September 16, 2010
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand adopted its current constitution following an August 19, 2007, referendum. Multi-party elections held on December 23, 2007, resulted in the People’s Power Party (PPP) winning a plurality of the seats in the lower house of Parliament and the formation of a coalition government. In December 2008, a revised coalition led by the previous opposition party, the Democrat Party, came to power. Most of the population is Buddhist and ethnically Thai. Standard Thai is the official language of Thailand and is spoken in every province, though many areas also have a local dialect, and in the deep south, a variant of Malay is widely spoken. Most Thais working in the tourist industry and in businesses dealing with foreigners can speak at least rudimentary English. Thailand is a popular travel destination, and tourist facilities and services are available throughout the country. At many tourist attractions, including national parks, foreigners are charged admission fees up to ten times higher than those charged to Thais. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Thailand for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Thailand, please take the time to tell our Embassy or Consulate about your trip. If you sign up, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy, Bangkok
95 Wireless Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Telephone: 66-2-205-4049, 02-205-4049 (within Thailand)
Emergency after-hours telephone: 66-2-205-4000, 02-205-4000 (within Thailand)
Facsimile: 66-2-205-4103, 02-205-4103 (within Thailand)
U.S. Consulate General, Chiang Mai
387 Wichayanond Road, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Telephone: 66-53-107-700, 053-107-700 (within Thailand)
Emergency after-hours telephone: 66-81-881-1878, 081-881-1878 (within Thailand)
Facsimile: 66-53-252-633, 053-252-633 (within Thailand)
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: If you are aU.S. citizen tourist staying for fewer than 30 days, you do not require a visa, but your passport must have at least six months validity remaining. You may be asked to show an onward/return ticket. If you enter Thailand by air without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 days per visit. If you enter Thailand by land without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 15 days per visit. If you enter Thailand without a visa, you cannot remain in Thailand for more than 90 days during any six-month period, counting from the date of first entry. After 90 days, you must apply for a new visa at a Thai embassy outside of the country. You must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Thai baht when you departi from any of Thailand’s international airports. This charge is now included in airline ticket prices at Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
When you enter the country, Thai Immigration stamps your passport with the date your authorized stay will expire. If you remain in Thailand beyond this date without getting an official extension, you will be assessed an immediate cash fine of 500 Baht per day, up to a maximum of 20,000 Baht, when departing Thailand. Any foreigner found by police to be out of legal status prior to departure (during a Thai Immigration “sweep” through a guesthouse, for example) will be jailed, fined, deported at his or her own expense, and may be barred from re-entering Thailand. Private “visa extension services,” even those advertising in major periodicals or located close to Immigration offices or police stations, are illegal. A number of U.S. citizens are arrested at border crossings each year with counterfeit visas and entry stamps they have obtained through these illegal services.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Thailand. However, these restrictions are generally not enforced. Please verify this information with the Royal Thai Embassy before you travel.
Thailand’s entry/exit information is subject to change without notice. For further information on Thailand’s entry/exit requirements, contact the Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20007, telephone (202) 944-3600, or contact the Thai consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City. Visit the Royal Thai Embassy website for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The State Department is concerned that there is a continued risk of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand. U.S. citizens traveling to Thailand should therefore exercise caution, especially in locations where Westerners congregate, such as clubs, discos, bars, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, schools, outdoor recreation venues, tourist areas, beach resorts, and other places frequented by foreigners. You should remain vigilant with regard to your personal security and avoid crowds and demonstrations. For more information on terrorist threats against U.S. citizens worldwide and steps to take as a result of these threats, please see the Worldwide Caution.
The political environment in Thailand remains turbulent. Since 2006, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, also known as “Red Shirts”) have led large political protests and conducted sporadic acts of violence throughout the country, notably in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Between March and May 2010, political protests throughout Thailand resulted in the deaths of at least 91 people and injuries to over 260 people, including two U.S. citizens. Responding to the violent protests in Bangkok, the Royal Thai Government imposed a curfew and temporarily closed several hotels and stores. Since the protests ended in May, there have been numerous incidents of explosive attacks, including several isolated grenade and arson attacks, in and around Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Some of the explosive devices have been discovered in public places in Bangkok, including near a major shopping center, a school, a bus stop, and government buildings. These use of devices appears to have been motivated by domestic politics and to have no apparent link to international terrorism. You should remain vigilant and cautious when transiting public areas, as future explosive device attacks are possible. You should immediately report unattended or suspicious items to local law enforcement.
The Department of State advises all U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Bangkok to monitor events closely, to avoid any large public gatherings, and to exercise discretion when moving about Bangkok. All demonstrations are unpredictable, and any demonstration can turn violent without warning. For this reason, we encourage you to monitor local media for announcements of possible demonstrations and to avoid the areas where demonstrations might occur. If a demonstration is expected to pass near U.S. Embassy facilities, Embassy entrances and functions may be restricted.
