How to Deal With the Police in Thailand

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Are the Thai police reliable and approachable? Can you bribe your way out of anything? Read these tips to stay on the right side of law enforcement.

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Policeman in Bangkok, Thailand Photo © Getty Images Vacharapong Wongsalab / EyeEm

Quick tips for dealing with police in Thailand

  • Do not argue with Thai police. This is not your homeland; things work differently here.
  • Always carry a photocopy of your passport with you to use as ID.
  • Try to get a witness to your interaction with a Thai police officer, to back up your version of events.
  • Save the phone number of your country’s Thai-based embassy in your phone. If you’re being treated unfairly by a police officer, immediately call your embassy.
  • Be especially wary of police who approach you at night on the street near one of Thailand’s touristy entertainment precincts. These locations are where travelers most commonly run into unscrupulous officers.
  • If you’re driving a vehicle in Thailand, carry an international driver’s permit or, at the very least, your driver’s license from back home.

Types of Thai police

Community Police – this description I’m using to broadly refer to the uniformed officers a tourist will encounter on the roads and in the public spaces of Thailand. They are not detectives tasked with executing detailed investigations, but everyday officers whose job is to react to high-volume crimes and maintain order.

Tourist Police – Thailand’s main tourist destinations, such as Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, have special police units dedicated to helping foreign travelers. Made up of Thai officers and ex-pat volunteers, they speak English and wear vests that, in large print, identify them as “Tourist Police”. By calling the phone number 1155, a foreigner can request the presence of the tourist police. These officers specialize in arbitrating arguments between tourists and Thai people, which can be related to theft, scams, road accidents, or financial disputes. If you become a victim of a serious crime, visit the nearest police station. For lower-stakes matters, call the tourist police phone line.

Immigration Police – these are the officers you’ll be faced with if you overstay your welcome in Thailand. Tourists from most countries get a 30-day VISA-free entry upon arrival in Thailand. If you remain in the country beyond that, without applying for a Visa extension, you’ll have to explain yourself to the immigration police when you finally attempt to leave Thailand. They will automatically fine you US $15 for each day you’ve overstayed, up to a maximum of US $600.

Avoid bribery

Thai police famously supplement their modest salaries with what is known locally as “tea money”. This refers mostly to small bribes paid by Thai citizens caught for traffic crimes such as speeding or riding a motorbike without a helmet, both of which are rife on Thai roads. Instead of paying an official fine or getting a criminal charge, the motorist is let off after handing over a few hundred baht (US $5 to $20) which slides straight into the police officer’s pocket.

Many Western tourists follow suit when confronted by a Thai police officer. But it is not advisable to bribe Thai police, especially as a tourist with a shallow understanding of how this nation works. Just because Thai people do it does not mean you should, or even that you can successfully.

In attempting to bribe a Thai police officer, you may well land yourself deeper in trouble. Beyond potentially offending the officer, you could also be charged with attempted bribery. Instead, if you do commit a crime in Thailand, act just as you would back home. Pay the fine and toe the line.

Watch out for fake police

As one of the most-visited countries, Thailand is a magnet for scammers looking to target foreign travelers, especially in tourist-soaked destinations like Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. These criminals have endless strategies for squeezing money out of tourists and one of those is to pose as a Thai police officer.

In July 2021, the Thai Government released a warning to foreigners about an increase in reports of scammers impersonating immigration police. This announcement followed media reports of fake immigration police raiding condos in Bangkok and demanding to see the Visas of foreign residents.

The Government revealed that these fake police had also been harassing ex-pats in the street, shaking down foreign business owners, and confronting tourists in bars and nightclubs. As part of their announcement, the Government offered helpful advice for any foreigner approached by someone claiming to be a Thai police officer.

You should immediately ask that person for their Thai police identity card, which must list their name, rank, and the station at which they’re based. If that person refuses to show you this card, or their police ID looks fake, report this incident to the nearest police station.

No matter what, stay calm

Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” due to the sunny disposition of its people. But that isn’t because Thais are joyful and always relaxed – it’s partly because, in traditional Thai culture, it is frowned upon to openly show anger in public.

Thai people have no problem venting their frustration in private, or for a passionate cause such as a political protest. But becoming livid in public during an exchange with another person is seen as a sign of weakness, and results in a loss of face. This is particularly important to remember when dealing with an authority figure, such as a police officer.

Back home you may be free to remonstrate with a policeman if you feel you’re in the right. In Thailand, however, it is best to always maintain a monk-like level of calm and politeness when dealing with an officer. Such courtesy may well get you out of trouble.

