COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Thailand, officially the Royal Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a Southeast Asian nation at the center of the Indochina peninsula with a population of nearly 70 million. Bangkok is the capital city and Chiang Mai is an important educational and cultural center in northern Thailand. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with the King as head of state and the prime minister as head of government. The monarchy is an integral and respected part of Thai society and is protected by a vigorously enforced lèse majesté law, which makes it a crime to commit any offense or insult against the royal family. Thailand is a popular travel destination with tourist facilities available throughout much of the country. Political and civil unrest has at times been a problem affecting travel to Thailand, and political demonstrations take place with some frequency. Please review the Department of State's Fact Sheet on U.S.-Thailand relations 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 enroll in our Step program, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. By enrolling, you 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 FOR U.S. CITIZENS: If you are a U.S. citizen tourist staying for fewer than 30 days, you do not require a visa, but your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your entry into Thailand. Thai Immigration officials may ask for your onward/return ticket, and airlines may ask for this information when you book or check in. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate are not able to intervene with Thai Immigration or the airlines regarding their regulations and policies. If you are a tourist entering Thailand by air without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 days per visit. If you are a tourist entering Thailand by land without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 15 days per visit. Business travelers should check with a Royal Thai Embassy about visa requirements. You must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Thai baht (Thai currency) when you depart from any of Thailand's international airports; this charge is included in the ticket price for flights from Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnabhumi International.
When you enter the country, Thai Immigration officials stamp your passport with the date your authorized stay will expire. If you remain in Thailand beyond this date without getting an official extension, Thai Immigration officials will fine you 500 baht per day, up to a maximum of 20,000 baht (approximately $690 at baht 29:$1.00) when you leave Thailand. Make sure your passport is stamped with the date your authorized stay will expire before you leave the Immigration counter. Replacing a missing stamp later often requires a trip back to your original port of entry. If the police find that you are out of legal status before you leave the country (for example, during a Thai Immigration "sweep" through a guesthouse or in a popular a tourist area), you will be jailed, fined, and deported at your own expense, and you may also be barred from re-entering Thailand. These determinations are the legal responsibility of the Royal Thai government, and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate may not intervene in the application of Thai law. 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 foreign residents and visitors to Thailand. However, these restrictions are generally not enforced. Please verify this information with the Royal Thai Embassy before you travel.
It is illegal for foreigners to work in Thailand without a work permit. This includes unpaid work, volunteer work (even for charitable causes), and work in exchange for room and board. If you work in Thailand without a work permit, you are subject to arrest, jail time, a fine, and deportation. Before traveling to Thailand for work -- whether or not you will receive compensation -- you should check with the Royal Thai Embassy to ensure that your plans are consistent with Thai law. Several U.S. citizens are arrested each year due to work permit violations.
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. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website lists Thai embassies and consulates worldwide and provides current information about Thailand, including visa and other polices. The Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau maintains an English-language website as well.
You can find information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The State Department is concerned that there is a continued risk of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand.
In January 2012, Thai police discovered a large quantity of explosive materials linked to suspected Hizballah operatives.
On February 14, 2012, an explosion occurred at a house on a busy street in central Bangkok. A few minutes later a man leaving the house threw an improvised explosive device at a taxi. The subsequent investigation attributed the incident to individuals from Iran who may have been plotting a terrorist attack against foreign interests in Thailand but whose bombs exploded prematurely.
While traveling in Thailand you should exercise caution, especially in locations where expatriates 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 beset by deep political divisions. Protesters hold political rallies frequently to voice their opinions. 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. For a period of several months after the protests ended in May, there were numerous explosive attacks, including several isolated grenade and arson attacks in and around Bangkok and, on occasion, Chiang Mai. Some of the explosive devices were discovered in public places in Bangkok, including near a major shopping center, a school, a bus stop, and government buildings. These incidents appear to have been motivated by domestic politics and to have no apparent link to international terrorism.