The far south of Thailand has been experiencing almost daily incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence for several years, including incidents attributed to armed local separatist groups. On March 15, 2008, two bomb explosions at the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani Province killed two people and injured thirteen. A car bomb exploded in Yala Province on the same day, killing the driver. Although the separatist groups have focused primarily on Thai government interests in the southern provinces, some of the recent violence has targeted public and commercial areas, including areas where foreigners may congregate. The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. Embassy personnel from traveling to the far south of Thailand- Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla provinces, including the town of Hat Yai- without prior mission approval, and Embassy personnel may go there only on mission-essential travel. The Department of State urges you to defer non-emergency travel to these areas. If you must travel to these areas, you should exercise special caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. You should be aware that Thai authorities have on occasion instituted special security measures in affected areas, such as curfews, military patrols, or random searches of train passengers.
We recommend that you defer travel along the Thai-Cambodian border in the area of the Preah Vihear temple because of a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. Soldiers from the two countries have been stationed along the border in this area since July 2008 and have exchanged gunfire on several occasions. Until the situation has been resolved, you should exercise extreme caution if you must travel to areas along the Thai-Cambodian border where troop activities are reported.
From 2004 to 2006, seven Lao-American and Hmong-American citizens as well as a number of non-U.S. citizens with ties to Laos were murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos. If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. We also recommend that you check with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane before traveling to border areas. The Thai/Burma border is the site of on-going conflicts between the Burmese Army and armed opposition groups as well as clashes between Thai security forces and armed drug traffickers. Pirates, bandits, and drug traffickers operate in these border areas. There remains a possibility of significant flare-ups of military activity on the Burmese side of the border that could spill over into adjacent areas of northern Thailand. You should travel off-road in undeveloped areas only with local guides who are familiar with the area. Border closings and re?openings occur frequently, and if you are considering traveling into Burma from Thailand, you should be aware that in the event of a border closure you may not be able to re-enter Thailand. In light of the continuing unsettled situation along the Thai border with Burma and the possibility of frequent closings to all traffic, the Department of State recommends that you exercise caution when traveling in remote or rural areas adjacent to the Burma border.
You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
Nobody is better at protecting you than yourself. Take some time before travel to improve your personal security. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: Although the crime threat in Bangkok remains lower than that in many U.S. cities, crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and burglary are not unusual. You should be especially wary when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites, and bus or train stations. Many U.S. citizens have reported having passports, wallets, and other valuables stolen in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market, usually by thieves who cut into purses or bags with a razor and remove items surreptitiously. Police at the Market usually refuse to issue police reports for foreign victims of theft, requiring them instead to travel several miles to the central Tourist Police office. Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare. However, there has been a recent upsurge in violent crime against tourists, including the murder of several independent travelers, on the southern islands of Phuket and Koh Samui. If you are traveling alone, you should exercise caution and stay in the vicinity of other travelers, especially in the beach areas of these islands.
Serious crimes involving taxis or “tuk-tuks” (three-wheeled taxis) are relatively rare, although attempts to charge excessive fares occur regularly. Every year foreign passengers are involved in taxi-related incidents in Bangkok. You should not hesitate to ask to be let out of a taxi immediately if the driver is acting suspiciously or driving erratically. (See also the Safety and Road Conditions section.)
When arriving at Bangkok’s airport, you should use only taxis from the airport’s official taxi stand, cars from the airport limousine counters, or airport buses. All major hotels in Bangkok can also arrange to have a car and driver meet incoming flights. It is uncommon for Thai taxis to pick up additional passengers. You should be wary of drivers seeking to do so, and you should never enter a cab that has someone besides the driver in it.
U.S. citizens frequently encounter taxi drivers and others who tout gem stores or entertainment venues. These touts receive kickbacks or commissions that drive up the prices of the goods or services, and you should not accept tours or other offers from them. Scams involving gems, city tours, entertainment venues, and credit cards are common, especially in areas heavily visited by tourists. You should use credit cards only in reputable, established businesses, and you should check the amount you have been charged for accuracy.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) receives over a thousand complaints each year from visitors who have been cheated on gem purchases. Gem scams usually follow a predictable pattern. Someone may approach you outside of a well-known tourist attraction such as the Grand Palace or the Jim Thompson House and say that the attraction is closed. The friendly stranger quickly gains your confidence and suggests a visit to a temple that is supposedly open only one day per year; the stranger then mentions in passing that a special once-a-year government-sponsored gem sale is going on and directs you to a waiting tuk-tuk. At the temple, another stranger- sometimes a foreigner- engages you in conversation and, by seeming coincidence, also mentions the “special” gem sale. You agree to go look at the gem shop and are soon convinced to buy thousands of dollars worth of jewels that you can supposedly sell in the U.S. for a 100% profit. When you have the goods appraised, they turn out to be of minimal value, and the shop’s money-back guarantee is not honored. No matter what a tout may say, no jewelry stores are owned, operated, or sponsored by the Thai Government or by the Thai royal family. Lists of gem dealers who have promised to abide by TAT guidelines are available online from the Buying Gems L Jewellery in Thailand section of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website and detailed information on gem scams can be found on numerous web sites. If you fall victim to a gem scam, you should contact the local branch of the Tourist Police or call their country-wide toll-free number: 1155.
