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.


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.

Disrespecting the Thai Royal Family

A law which has been around since 1908, it is a serious offence to defame, insult, threaten or defile any image of the Thai royal family.

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.

This also includes defacing Thai money. Whatever you do, don't step on any Baht - it's against the law and could result in spending time behind bars. 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.

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 either. Gambling dens can be found throughout Thailand and online betting does occur, however they are illegal and participating can see you slapped with a fine and put in jail.

Littering Fines in Thailand

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 the 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.

Smoking Ban in Thailand

As of November 2017, smoking will also be banned on beaches in numerous 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 will be rolled out across all beaches, passenger and tourist boats in Thailand.

Breaking this law will see you receive a 100,000 Baht fine, 1 year prison time 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. Travellers in tour groups are expected to adhere to this regulation.

Electronic cigarettes/vaping have also been banned in Thailand since 2014. Plenty of tourists 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 (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.

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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