The Department of State advises all U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Thailand to monitor events closely, to avoid any large public gatherings, and to exercise discretion when traveling within the country. Political demonstrations are frequent in Thailand. Many are scheduled on the anniversary of political events, and others happen with little warning. Demonstrations can attract tens of thousands of participants and often cause severe traffic disruptions, especially if they include processions from one site to another. If a demonstration is expected to pass near the U.S. Embassy or Consulate facilities, Embassy and Consulate entrances and functions may be restricted. Demonstrations are unpredictable and can turn violent without warning. For this reason, we encourage you to monitor local media for information about possible demonstrations and to avoid the vicinity of demonstrations. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok’s website, Facebook, and Twitter sites and the Consulate General in Chiang Mai’s website, Facebook, and Twitter sites post information about particular demonstrations. We generally do not send out emergency messages to U.S. citizens about particular demonstrations.
Violence in Southern Thailand - Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla: 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. Although the separatist groups have focused primarily on Thai government interests in the southern provinces, they sometimes target public and commercial areas, including areas where foreigners may congregate. On March 31, 2012, almost simultaneous bombings in one of Hat Yai’s largest hotels and in a Yala commercial district killed at least 13 people and injured more than 500, including a number of Malaysian tourists. On September 16, 2011, three coordinated bombs exploded in Narathiwat’s business and entertainment district, killing five people, including four Malaysian tourists, and injuring over 110 others. On April 18, 2011, a car bomb exploded in Yala’s business district, killing one person and injuring 23 others. On February 19, 2011, gunmen fired on a karaoke restaurant in Narathiwat municipality, injuring two; half an hour later, a car bomb went off nearby, injuring more than a dozen people. On February 13, 2011, a car bomb exploded in Yala municipality’s business district injuring at least a dozen people.
The U.S. Embassy prohibits its personnel from traveling to the far south of Thailand -- Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala provinces--without prior approval, and Embassy personnel may go there only on work-essential travel. U.S. Embassy and Consulate personnel must provide advance notification of travel to Songkhla province, and they are advised to use hotels outside Songkhla’s central business district. 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 your 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.
Thai-Cambodia Border: Because of border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia, we recommend caution if traveling near the Thai-Cambodian border in the area of the Preah Vihear temple and farther west in the Phanom Dong Rak district of Surin province. Between July 2008 and June 2011, soldiers from the two countries exchanged gunfire on several occasions. Some artillery fire reportedly struck several kilometers away from the border. Fighting has also extended some distance along the border in both locations. Until these situations have been resolved, you should pay special attention to local conditions along this border, since past military activity has occurred with little warning.
The Thai-Burma Border: The Thai/Burma border is the site of on-going conflicts between the Burmese Army and armed opposition groups based in Thailand as well as clashes between Thai security forces and armed drug traffickers. Pirates, bandits, and drug traffickers operate in these border areas. It is possible that significant flare-ups of military activity on the Burmese side of the border 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 of Thailand adjacent to the Burma border.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: Although the crime threat in Bangkok and other Thai cities 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 had passports, wallets, and other valuables stolen in Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market, in the area of Khao San Road, and other areas, usually by pickpockets and thieves who cut into purses or bags with a razor and remove items surreptitiously. Across Thailand, U.S. citizens have been robbed of their valuables and other possessions after soliciting the services of commercial sex workers. Thieves also victimize travelers on long-distance bus routes. Police may refuse to issue police reports for foreign victims of theft, requiring them instead to travel several miles to a central Tourist Police station. You may request a police report, but police may ask you to pay a small fee, approximately 50 baht in some instances.
Violent Crimes: Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare. However, murders, rapes, and assaults do occur. These crimes happen most often at night. Frequently, victims, both male and female, have been drinking and are often alone or separated from travelling companions. These crimes have occurred all over Thailand but are most common in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and tourist areas in southern Thailand, including Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Krabi. If you are traveling alone, you should exercise caution, stay near other travelers and ensure that friends or family know how to contact you. Sexually motivated violent incidents, committed by both Thai citizens and visitors, are most likely to occur at parties at discos or beaches, such as the full moon party on Phangan Island. Some victims find that Thai authorities do not handle their cases with as much sensitivity or consideration for privacy as they would expect in the United States. You should maintain awareness of your surroundings and travel with trusted friends or relatives to reduce your chances of falling victim to crimes of this nature.