Although most bars and entertainment venues operate honestly, some, especially in tourist areas such as Patpong, at times try to charge exorbitant amounts for drinks or unadvertised cover charges and threaten violence if the charges are not paid. If you are victimized in this fashion, you should not attempt to resolve the problem yourself but should instead pay the price demanded and then seek out a nearby Tourist Police officer for help in getting restitution. If no officer is nearby, you can contact the Tourist Police by dialing toll-free 1155.
There have been occasional reports of drugging with scopolamine, a power sedative, perpetrated by prostitutes or unscrupulous bar workers in order to rob people. Tourists have also been victimized by drugged food and drink, usually offered by a friendly stranger, who is sometimes posing as a fellow traveler on an overnight bus or train. In addition, casual acquaintances you meet in a bar or on the street may pose a threat. You should not leave drinks or food unattended and should avoid going alone to unfamiliar venues. Some trekking tour companies, particularly in northern Thailand, have been known to make drugs available to trekkers. You should not accept drugs of any kind, as the drugs may be altered or harmful, and the use or sale of narcotic drugs is illegal in Thailand.
Pirated Merchandise: Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Thailand. The manufacture and sale of pirated goods, including music, movies, software, and counterfeit luxury goods and apparel, is a crime in Thailand and is frequently controlled by organized crime networks. In addition, bringing these goods back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available in the intellectual property section of the U.S. Department of Justice website.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and help you get money from them if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Thailand is 191.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Thailand, you are subject to Thai laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. While you are overseas, U.S. laws don’t apply. If you do something illegal in Thailand, your U.S. passport won’t help.
Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. For example, Thais hold the King and the royal family in the highest regard, and it is a serious criminal offense to make critical or defamatory comments about them. This particular crime, called “lese majeste,” is punishable by a prison sentence of three to fifteen years. Purposely tearing or destroying Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may be considered such an offense, as can spitting on or otherwise defiling an official uniform bearing royal insignia. If you violate Thai laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods or engage in child pornography.You should remember, also, that there are some things that might be legal in the country you visit but still illegal in the United States.
The Thai Government has publicly stated that it will not tolerate the use of Thai territory as a base by groups trying to overthrow or destabilize the governments of nearby countries. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested or detained under suspicion of carrying out such activities. Sometimes military authorities carry out these detentions, and the Embassy does not learn of them until many days after the fact. Many other U.S. citizens suspected of advocating the armed overthrow of other governments have been “blacklisted” from entering the country. You should be aware that attempts to overthrow foreign governments by force may violate U.S. law as well as Thai law.
Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Thailand are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences under harsh conditions and often heavy fines as well. Thailand has a death penalty for serious drug offenses and has executed convicted traffickers. The U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident. If you are arrested for a minor drug offense, you may be jailed for several weeks while lab testing is done on the drugs seized with you. Pre-trial jail conditions may be more severe than prison conditions.
Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers in the establishment and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. Although some Thai civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenge to the practice, and customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate.
Shoplifting is strictly prosecuted. Arrests for shoplifting even low-value items can result in large fines and lengthy detention. This includes shoplifting at the airport, especially in duty free stores. If you are accused of shoplifting at the airport, you will be detained and may miss your flight at your own expense. There have been recent news reports that duty-free store employees in league with police at the airport have added unpurchased items to foreigners’ check-out bags or have not charged for all the items purchased; purportedly, police then stop the foreigner as he/she exits the stores and charge the person with shoplifting. We strongly recommend that before leaving the counter, you carefully check all receipts to make certain they list all the items you purchased and also carefully check to ensure that only the items you purchased are in your bag.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Thai customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Thailand of items such as firearms, explosives, narcotics and drugs, radio equipment, books or other printed material, and video or audio recordings, which might be considered subversive to national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property. You should contact the Embassy of Thailand in Washington, DC, or one of the Thai consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. The importation of medicine for personal use is allowed as long as the amount does not exceed a 30-day supply. You can also find more customs and permit information on the Thailand Customs website, the Thailand Food and Drug Administration website, or the Thai Drug Control Division website. For information regarding U.S. customs, please see our Customs Information.
