Thailand Tourist Information: A Guide to Laws in Thailand
By Jennifer Patin
11 May 2011
The following guide is meant to assist tourists and foreign residents to The Kingdom of Thailand. The guide provides basic information on Thailand’s laws and penalties for offending those laws.
While visiting Thailand, as in other places and nations, tourists should abide by Thai laws. Even minor violations can result in enough time and money to ruin a holiday in Thailand. More serious violations can result in long-term prison sentencing or even the death penalty. Although tourists should enjoy their time in Thailand, it is crucial to remain well-informed of the laws of any country where you will be spending time as a tourist.
Nightlife Establishments Hours of Operation
If you were a tourist in Thailand before August 2001, you may have experienced the glory days when you could legally order your last alcoholic beverage and boogie until the break of dawn. The crackdown on Thailand’s nightlife establishments hours of operation began in August 2001, spearheaded by the government’s Interior Minister at that time. The campaign was resurrected in 2004 when midnight closure was again declared for all bars, clubs, discos, and massage parlors. In Bangkok, the exceptions to this rule were three areas –Silom/Patpong, New Petchaburi roads, and Ratchadaphisek – where nightclub and bar establishments were allowed to stay open until 2am; massage parlors until midnight; and other nightlife establishments, such as pubs and restaurants with live bands, until 1am.
Legal Drinking Age and Alcohol-Free Zones
Thailand introduced the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act in 2008 , which amended some of Thailand’s previous alcohol laws and increased the drinking age from eighteen to twenty. The Act has specific language making it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under twenty years old. The Act also set forth laws and penalties for designated areas where alcohol cannot legally be consumed. For example, drinking alcohol is illegal in the following locations: temples or places of worship; infirmaries and pharmacies; public offices; education institutions; petrol stations or petrol station shops; and public parks. There are exceptions to many of these locations. For example, if you are attending an authorized banquet at an education institution or public office, or if you are within a temple at which consuming alcohol is part of the worship, then you may legally drink an alcoholic beverage. The penalty for drinking alcohol and one of the aforementioned locations without proper authorization is up to 6 months imprisonment and/or no more than a fine of ten thousand baht.
Selling alcohol to anyone who has previously lost consciousness from drinking is also against the law in Thailand. Additionally, if you are considered intoxicated and provoke an altercation with a law enforcement official, the penalty can be up to one year imprisonment and/or a fine up to twenty thousand baht.
Daily Ban on Sale of Alcohol, Elections, and Religious Holidays
The sale of alcohol in Thailand is banned between 2pm and 5pm and again between midnight and 11am seven days a week. This rule largely affects supermarkets and chain shops, such as 7-11 or Tops. It is common knowledge that the law is not always enforced at smaller, family-run shops.
The Election Commission of Thailand also bans alcohol on Election Days for the offices of Prime Minister and Senator, including advanced voting days. In addition, the Government of Thailand has also been known to ban alcohol during religious holidays.
Some of the more common questions visitors have prior to their departure from Thailand are: “Can I bring this Buddha image through customs?” and “How much Thai whiskey can I legally stuff into my bag?” The Customs Department of the Kingdom of Thailand has very specific laws and penalties regarding everything from alcohol to pirated DVDs to currency.
Items Prohibited by Law
The following items are prohibited by law for the import into or export out of Thailand: narcotics, obscene items and publications; counterfeit goods and pirated items; counterfeit notes and coins; and protected wildlife. The Customs Department of the Kingdom of Thailand also states the following on its website: “Violators of laws related to illicit drugs, e.g., having and holding for use, or being a producer, seller, or transporter are subject to the death sentence.”
Nothing to Declare and Goods to Declare
Persons with “Nothing to Declare” are allowed the following items: personal belongings for personal use not exceeding a value of 10,000 baht; 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco or cigars; and a maximum of one liter of alcohol. Customs officers, however, will still check the baggage of “Nothing to Declare” passengers at random.
“Goods to Declare” fall under the following categories: items that were not declared entering Thailand and have quantities exceeding a reasonable amount for personal use and/or valuing more than 10,000 baht; and items brought back for commercial use, business, or trade. You are also required to declare medications brought in and out of Thailand; including the written prescriptions signed by a licensed physician, the original prescription bottles or containers, and any other documents related to the medication.
Goods Requiring a Permit from a Government Agency
The following goods are allowed for import and export purposes with an appropriate permit from “related government agencies”: Buddha images, religious arts, and antiques; weapons, bullets, and explosive devices; plants and planting materials; live animals, pets, and animal products; food and medicinal drugs; automobile parts; cigars, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages (in excess of the amounts that are not necessary to declare); wireless transmitters and receivers, and telecommunication equipments.
Penalties and Currency
Penalties are severe and costly for failing to declare. The fine is four times the value of the items plus tax and duty. You could also end up in prison for a maximum of 10 years, or get slapped with both penalties.
Failure to declare certain amounts of Thai and/or foreign currency also comes with penalties. If you are traveling to Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, or Vietnam, you are allowed leave Thailand with up to 500,000 baht. If you are traveling anywhere besides these five countries, however, you have to declare any amount of Thai currency exceeding 50,000 baht. Foreign currency totaling 20,000 USD also needs to be declared.
Value Added Tax (VAT) Refunds are available to tourists. You are only eligible for a VAT Refund if you meet the following requirements: you exit Thailand through an international airport; you are a non-Thai resident who has visited the country for no more than 180 days; and you are not a pilot or cabin crew of any departing airline. In addition, you must show your passport, a VAT Refund Application Form (which can be obtained online or at the airport), original receipt(s) of goods purchased in Thailand, and the actual goods purchased.
    
4. Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (2008) Chapter IV, Section 29 Alcoholic Beverage Control
5. Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (2008) Chapter VII, Section 44 Penalties
7. While the information in the Customs Section is currently accurate, it should be noted that a newly drafted <a href="http://www.thailawforum.com/news.html">Customs Law</a> was completed in mid-February, but is not yet legislation.
8. Customs Information for Travelers
9. For a list of corresponding government agencies with authority to issue permits for the above items, please visit: Red Channel: Goods to Declare, 3.
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