Minor and major incidents of crimes involving taxis or "tuk-tuks" (three-wheeled taxis) can occur, especially in some tourist areas. Drivers may attempt to charge excessive fares at airports and near major tourist attractions. Before entering a for-hire vehicle, you should either request that the driver use the meter or reach an agreement on the fare for your trip. Taxis in Bangkok and other major cities have meters, and their drivers usually use them. Taxis in tourist areas often do not have meters; negotiate the fare before you get into these taxis. Taxi drivers often refuse fares, especially during rush hour or to places they do not know well. You should be aware that raising your voice and using aggressive body language could be seen as a threat to the driver. Do not hesitate to ask to be let out of a taxi immediately if the driver is acting suspiciously or driving erratically. Registered taxicab drivers have a yellow placard with their name in English and their photograph on the passenger’s side dashboard of the vehicle. If this photograph does not match the driver, you should be wary of entering the vehicle. Police will seldom intervene in incidents involving taxi drivers.
In Phuket, drivers routinely charge fares that are much higher than those in Bangkok for comparable distances. Threats of violence may accompany excessive charges. Tuk-tuk and taxi drivers in Phuket are frequently described in media reports as being a “mafia.” In 2012, a German citizen was hospitalized after a severe beating by a group of tuk-tuk drivers following an argument about the fare. The local government officials in Phuket have attempted with limited success to introduce standard fares. Drivers have organized against attempts to provide alternative services. For instance, they have blockaded van and bus services during U.S. Navy ship visits. (See also the Special Circumstances and Safety and Road Conditions sections.)
To lodge a complaint about an encounter with a taxicab driver, call 1584 (within Thailand).
When arriving at a Thai airport, you should use only public transportation from the airport's official pick-up and drop-off area, cars from the airport limousine counters, or airport buses. Major hotels 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.
You should be aware of a common scam that involves the rental of motorbikes, jet skis, and sometimes cars. Many rental companies require your passport as a deposit or collateral. If there is damage to the rental vehicle, the company often holds the passport until you pay for the damage. We have received many reports of renters having been charged exorbitant amounts for damage to jet skis or motorbikes, even in instances where the renter had caused no visible damage. A variation of this scam occurs when the motorbike is “stolen,” and the rental agency demands that you pay two or three times the price of the motorbike to replace it. For this reason, you should be cautious about rental arrangements and not use your passport as a deposit or collateral. You should be certain to examine the vehicle and note any pre-existing damage before operating the vehicle. If possible, document the vehicle’s condition with before and after photos. If you purchase insurance from the rental shop, be sure you know what the insurance policy covers, and get a receipt showing you paid for insurance. If you find yourself a victim of one of these scams, you will need to make an attempt to recover your passport by involving the local Royal Thai Police and Tourist Police and documenting the situation with a police report. You can then apply for a new passport at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General if you have not recovered you passport.
Scams involving gems, city tours, entertainment venues, and credit cards are common, especially in areas heavily visited by tourists. Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, among others, commonly tout gem stores, entertainment venues, or alternate tours. 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. You should consider exiting the vehicle to seek a different means of transportation if you feel uncomfortable. 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. Scams usually follow a predictable pattern. Someone approaches you outside of a well-known tourist attraction such as the Grand Palace and says that the attraction is closed. The friendly stranger 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 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 United States for a 100 percent profit. In fact, the gems turn out to be of much less value than you paid for them, and the shop does not honor its money-back guarantee. 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. You can find the list of gem dealers who have promised to abide by TAT guidelines online at the Buying Gems and Jewellery in Thailand section of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's website. You can find detailed information on gem scams on numerous websites. If you fall victim to a gem scam, you should contact the local branch of the Tourist Police or call their toll-free number: 1155. Although most bars and entertainment venues operate honestly, some, especially in red light districts and some other areas frequented by tourists, try to charge exorbitant prices for drinks or unadvertised cover charges and then 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 phone the Tourist Police at 1155.
Although most bars and entertainment venues operate honestly, some, especially in red light districts and some other areas frequented by tourists, try to charge exorbitant prices for drinks or unadvertised cover charges and then 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 phone the Tourist Police at 1155.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand. Bars and other entertainment venues may offer fees to take a “bar girl” or “bar boy” out for the evening. Many of the women, men, and children in the commercialized vice industry are themselves victims of trafficking rings. You should be aware that not only is prostitution illegal, but there are serious consequences for those choosing to pay for these illicit services, including criminal conviction and imprisonment, particularly in the case of child prostitution.