Strong seasonal undercurrents at popular beach resorts pose a sometimes fatal threat to surfers and swimmers. During the monsoon season from May through October, drowning is the leading cause of death for tourists visiting the resort island of Phuket. Some, but not all, beaches have warning flags to indicate the degree of risk (red flag: sea condition dangerous for swimming; yellow flag: sea condition rough, swim with caution; green flag: sea condition stable).
Boat safety is a concern in Thailand. Ferries and speedboats used to transport tourists and local nationals to and from the many islands off the Thai mainland are often overcrowded and carry insufficient safety equipment. Several years ago, three U.S. citizen tourists died when the over-crowded speedboat they were in capsized and sank off the coast of Koh Samui. Three months later, two U.S. citizens narrowly escaped death when their dive boat sank off the coast near Phuket. Avoid travel on overcrowded boats and ensure that proper safety equipment (including life preservers) is available before boarding any boat or ferry.
Renting cars, motorbikes, and jet skis is a common practice in tourist areas. Many rental companies ask to hold your passport as a deposit. If there is damage to the rental vehicle, the company often holds the passport until you pay for the damage. For this reason, you should not use your passport as a deposit or collateral. Some companies have reportedly charged the renter for damage that he/she did not cause or have charged a high percentage of the vehicle’s value for minor damage. You should be certain to examine the vehicle and note any pre-existing damage before operating the vehicle.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical treatment is generally adequate in urban areas throughout Thailand. In Bangkok, good facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care.
Alcoholic beverages, medications, and drugs you purchase in Thailand may be more potent or of a different composition than similar ones in the United States. Several U.S. citizen tourists die in Thailand each year of apparent premature heart attacks after drinking alcohol or using drugs.
HIV and AIDS- Thailand has been experiencing an epidemic of HIV infection and AIDS. Heterosexual transmission accounts for most HIV infections. HIV is common among prostitutes of both sexes, as well as among injection drug users. HIV infections among men who have sex with other men appear to be on the rise.
Pandemic Influenza- The CDC, WHO, and Thai authorities have confirmed human cases of the H1N1 (commonly known as “swine flu”) and the H5N1 (commonly known as the “bird flu”) stains of influenza. For the most current information and links on influenza in Thailand, see the Center for Disease Control website regarding H1N1 influenza and Avian Influenza. Center for Disease Control web site regarding Avian Influenza and Travel. You may also refer to the Department of State’s fact sheet on H1N1, Pandemic Influenza, and H5N1 (Avian Influenza).
You can also find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Thailand. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave if you will have medical insurance overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
- Does my policy apply when I’m out of the U.S.?
- Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation?
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
In Thailand, traffic moves on the left, although motorcycles and motorized carts often drive (illegally) against the traffic flow. The city of Bangkok has heavy traffic composed of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks. For safety, if you are walking, use overhead walkways whenever possible and look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even if using a marked crosswalk with a green “walk” light illuminated. This is particularly true in front of the U.S. Embassy on Bangkok’s Wireless Road, where many pedestrians have been killed and several U.S. citizens seriously injured crossing the street. The Embassy has instructed its employees to use the pedestrian bridge to cross the road at all times, and we advise you to do the same.
Traffic accidents are common in Thailand, and those involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. The Embassy has sent a notice to Embassy staff and family members strongly recommending that they refrain from using motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis), mopeds, and tuk-tuks in Bangkok, and we advise you to follow this recommendation as well. Use of motorcycle helmets is mandatory, but this law is seldom enforced. The accident rate in Thailand is particularly high during long holidays, when alcohol use and traffic are both heavier than normal. During the Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday in April, the problem is worsened by people throwing water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration.
Paved roads, many of them four lanes wide, connect Thailand’s major cities. On the country’s numerous two-lane roads, slow-moving trucks limit speed and visibility. Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws is common in all regions of Thailand. Commercial drivers commonly consume alcohol, amphetamines, and other stimulants. Serious bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight trips, and sometimes result in fatalities.
Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention. Thailand requires that all vehicles be covered by third-party liability insurance for death or injury, but there is no mandatory coverage for property damage. The Embassy strongly encourages its employees to obtain liability insurance coverage over and above the minimum third party liability insurance required by the Thai Government. You should consider this as well, as the more affluent driver, even if not at fault, is frequently compelled to cover the expenses of the other party in an accident in Thailand.
You may wish to travel around Bangkok using the BTS “Skytrain” or “Airport Rail Link” elevated mass transit systems, or the underground MRT system, which operate daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Bangkok also has an extensive bus system, but buses can be overcrowded and are often driven with little or no regard for passenger safety. Cities elsewhere in Thailand typically have only rudimentary public transportation and usually do not have metered taxis. In many cases, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks, bicycle-powered rickshaws, and pick-up trucks will be the only options available for travelers without their own transport. You should be cautious when using these services, as all can be dangerous in fast or heavy traffic.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Thailand’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Thailand dated November 4. 2009, to update sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Criminal Penalties, and Special Circumstances.