If you’re genuinely innocent and need their assistance you’ll find Thai police polite, professional and efficient. Still, they’re serious guys with a tough job. So don't mess with them. But to make the most of your trip to Thailand you'll need to know about:
Of course you wouldn't need these tips if you could keep yourself out of trouble, so check out our guide to Thai laws you must know.
Police are paid poorly, about 6000 baht a month! They rely on the “support of their communities” to make the wage livable – which means payments from the gold shops they protect, fines they issue, and commissions from brothels.
A generous interpretation of this is that police provide service without favour, and in return the locals treat them with the honour and respect their status deserves. So you should do the same.
Not actually sworn law enforcement officers but they do ‘police’ the tourist industry. They’re mostly volunteers, a mix of Thai locals and ex-pats. They speak good English and they’re really helpful. They can act as intermediaries and translators when you’re dealing with the real police, or with scammers.
The number all over Thailand is 1155.
Thailand ranks 88th out of 176 on an international corruption indicator, scoring 37 points out of 100. For comparison, Denmark topped the index (least corrupt) with a score of 90, the UK was 17th with a score of 74. So 88th is a long way down, meaning it’s pretty corrupt.
At the top echelons there are reports of multi-million baht kickbacks to government officials. But as a tourist the officialdom you’re most likely to encounter are police and low-level public service clerks.
It is illegal to offer a bribe, just like prostitution is illegal. Ok stop laughing now. We cannot condone or endorse illegal behaviour. Plus, by taking part in the charade you're perpetuating the cycle - and probably driving up the price too!
But we've heard from those naughty people who have no problems with illegally bribing a police officer that they have more success if they're a little subtle with the bribe. They don’t call it a bribe, they ask if there’s a "special fee" to speed up the process, or if they can pay the fine "on-the-spot", or if they can “help” the official in some way.
Although illegal, bribery is pretty common, and the locals admit they rationalise it by thinking about it as paying honour and respect to the status of the person who’s working hard to make their day go a little more smoothly. Need a stamp in your passport, but it’s going to take a couple of days? You’ll be amazed at the time-travel properties of 100 baht! or so we are told.
Bribing Police - When and How Much?
It's common knowledge that the going rate for a bribe - sorry we mean an expression of honour and respect - is about the same as the fine would be, minus a discount for saving the officer from the paperwork. Most traffic infringements are between 200 and 500 baht ($6 - $16). “No thanks, no receipt required officer.”
The alternative, legal thing to do, is to accept the ticket, take a trip to the police station while it’s processed, spend a few hours there, jump through several annoying bureaucratic hoops and STILL pay 200 to 500 baht. But at least you've done the right thing!
One of the most common police "fines" comes about after a license check. So what is the story with motorcycle licenses in Thailand?
Police are paid monthly, so it can be common to see them on the streets at the end of the month looking for ways to issue on-the-spot fines to tide them over till pay day.
If you’re spotted coming out of a nightclub you could be stopped and searched for drugs. Police are hoping to find an excuse to be paid enormous amounts of honour and respect. Don’t get upset, cooperate, if you have nothing to fear the process will be conducted with smiles all around.