We have received reports of prostitutes, as well as bar patrons or bar workers drugging people with sedatives, including the powerful sedative scopolamine in order to rob them. 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.
Criminals have victimized some foreigners by presenting themselves as police, sometimes wearing police uniforms. After a conspirator lures the foreigner into doing something illegal, the “police officer” appears and threatens to arrest the foreigner unless he or she pays a “bribe” -- which the conspirator helps to negotiate. To protect yourself from such scams, do not engage in activities that would put you in a vulnerable position, such as soliciting sex or purchasing or using illegal drugs.
A variation commonly reported in Bangkok’s Khao San Road area involves “mistakenly” purchasing “prescription” drugs from a pharmacy. If someone claiming to be a police officer demands money from you, request to pay at the police station. Police may impose fines up to 1,000 baht per violation at the police station and should provide receipts for any fines. The Thai Criminal Code does not provide police authority to impose a fine over 1,000 baht. Only a court can impose a larger fine. We receive several reports a year of police attempting to collect fines of tens of thousands of baht without opening a court case. While these schemes can happen anywhere in Thailand, they are most often reported in Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya.
Local police are reluctant to become involved in domestic issues. They expect that the involved parties will resolve the matter on their own. The Royal Thai government’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security does maintain an English-language website, and you can contact them for assistance. In most cases, you will need legal representation to protect your interests effectively.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police, seek medical assistance if appropriate, and contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. We can:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Thailand is 191. For fire emergencies, the number is 199. The Tourist Police can be reached at 1155. All of these numbers are in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are in Thailand, you are subject to Thai laws and penalties, even if you are a U.S. citizen. If you violate Thai laws, even unknowingly, you may be fined, arrested, imprisoned or deported. 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 in Thailand 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. The offenses include actions that in the United States would be sanctioned as the exercise of free speech. If you use the Internet when committing this crime, you may be subject to additional criminal sanctions of up to seven additional years in prison. Thai authorities actively search for and investigate Internet postings, including blog entries and links to other sites, for lese majeste content. They have arrested and charged U.S. citizens and others with lèse majesté offenses for actions that occurred outside of Thailand. You can also be charged if you do not remove a potentially offensive item fast enough from an Internet site you control. Purposely tearing or destroying Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may also be considered a lese majeste offense, as can spitting on or otherwise defiling an official uniform bearing the royal insignia.
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 we do not learn of them until many days after the fact. Many U.S. citizens suspected of advocating the armed overthrow of other governments have been "blacklisted" from entering the country. 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. We frequently do 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. If you are able to post bail during this period, the Royal Thai government will place your name on a watch list for Thai Immigration officials because you are not supposed to leave Thailand until the legal proceedings are complete.
Some trekking tour companies, particularly in northern Thailand, make drugs available to trekkers. Drug-related crimes and arrests are also common in Bangkok, Pattaya, and at some beach resorts in southern Thailand. Police in beach resort areas are especially on the lookout for drugs during and after “full moon parties.” You should not accept drugs of any kind, as the drugs may be altered and harmful, and the use or sale of narcotic drugs is illegal in Thailand.
Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the identification of all customers in the establishment and make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. The police do not excuse foreigners from these checks, and they arrest and charge anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs. Customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate, and we are unaware of any successful challenge to the practice.
Shoplifting is strictly prosecuted. Arrests for shoplifting even low-value items can result in large fines and lengthy detention followed by deportation. If you are accused of shoplifting at the airport, you will be detained and may miss your flight at your own expense. In 2010 and 2012, there were news reports that duty-free store employees in league with police at the airport added unpurchased items to foreigners’ check-out bags or did not charge for all the items purchased; purportedly, police then stopped the foreigner as he/she exited the stores and charged the person with shoplifting. We strongly recommend that before leaving a 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.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available (as they are 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, if you bring these goods back to the United States, you may be fined or have to forfeit the goods. More information on this serious problem is available in the intellectual property section of the U.S. Department of Justice website.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States as well as in Thailand.
