5 Strange Laws That Could Land You in Trouble in Thailand
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2020: Pretty much every country has some odd laws, but the laws in Thailand take the cake! Whether they’re dusty old pieces of legislation that time has all but forgotten. Or relatively new and, to us, just downright strange. So, whenever I go to a new country, I like to check out what its weirder laws are – after all, these provide a little light entertainment when you’re doing the dull-but-necessary task of checking out the key laws and customs. And since becoming a digital nomad and full-time blogger, buying my condo in Bangkok meant I had a permanent home for the first time in years. I really should know the law, no matter how crazy the Thailand laws are! If you’re simply looking for a Bangkok itinerary while you here, I’ve written a blog post about that too.
Thailand is definitely up there with the countries that have the longest list of weird laws I’ve seen. Admittedly, though, some of these are so impossible to enforce that you don’t really need to worry about them. Below, I’m going to take a quick look at some of the strangest (and occasionally most amusing) nuggets of legislation. As well as clueing you into some of the more day-to-day Thailand laws you need to be aware of.
5 Stranges Laws in Thailand; Legal peculiarities
Let’s start with the unusual stuff! Some of these are just plain good for a giggle, while others tread that fine line between weird and need-to-know. I’ll try to be as clear as possible about which is which!
1) It’s illegal to leave the house without your underwear on.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not accustomed to strolling the streets sans pants, so this particular law isn’t exactly something I feel like I really need to think about. That said, if you do have a penchant for airy nethers, I don’t really see how this law can be checked or enforced, so you’re probably safe. Just don’t head out without your trousers, too – that’d be a dead giveaway.
2) It’s a crime to step on any Thai currency.
Again, this isn’t one I think is particularly difficult to avoid. Personally, I don’t go to the trouble of switching my currency only to fling it on the pavement and start trampling it, but just in case it’s a hobby of yours, consider your time in Thailand an enforced detox from it.
3) It’s a punishable offence to throw (used) chewing gum on the pavement.
I wouldn’t really class this one as silly – unusual, perhaps, but not an out-and-out silly one of the laws in Thailand. Plus, it’s one that’s definitely worth bearing in mind because there’s a pretty hefty fine if you get caught (nearly £400). The penalty for skipping that fine? Jail. That’s one costly piece of litter.
4) You mustn’t drive a car shirtless.
Clearly, this is only something to think about if you’re planning on hiring a car, but since us Brits do tend to be keen to whip off as many clothes as possible as soon as the temperature becomes mildly warm, it’s probably one that’s worth bearing in mind.
5) It’s a criminal offence to be critical of the king or other members of the Thai royal family.
I had a little trouble deciding whether this one should fall into the ‘unusual’ or ‘serious’ category because, in my opinion, it fits both. But as you can see, the weirdness of it won in the end. The sentence for being caught making defamatory comments – known as Lese Majeste – is usually three to 15 years (sometimes more!) in prison, though, making it no laughing matter – so mind your Ps and Qs. Check out some crazy stories in BBC about that.
And the more serious side of Thailand Laws:
Sure, having a giggle at some of the more unusual laws is fun. Although, in all seriousness, it is important to get acquainted with some of the basics of Thailand law and legislation. As you’ve seen above, making a faux pas like throwing chewing gum on the floor can be very costly. It is a pretty easy mistake to make when you’re from a country that uses its pavements like a rubbish bin!
I’ve put together a list of some of the drier Thailand laws that could be easily infringed. If you weren’t aware of them, that is!
You need to carry your passport with you at all times.
I’ll be honest, I was quite surprised to find out this was a legal requirement; most people I know (myself included) tend to stow important documents like passports in a hotel safe for the duration of the trip. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about not carrying it. It’s really important that you do bring it with you, though. It isn’t unheard of for tourists to be arrested if they can’t produce it when asked. EDIT 2020: I now just carry a scan/pic on my phone and it’s always been fine.
You need a permit to take certain items out of the country.
Of course, most countries have rules and regulations about what can and cannot be brought in and out without declaring it. But what might catch you out here is the nature of some of these. You see, in Thailand, you’re not allowed to leave with any images of the Buddha, religious art or antiques without a permit. So make sure you work all this out before heading to the airport. If you want to find out more about this, you can contact the FCO.
Here are a few facts that, while not Thailand law, are well worth bearing in mind:
The condition of your passport matters.
Having a passport that’s valid for a certain period of time is a standard requirement for travel to most countries (in Thailand’s case, it needs to be valid for a minimum of six months after your date of entry to the country). In Thailand, though, you also need to think about the condition of your passport. You can be refused entry for things like missing pages or other significant damage.
Keep an eye on store/market borders when shopping.
Thailand can be a brilliant place for shopping. Please, though, make sure you don’t accidentally cross demarcations for different shops and markets without having paid for whatever you’ve picked up. It’s fairly easily done in some places (the lines aren’t always particularly clear). If it’s noticed, it can get you accused of shoplifting.
A final note about Drug Laws in Thailand
Are drugs legal in Thailand? No! Recreational drugs are not legal in Thailand. Although, in all honesty, they are super prevalent on the Thai islands. But of all foreigners sitting in jail in Thailand, the vast majority are for drugs. So don’t be stupid. Thailand laws on drugs aren’t as crazy as they used to be. BUT THAI LAW IS STILL HARSH ON DRUGS. So be careful.
- Recreational marijuana is illegal in Thailand
- Psychedelic mushroom products are illegal in Thailand. This is despite them literally being on some menus in bars! If you’re looking for that, it’s also labelled ‘Happy’ Pizza or ‘Happy’ shake.
- 70% of prison inmates are inside for drugs
- The minimum sentence for getting caught bringing stuff across the border? 10 years MINIMUM
- Possession of drugs = 1-10 years.
- ‘Allegedly’, when caught in possession by police, people have a 30-minute window to pay themselves out of trouble. After that, you’re processed, and you’re in REAL trouble.
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