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.

Listen to The World Nomads Podcast: Thailand Safety Guide

In this episode, we showcase our newly polished travel safety guide to Thailand with everything you need to know about transport, scams, and rip-offs so you can have a safe and fun time in the ‘land of smiles'.

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


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.


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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  • 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.

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