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15 Comments

  • Rin said

    As someone who live in Thai, I can confirmed that the Police force of right now can be very corrupted, and many good police that do good deed can't get up their rank. and There are even corrupted Judge here, That favor those who got the rich, even when there are solid evidence like Videos Clip of what happen.
    They still try to get rid of it or even blatantly declare that They're not in the wrong and won't take responsibility for their action by going to some higher up in the police force.

    The government member of Thailand right now's also in conflict with each other. and try to delay the inevitable revolution.

    and Then just recently, They allow the people they consider to be VIP to get in the country without following safety procedure that everyone that came in the country must follow, and COVID-19 start to spreading again after it's about to recover.

    and then also the matter that This government got Soldier masquerade as Prime Minister which I kind of pity him, It's like he's a puppet that can only do as other say, It's like he feel guilty to have done a bad things but he has to do what he has been told to do.

    It's so mess up.

  • Phoenix tours said

    Thanks for your tips...

  • Auriga said

    The police are extremely corrupt, and act like an organized crime syndicate. Those officers who try do be honest never get promoted or get sent to dangerous places like Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. Most officers have to pay a bribe simply to get their first jobs.

    I've known the country for 25 years, and it is falling a part. Even a new democratic government, or an abdication of the monarch, wouldn't change anything because corruption is deeply imbedded in all local institutions like hospitals, schools, police stations, municipalities, military bases etc. The locally powerful people will never accept any changes.

    The Thai people's current solution is to use social media to get justice, but this only amplifies the intense atmosphere. Now they all have to worry about corrupt police and online witch hunts, because today they have to deal with old-school government control and modern social network control based on mob-rule. Anyone with an e.g. business competitor is at risk of slandering, and there is no justice system to defend themselves from false accusations. All this is the perfect recipe for widespread paranoia. Facebook was actively used to demonize the Rohingyas, when a genocide on them became a reality in Myanmar.

    I all honesty, who is fit to govern Thailand, and take on the wrath of an entire country of corrupt officials and businessmen. Until they have solved this massive issue, Thailand remains a dangerous place for all foreigners. There is simply no justice, and emotionally-fueled social networks have only increased the danger.

  • thai guy said

    seeing some of the comments. If you guys have the idea that you can be as drunk or as crazy as you can because Thailand is a 'third world country', then you deserve to be arrested or fined, whatever. Especially if you OVERSTAY YOUR VISA...just absurd. how can you not know when you need to go back. These people shouldn't visit Thailand. You know as a Thai person, we just dislike the sense of these cheap backpackers visiting Thailand for alcohol, drug, and sex because it's just fueling these illegal industries. These people make Thailand worse

  • Ligi said

    To the above ,......If Thailand didn't promote sex, drugs, and party scenes,entice people to go there and ignoring the prostitution, maybe you wouldn't have all walks of life over there
    The place is sick and it's the government's, fault not the farang
    The people and long term farang would do anything for money.
    MY ADVICE KEEP AWAY ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

  • Almost died in bangkok said

    Hi so basically this is a true story. Me and my dad we went to bangkok and stayed at very top 5* hotel in bangkok. And i wanted to arrange an escort for my dad. This turned to a bad bad idea, she managed to spike my dads drink and still all the monry in his room, when i arrived at his room, he was paralysed and the curtains were closed, i obly just realised after this happened. We went down to reception to ask them to report this case to the police, i had all the messages saved from the escort website, and they called in 3 non uniform cops to hotel, they tried to accusse us and the hotel wanted us to pay for the hotel right away even after losing all the money, my god this country is worst then africa curroption!! Please never visit, so me and my dad were called upon a friend i knew his father lived in bangkok, and he helped us, we tried to leave this shithole country asap, and we got into his car, the hotel that day try tl force us to get inside the yellow taxi whixh obviously is part of the mafia related group, we stayed at friends house, and even the hotel lobby was full of these royal thai police. Honestly it was like a bourne identitiy movie. We almost thought we died there. Trip was only a few days. Ane even in the airport they tried to get rid of a paper i had in my passport, and i remember the hotel showed us photos of our passportz as if to threaten us. Its been more than 5 years since this incident and it still hauntes me. Im glad to be bqck at home away from this devils place. When i came back i rewuested video fottoage from the head quarters of this hotel company and no reply. Please never set foot in this place they really hare us foriengers. I went to south korea and at least that was plasant with no horro stories.

    My god, thialand is worst country ever, and me and my father almost disspeardd there, they almost killed us. I wish i had reported this when i got back to home country, im worried that these incidents are haplening everyday there, and thai mafia trying hard to trap foreingers there so they cannot escape.

    Stay safe and stay away from thailand!

