Criminal Penalties in Thailand

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.

Disclaimer

You are responsible for ensuring that you meet and comply with foreign entry requirements, health requirements and that you possess the appropriate travel documents. Information provided is subject to change without notice. One should confirm content prior to traveling from other reliable sources. Information published on this website may contain errors. You travel at your own risk and no warranties or guarantees are provided by us.

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2019 edition