Tips on Dealing With the Police When Traveling in Thailand

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Are the Thai police trustworthy and approachable? Can (or should) you bribe your way out of anything? Who are the Tourist Police? Read these tips to stay on the right side of law enforcement.


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 – I’m using this description 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 expats 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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  • 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.


    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

  • Johnathon said

    Paid fee for round trip van ride for border crossing to renew visa. Got professional receipt. After crossing border was told to pay more or throw me out of van many hours from hotel. Travel agency asked me to pay and supported throwing me out if I didn't pay. I paid. Went to Tourist Police. Very little English. Policeman called travel agency. They talk in Thai laughing. Other officers in room laugh too. They hang up and say the travel agency (Phuket Travel Shop run by Andrew Hoggs and Phen Phet Visa Run - run by Ben Munsa) told them I should have paid much more than what is on their website. The Phuket Tourist Police agreed. I was distraught! They supported me getting threatened and scammed and thought it was funny. ALL OF THEM! Go to Vietnam or Philippines for amazing beaches and snorkeling and amazing prices. STAY OUT OF PHUKET! It is saturated with scams EVERYWHERE. Even the UK run businesses! No really - EVERYTHING. Even menu's! Mafia still runs the airport taxi'. Locals can't pick you up there so take Airport Bus along beaches or to Old town or go across street from airport for Grab or Bolt.

  • Brian Ford said

    What is our govornment doing to effectively protect our young ones from the persitent corruption which is consistently faced by young European travellers by the Thai police. Three years running drugs have been planted on unsuspecting young tourists from the UK and the wider Europe by the Thai police (or their Thai runners) to obtain cash illegally using prison and the courts in ugly and contemptable scare tactics. It is clear to us all that the Thai police to a man are disgustingly corrupt and are making our childrens holidaying experiences there an absolute misery by doing this under the guise of law. Its a wonderful country spoiled by this inherent corruption within the Police there. The UK govornment know about this, and do nothing apart from providing a number to call. THe UK govornment are responsible as stated on every passport which is to enable free an uninterrupted passage around the world yet they are doing nothing to even warn people who go to Tailand and its Islands to holiday. Victims holidays become unecessarily stressed and reduced to tears when they are thrown into a police cell for hours on end and unkindly mentally tormented with court and prison threats only then to be told a few hours later that if they pay up 10000 BAHT they can go free without charges. Utterly despicable people

  • John johnstone said

    I will say this like anywhere there will be scams. I lived and worked in Thailand for three years. Phuket and Pattaya are tourist hotspots and this is what you get in these areas. It will be the same in the Philippines or Laos or Cambodia or even Vietnam. If something doesn’t feel right walk away. This is a third world country too them you are rich and a few hundred baht means nothing to you. This is the reality even if that’s not the case. I loved Thailand but saying that I learnt the main things when it comes to language. I would highly recommend Thailand but not the tourist spots as this is not Thailand that is Spain.

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