  • Jim said

    Seems all the tourist 'honeypot' places have all the problems.
    Hardly had any after 17 years here (Deep South)

  • Ronnie said

    The place is a walking death trap no good of a place .
    Imagine you have to watch your bk 24/7 even not getting a proper night sleep because of some staff In hotels.
    I've seen and heard enough from Thailand I never want to see the place again .
    I do pray for the young pack packers that go out there not realizing and find themselves in danger.
    Keep far away from police, don't bring nobody into your room,be careful of bar owners who try and be friend you, and ask you all about yourself and where you come from, mostly them people are the ones trying to find out have you money or maybe savings at home in order to have you wrongfully arrested and bribed .
    Trust me I could tell you millions of tragedy and horror stories straight out of Pattaya you wouldn't believe
    The place will even steal your soul be safe and please avoid that nasty place
    Why I write this now is because I'm old and feel sorry for those who lost their lives over there,many students bk,packers e.c. t and be careful of tourisr trappers you could find yourself in a situation that you cannot get out of

  • Tiffany said

    My brother went there 9 years ago for a month. He took a taxi to the airport and when he got out, the taxi driver took off with all of his belongings. He only had the clothes on his back. No ID, no passport, no plane ticket, no cell phone, nothing… the airport personnel and police wouldn’t help him, let him call anyone, call the embassy, or anything. Someone let him borrow their laptop for a moment and he posted on Facebook pleading for help. “Please help, I’m stuck at Bangkok airport”. He was dead about 11 minutes later. They say he jumped. The whole family and friends doubt that. He had an incredible time and was excited to go home, and toxicology results showed nothing in his system. We still don’t have answers, but we all suspect foul play and a coverup.

  • Mo said

    Tiffany I am very sorry for ya and can't believe the stories,and the story you yourself have wrote.
    That is awful and a total disgrace did you or your family get any answers or clues as of yet.
    Could I find this story on Google or any other articles,I'm sorry for asking but I would love to understand why and how.
    I am not saying you are lying it is hard to believe because it's an airport,I am sorry if I am coming across nasty or forward R.I.P to your lost one,it's just crazy.
    I hope ye get answers much love

  • LAB said

    When I first went to Thailand, 20 years ago, I got a train from the airport to bangkok and then a tuk tuk to Kho San Road. I was so disorientated and culture shocked (first time travelling alone, first time in Asia) that I left my money belt with passport, travellers cheques, cash - everything, in the back of the tuk tuk.

    As I'm hauling my briefcase into the nearest bar to have a beer and get my head together the tuk tuk driver honks his horn and points to the money.

    For every bad Thai in Thailand there are ten good ones.

  • Anon said

    This is a country where you need to be more afraid of the authorities than the criminals. I've been ripped off there so many times by the people who are supposed to protect you. I can easily see civil war erupting there in the near future because the locals are so pissed off with the government who basically milk everyone they can at all times with complete impunity. There are so many stories of corrupt police being caught and charged, as a shameless PR exercise, but these cases seem to drag on for so long that everyone just gets bored of waiting for the outcome and the case just dissolves as a distant memory with no outcome. You can almost guarantee that a Thai policeman would never end up in jail, even if he raped or murdered someone. Even immigration here are corrupt. I've been asked for 'tea money' just for a simple visa extension that I was fully entitled to. It's shameless and not even particularly discreet because they know they'll get away with it even if they get caught. The one thing I heard constantly from locals is that this was a better place when the old king was in charge. Now it's effectively a huge beautiful prison for them. I'd avoid going there if you value your freedom and bank balance. One step out of line and you'll either get locked up or bankrupted. The king should be ashamed of what has happened to his country. I'll never go back there.

  • KURT GERHARD TIETJE said

    i am living in Singburi Thailand for over 12years, the only times i had to pay a fine, i took a taxi once from Bangkok to Hua Hin, the driver stayed in the right lane too long, police stopped as for not going back into the left lane, he wanted 200 baht, the driver said he had no money, i paid the fine for him, knowing i did not have too, my brother and his wife from Germany was with as, so i paid, the same going from Bangkok to Pattaya, we got stopped for driving too fast, he said i can pay him 200 baht or drive back to Bangkok and pay the fine, he said roll down the window, nobody could see i gave him the money, i have been stopped a few times, to show my license, they were very friendly and tried to joke a little, i did, in general, i only had good experiences with the police, a few times i have been ask where i am from, i always say from Canada than i said and you, at first they said nothing, then they smiled and said from Thailand, i found it is a good ice breaker, to ask friendly jokes,

  • Angie said

    Don't ever travel there bro Thailand enough advise and please take it

  • Luke said

    Sounds bad. I've been all over the world but that's something else

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