, amusement parks, markets and children's playgrounds. Travelers in tour groups are expected to adhere to this regulation.

Electronic cigarettes/vaping have been banned in Thailand since 2014. Plenty of travelers have been caught out and ignoring this will result in a fine and/or arrest and jail time.

Bribery in Thailand: Where Thai law is subject to "influence"

Bribery certainly occurs in Thailand. Get some tips on Bribery in Thailand here.

Passports and Thai law

Thai law requires that travelers carry ID at all times, but don't ever leave your passport as security when renting a motorcycle or jet ski. Instead, use a photocopy, other photo ID or a substantial cash deposit.

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

The Thai underwear law

Under Thai law, it's illegal to go out in public if you are not wearing underwear. Although we haven't had any stories of travelers being arrested for this offense, listen to what your mother said and always leave the house wearing a fresh pair of undies.

Why you must wear a shirt while driving

Under Thai law, it's also illegal to drive a car if you are not wearing a shirt.

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

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18 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.

  • Icemanknobby said

    Been coming here for years, I’ve been asked for my passport on a couple of occasions for bike rental but I have always refused instead they take a copy never an issue with me

  • Ian said

    I would be very careful travelling to thailand,the amount of corruption killings and robberies and so on is gone to far and is unbelievably horrible and frightening.
    I can't understand how it is so bad and how they can get away with what goes on over there,I am well travelled and have been in a lot of countries but I have never witnessed what I have any where in the world as what I've witnessed in Thailand.
    My friend was killed there a few years back it was put down to suicide the investigation into it was terrible and his family for no answers what so ever, he was a friendly man and did not deserve what happened to him.
    The funny thing about all this is he phoned his family explaining he did not feel safe felt threatened by a member of staff in his hotel and was going to fly home the next day as he felt frightened by some body.
    What his family can't get over is they got no justice or answers as how is his wrists where marked pointing out that his hands where tied together, and there was no markings of signs that he tried to stop himself from choking as you would or anybody would obviously do while they are choking to death specially if your hands where free to do so.
    His money was also taking as his records showed he withdrew 5000 bath from his account a few hours before and there was also signs of a scuffle in the room as a few things where broken.
    This is not the first time I've heard stories like this and it won't be the last unfortunately I lost a very good friend from the corruption that covered up his death,he was a friend son father brother and one of the nicest people you could ever meet and I just keep saying why Thailand why and shame on you for letting these things happen and brushing the truths of thing under the carpet...R.I.P you will be missed for ever.

  • Social Traveler said

    I want to thank you a lot for this extensive and very informative article.

  • Rex Everything said

    This is in response to Claudio Machado Jr's comment from 5 years ago -

    I understand my reply is very...late, but when you're risking your life, and possibly your family's, one cannot gamble that for anything, especially not on the word of someone who's obviously ignorant to how "the real world" actually functions.

    His interpretation is nonsensical, and is more preaching than factual. In a country such as Thailand, penalties range from fines to a prison term, to life in prison to the death penalty for committing crimes that are wide open to interpretation. So, your penalty could differ if the arresting officer was lucky enough to get a nooner from his wife or not, or they were just having a crappy day, or you didn't have enough money for a decent bribe.

    I've been all over the world and I've seen plenty, but the worst one I saw was when a friend of mine, a foreigner teaching English in a similar asian country, was accused by his student of rape, and that ultimately cost him his life when he was murdered in prison 1 month into a 3 year stint because he'd earlier stolen drugs and money from a cell housing murderers already serving life. It didn't matter that the student was in her early 20's, the same age as him, nor did it matter that he'd been dating the student for 3 months, nor did it matter that she organised for them both to go out drinking with some of her friends and he actually chose not to drink to make sure he could take care of her after he'd seen her many times as a messy drunk, nor did it matter that her father was high up in the local police...

    It seems as though she, once again, drank too much and persuaded the guy to let her sleep in his apartment near their academy because she was too scared for her father to see her that drunk. Early the next morning she was seen leaving the teacher's apartment by some of his other students, and here's the kicker - to save face, she told her father that this guy had forced her to drink, and taken her to his place when she was drunk so he could rape her. Her father didn't know they were a couple because she was too scared to tell him, and although they'd slept together several times already, she told her father she was a virgin before this and after this "event", there was no way to prove otherwise.

    Interestingly enough, her father was the one pressing charges, and he was also in charge of the investigation. He wouldn't allow anyone to give evidence supporting my friend, not her friends who'd known they were a couple and were there when they were out, and who knew he didn't force her to drink and who also knew he wasn't drinking, only the students who saw them the next morning leaving his place, however, there were now several new witnesses who appeared from nowhere supporting her side of the story, my buddy and her friends hadn't seen them that night or anywhere else before that, either.

