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Legal Matters

  • Thailand’s police don’t enjoy a squeaky clean reputation, but as a foreigner, and especially a tourist, you probably won’t have much to do with them. While some expats will talk of being targeted for fines while driving, most anecdotal evidence suggests Thai police will usually go out of their way not to arrest a foreigner breaking minor laws.
  • Most Thai police view drug-takers as a social scourge and consequently see it as their duty to enforce the letter of the law; for others it’s an opportunity to make untaxed income via bribes. Which direction they’ll go often depends on drug quantities: small-time offenders are sometimes offered the chance to pay their way out of an arrest, while traffickers usually go to jail.
  • Smoking is banned in all indoor spaces, including bars and pubs. The ban extends to open-air public spaces, which means lighting up outside a shopping centre, in particular, might earn you a polite request to butt out. If you throw your cigarette butt on the ground, however, you could then be hit with a hefty littering fine.
  • If you are arrested for any offence, police will allow you to make a phone call to your embassy or consulate, if you have one, or to a friend or relative. There’s a whole set of legal codes governing the length of time and manner in which you can be detained before being charged or put on trial. Police have a lot of discretion and are more likely to bend these codes in your favour than the reverse. However, as with police worldwide, if you don’t show respect you will only make matters worse, so keep a cool head.