Thailand Crime

Is Thailand a safe place to visit?

Crime Information

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 traveling 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 your 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.

Thailand Penalties for Crime

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 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.

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