Arrest notifications in Thailand: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a United States-Thailand bilateral agreement, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Thailand, you have the right to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, as soon as you are arrested or detained, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Customs: 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. Buddha images, regardless of form, are particularly sensitive items because of the central role of Buddhism in Thai society. You should contact the Embassy of Thailand in Washington, D.C, or one of the Thai consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Medicine for Personal Use: The importation of medicine for personal use is allowed as long as the amount does not exceed a 30-day supply and you bring the medicine with you. Do not mail medicine to Thailand without first checking to confirm it will be allowed into the country. You can find customs and permit information on the Thailand Customs website and the Thailand Food and Drug Administration website. In 2012 and 2013, we received reports of U.S. citizens having difficulty importing prescription medicines that were commercially available in Thailand. It is important that you verify how you will maintain your medicine supply before you begin your trip. You should also use the resources linked in this paragraph to review the legality of the prescription medication you plan to bring with you in your carry-on and checked baggage. If you plan to purchase more medication while you are in Thailand, bring your physician’s prescription order with you. You may need to have your prescription reordered by a physician licensed to practice in Thailand before a Thai pharmacy will fill it.
Water Safety: 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).
Weather Conditions: Heavy rains and floods are frequent during the May-October rainy season. Be alert for floods and landslides near waterways, in low-lying areas, and along hills. The leading cause of death during 2011’s historic period of flooding was electrocution because people did not turn off electricity in their flooded homes. Long power outages are also common during the rainy season. Monitor local media to keep up to date with the latest information about weather and road conditions in your area. The Thai Meteorological Department posts weather forecasts and warnings online. I f you are traveling by ferry, air, bus, or rail during periods of heavy rain, you should check with the transportation company you plan to use to ensure that its service is still operating. If you are driving, try to confirm that roads are passable. Highway information in the Thai language is available by dialing 1586. If you are affected by flooding and need urgent assistance, call 1155 to reach Tourist Police. You will find useful information on steps to take before, during, and after weather-related and other natural disasters at this U.S. government FEMA website.
Boat Safety: Boat safety is a concern in Thailand. Ferries and speedboats used for transport to and from the many islands off the Thai mainland and along rivers and canals are often overcrowded and do not carry sufficient 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. In 2012, a speedboat ferry sank in rough weather near Phuket injuring more than two dozen foreign tourists. Avoid travel on overcrowded boats and ensure that proper safety equipment (including life preservers) is available before boarding any boat or ferry.
Adventure Tourism: Thailandhas a developed adventure tourism industry. However, standards and requirements for safety inspections may not be equivalent to those required for similar activities in the United States.
Fire Safety and Building Codes: Fire safety standards, sprinkler systems, and building codes in hotels and other buildings may not match those for similar structures in the United States. On March 8, 2012, a fire in a Bangkok hotel belonging to an international chain killed two foreign tourists and injured several others. There was no sprinkler system in part of the hotel. On August 17, 2012, a fire at a Phuket disco killed two Thais and two foreign tourists, and injured several other persons.
Arbitration: Incidents involving traffic accidents, minor property damage, and petty crimes are often settled through informal arbitration, or “compromise.” This process usually takes place at a police station, with the police as arbiters and sometimes as participants. It may seem irregular and look like an attempt to fleece the foreigner, but it is a traditional way of settling a dispute that many Thais prefer because it avoids legal formalities and is relatively quick. However, it can be opaque and bewildering to foreigners. In places with a large number of tourists, English-speaking Tourist Police or police volunteers might be able to explain what is going on. In any case, you should not sign anything unless you have read it and understood it. If you are not comfortable with this process, you can decline to participate. The police then will write a report and handle the matter through the formal judicial process. If this happens, you should consult with a local attorney for guidance.
Schools: Thailand has many schools where foreigners may study the Thai language, train to become English teachers, yoga instructors, learn Thai massage, or study Muay Thai, traditional Thai Boxing. Most are reputable, but some U.S. citizens have lost substantial sums of money to unscrupulous school operators who do not provide the services they have promised. We do not monitor or evaluate individual schools. Instead, you should thoroughly research a school before paying any fees. Do not rely on a good-looking website. Visit the school campus to inspect its facilities and verify the credentials of its instructors. Check the school’s reputation online – there are several websites that have student reviews. Pay school fees with a U.S. credit card rather than with cash or a bank transfer. Doing so will make it easier to recover your money in case of a dispute.