    Corrupt to the core. Because there wasn't a solid case, her father hired people to make a solid case. There is also the opinion that her father actually had him killed because he wasn't happy with 4 years.

    Are you willing to accept that risk based on some bozo online telling you it's all perfectly fine??

    Even if you do nothing wrong, and you're perfectly behaved, there's no telling what one can hope for in a corrupt country with corrupt law enforcement. I'm not saying Thailand is corrupt, nor its police, but I don't know they aren't, either. And, at least believing me can't get you locked up or even killed.

  • Sir Onslow said

    I concur the tragic stories of Ian and Rex Everything.

    Even if you have been married 20 years to two different Thai women, and even after 15-20 trips to Thailand, you still don't know the culture. You have to live and work there. Many Thai people are wonderful and honest, but they are oppressed by corrupt people in their local areas. In such a corrupt country it's often necessary for people to be loyal to themselves, and there is no limit to what some people will do or say. Even neutrals will stab anyone in the back for personal benefits. Live there, work there, make them jealous, make them lose face, and you will eventually understand what I mean.

    I strongly suggest never to work in a place where there is no justicial safety. It's not really about how you behave, it's more about how they behave. This makes every day a gamble, and Ian's and Rex's sad stories makes total sense to me. The young teacher dated the wrong girl in a lawless country, and it cost him his life, but there are many local men like him too. Any convict will get benefits if he attack someone on behalf of someone influential. The only path to retribution lies within the potential guilt of the former girlfriend, but now she probably believes her fathers lies about the theft in prison. Their truth is that her father was right, because the young teacher was a bad guy, who had it coming anyway. People who lie in court will never say anything, because even if they are safe, their families are not. Besides that, remorse can conveniently be erased by a few days of good deeds in a temple anyway.

    I know many people including myself who got into trouble in Thailand simply because of jealousy and dented pride. Don't pay attention to the tourists who talk about helmets, believe the stories behind those of us who left in self preservation, ended up in prison, or even died down there. This doesn't only apply to Thailand, but all countries where the justice system is compromised. When it goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong, and the worse the police can make you appear, the bigger heroes they are.

    On average 10.000 fresh teenage girls are trafficked and added to the Thai prostitution industry from Myanmar, Laos, China, Vietnam and Cambodia each year. Many of these girls are refugees from the neverending civil wars in Myanmar. Thousands more are trafficked from rural areas in Thailand. They often have to work up to 18 hours each day serving min. 10 men. 80-90 percent of all prostitute customers in Thailand are Thai men, and the Royal Thai Police and local authorities are heavily involved in this illegal industry for financial reasons. Those who exploit these young poor girls the most are the Thai police. Enough said.

  • randall said

    You Know, I have lived in Thailand for more than 10 years, I am back in Canada now, but I am moving back soon. I must say from reading all of those stories that this is the same crap that goes on in any country in the world. In all my years in Thailand I have never experienced anything like what people describe here. This is ridiculous. I mean come on people. You could get hit by a bus crossing the street at home. People like to dwell on the negatives.

    The simple fact is this, I have never had any problems like that. Why? I am a nice, respectful person who does not get involved with shady characters or criminal activities, which is in every country.

    It is one of the best countries in the world. Anybody who has a problem is doing something wrong.

    Randall

  • Marisa said

    My condolences for both Ian and Rex.
    as I was born and still living in Thailand, It's such a scary place. sure there are still nice people left but It seem things gone much worse than before, News of corrupted police, corrupted official, corrupted teacher, convict who serve their time then get pardon but they don't repent and commit murder, r*pe, torture happen almost daily here that it's depressing and sickening.
    I lost hope in my own country, the bad heavily outweigh the goods here. and what goods that still there seem to gradually lessening everyday.
    many said If We can't bear to work and live here then tell us to go work, live elsewhere while scorn us as traitor and scum while they're content to let things happen as it is.

  • Marisa said

    My condolences for you too, Sir Onslow.
    I really wish for Thailand to be better, but it seem to get worse each years.
    Many of my friend here already try to learn, work and save their money as much as possible in order to escape from such cruel people. to not live in fear that one day they will turn to you and your family next.
    We really want for things to be better and try to working, living, doing charity but then we saw what happen when people rise up to ask for the government to fix things. since then more of my friends losing faith in the official and start their preparation to begin their life in other countries, gathering more information and saving their money for it.
    some of my friend already succeed in getting work Visa and got stable life in other countries and become inspiration for us.

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