Accessibility: While in Thailand, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what they experience in the United States. The Thai constitution mandates that newly constructed buildings have facilities for persons with disabilities. Also, newly built transportation facilities and new transportation equipment must be accessible to the disabled. Enforcement and awareness of these provisions has been gradually increasing since the first related law was passed in 1979, but enforcement is not uniform. Wheelchair access to buildings and public transportation is often difficult, impracticable, or non-existent. Ramps may be excessively steep. Curbs are seldom cut for wheelchairs. Sidewalks can be uneven and congested with vendors, utility poles, and other obstacles. Beginning in 2008, Bangkok began reconstructing sidewalks in commercial areas to make them safer for persons with disabilities. Facilities for the deaf and vision impaired are sparse and designed primarily for readers and speakers of Thai.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical treatment is generally adequate in Thailand’s urban areas. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya good facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care. Basic medical care is available in rural areas, but English-speaking providers are rare.
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 having consumed alcohol or drugs. Many pharmacies in Thailand do not require a prescription. Counterfeit medications have entered the wholesale distribution network in South East Asia. If you must buy medication locally, we recommend that you purchase it from an international chain pharmacy. If you have a chronic medical problem, you should bring enough of your maintenance medicine (up to a 30-day supply) and not rely on purchasing your medication from the local economy. Please see Special Circumstances, above for restrictions on importing medication for personal use.
For tourists, the most common serious medical complications result from motor vehicle accidents. If you ride a motor cycle or scooter including motor cycle taxis, you could prevent a serious and disabling head injury by using a helmet.
Dengue and Chikungunya: are viral infections transmitted via mosquitoes. These infections are endemic in Thailand, including urban areas, and can make patients feel very ill, and in a small percentage of individuals they can be deadly. Although these cases are more prevalent during the rainy season, they occur throughout the year. Using a mosquito repellent with DEET at least twice a day is effective for mosquito bite prevention. Please see the CDC website for additional information.
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.
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") strains of influenza in Thailand. For the most current information and links on influenza in Thailand, please visit the Center for Disease Control website regarding H1N1 influenza and Avian Influenza. You may also refer to the Department of State's fact sheet on H1N1, Pandemic Influenza, and H5N1 (Avian Influenza).
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Thailand. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
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 World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
In Chiang Mai and other areas of northern Thailand, poor air quality might pose a health threat during the dry season, from March until June. Smoke and particulate matter from agricultural burning can irritate eyes and respiratory systems and worsen heart and respiratory diseases. During this period, you should be aware of the local Air Quality Index (AQI) and take appropriate measures to minimize the impact on your health. The Thai government’s Pollution Control Department calculates the AQI daily and posts measurements online. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains AQI on its website, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends what to do during periods of poor air quality.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Don’t assume that 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 three questions:
Thai doctors and hospitals generally expect payment in cash at the time of service and will not bill your insurance company directly. 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 a policy that will cover you on your trip and that includes medical emergency evacuation coverage.. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Thailand, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
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, bicycles, 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 and on Sukhumvit Road, where many pedestrians have been killed and several U.S. citizens seriously injured while 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 anywhere a pedestrian bridge is available. It is common for scooters and motorbikes to “jump the curb” and ride on the sidewalks during rush hour and other periods of thick traffic. Be wary of this phenomenon while walking on the sidewalk in Thai cities.
Traffic accidents are common in Thailand, and those involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. The Embassy strongly recommends Embassy staff and family members not use 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 when people throw water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration. Watch out when opening car doors, even on the curb side. Motorcyclists and bicyclists often try to slip between the curb and stopped or slow-moving cars, and they collide with doors that are being opened. If you opened the door, you may have to pay for the damages, even if the accident was not your fault.
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. If you have a traffic accident, you should contact your insurance company for guidance in dealing with the other party and the police.
In Bangkok, the BTS "Skytrain," “Airport Rail Link” elevated mass transit systems, or the underground MRT system are reliable, inexpensive, air conditioned, and often faster than trying to travel through Bangkok traffic. Bangkok also has an extensive bus system, but buses can be overcrowded and are often driven with little or no regard for passenger safety. Privately operated vans carrying 8-15 passengers have become increasingly popular since 2007, both within Bangkok and to and from other cities. However, these vans are not clearly regulated, the drivers are sometimes reckless and untrained, and it is not always clear who owns and operates the vans. 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.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Thailand dated October 31, 2011, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Medical Insurance, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.