Commander's Corner

Country Specific Information


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand adopted its current constitution following an August 19, 2007, referendum. Multi-party elections held on December 23, 2007, under the provisions of the new constitution resulted in the People’s Power Party (PPP) winning a plurality of the seats in the lower house of Parliament and the formation of a coalition government. Most of the population is Buddhist and ethnically Thai. Standard Thai is the official language of Thailand and is spoken in every province, though many areas also have a local dialect. Most Thais working in the tourist industry and in businesses dealing with foreigners can speak at least rudimentary English. Thailand is a popular travel destination, and tourist facilities and services are available throughout the country. At many tourist attractions, including national parks, foreigners are charged admission fees up to ten times higher than those charged to Thais. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Thailand for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

U.S. citizen tourists staying for fewer than 30 days do not require a visa, but must possess a passport and may be asked to show an onward/return ticket. Persons entering Thailand without a visa are allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 days per visit. The duration of stay in Thailand for persons who enter Thailand without a visa cannot exceed 90 days during any six-month period, counting from the date of first entry. After 90 days, travelers must apply for a new visa at a Thai embassy outside of the country. Travelers must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Thai baht when departing from any of Thailand’s international airports. This charge is now included in airline ticket prices at Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

When a traveler enters the country, Thai Immigration stamps in his or her passport the date on which the traveler’s authorized stay in Thailand will expire. Any traveler remaining in Thailand beyond this date without having received an official extension will be assessed an immediate cash fine when departing Thailand. Any foreigner found by police to be out of legal status prior to departure (during a Thai Immigration “sweep” through a guesthouse, for example) will be jailed, fined, and then deported at his or her own expense, and may be barred from re-entering Thailand.

In this regard, American citizens should be aware that private “visa extension services,” even those advertising in major periodicals or located close to Immigration offices or police stations, are illegal. A number of Americans are arrested at border crossings each year when the visas and entry stamps they have obtained through these illegal services are discovered to be counterfeit.

Thailand’s entry/exit information is subject to change without notice. For further information on Thailand’s entry/exit requirements, contact the Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20007, telephone (202) 944-3600, or contact the Thai consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City. Visit the Embassy of Thailand web site at http://www.thaiembdc.org for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

The State Department is concerned that there is an increased risk of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand. American citizens traveling to Thailand should therefore exercise caution, especially in locations where Westerners congregate, such as clubs, discos, bars, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, schools, outdoor recreation venues, tourist areas, beach resorts, and other places frequented by foreigners. They should remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and avoid crowds and demonstrations. For more information on terrorist threats against Americans worldwide, and steps that U.S. citizens should take as a result of these threats, please see the Worldwide Caution.

On September 30, 2007, a small bomb exploded near the Army headquarters in Bangkok, causing minor injuries to passersby, and on May 6, 2007, a small bomb exploded near the Chitralada Palace. On January 30, 2007, two grenades were fired at the offices of a local newspaper in northern Bangkok and a nearby hotel car park. There were no reports of casualties. On December 31, 2006, a series of bombs exploded at six different locations in Bangkok. The bombs killed three Thai citizens and injured dozens, including six foreign tourists. It remains unclear who is behind the bombings. The Department of State advises all American citizens residing in or traveling to Bangkok to monitor events closely, to avoid any large public gatherings, and to exercise discretion when moving about Bangkok.

The far south of Thailand has been experiencing almost daily incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence, including incidents attributed to armed local separatist/extremist groups. On March 15, 2008, two bombs exploded at the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani Province in southern Thailand. Two people died and thirteen were injured. A car bomb exploded in Yala Province on the same day, killing the driver. Although the extremist groups have continued to focus primarily on Thai government interests in the southern provinces, some of the recent violence in the area has targeted public places, including areas where tourists may congregate. In February 2007, Thai press reported that senior Thai officials expressed concern the violence in the south could move to Bangkok, particularly during Thai holidays and special occasions. On September 17, 2006, a series of bombs detonated in a commercial district of Hat Yai, killing one American citizen and injuring another. On August 31, 2006, a series of 22 bombs exploded inside commercial banks in Yala province, injuring 28 people. In 2005 two American citizens were injured when a bomb detonated in the Hat Yai airport. Attacks in the area have increasingly been targeted against commercial areas where foreigners congregate. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to defer non-emergency travel to the far south of Thailand: Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, Satun and Songkhla provinces, including the town of Hat Yai. If U.S. citizens must travel to these areas, they should exercise special caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. Travelers should be aware that Thai authorities have on occasion instituted special security measures in affected areas, such as curfews, military patrols, or random searches of train passengers.

Travelers should also be aware that between 2004 and 2006, seven Lao- and Hmong-American citizens were murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos. During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos were murdered in this region of Thailand. In addition, in March 2006, a Hmong-American disappeared from his residence in Chiang Mai along with seven other individuals. In most of these cases, no arrests have been made. If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, must travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. It is recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. In addition to these cases, three Hmong-American men went missing in August 2007 after reportedly going on a business trip to Xieng Khouang Province in Laos. The Government of Laos stated that the three departed Laos for Thailand, but none of the three has contacted family members in the U.S. since they were last seen in 2007.

The Thai/Burma border is the site of on-going conflicts between the Burmese Army and armed opposition groups as well as clashes between Thai security forces and armed drug traffickers. Pirates, bandits and drug traffickers operate in these border areas. There remains a possibility of significant flare-ups of military activity on the Burmese side of the border that could spill over into immediately adjacent areas of northern Thailand. Visitors should travel off-road in undeveloped areas only with local guides who are familiar with the area. Border closings and re-openings occur frequently, and U.S. citizens considering traveling into Burma from Thailand should be aware that in the event of a border closure they may not be able to re-enter Thailand. In light of the continuing unsettled situation along Thailand border with Burma and the possibility of frequent closings to all traffic, the Department of State recommends that all Americans exercise caution when traveling in remote or rural areas immediately adjacent to the Burma border.

Tourists should obtain information from Thai authorities about whether official border crossing points are open, and should cross into neighboring countries only at designated crossing points. Licensed guides can help ensure that trekkers do not cross inadvertently into a neighboring country.

Thailand experienced a number of large, public demonstrations, primarily in Bangkok and Chiang Mai during the political unrest that led to a military coup in September 2006. The protests subsided following the return to a democratically elected government; however a potential for renewed protests remains. .All demonstrations are unpredictable, and any demonstration can turn violent without warning. For this reason, the Embassy encourages all Americans to monitor local media for announcements of possible demonstrations and to avoid the areas where demonstrations might occur. If a demonstration is expected to pass near U.S. Embassy facilities, Embassy entrances and functions may be restricted, depending on circumstances.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad .


CRIME

Although the crime threat in Bangkok remains lower than that in many American cities, crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and burglary have become more common in recent years. Travelers should be especially wary when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites and bus or train stations. Many American citizens have reported having passports, wallets, and other valuables stolen in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market, usually by thieves who cut into purses or bags with a razor and remove items surreptitiously. Police at the Market usually refuse to issue police reports for foreign victims of theft, requiring them instead to travel several miles to the central Tourist Police office. Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare.However, there has been a recent upsurge in violent crime against tourists, including the murder of several independent travelers, on the southern islands of Phuket and Koh Samui. Independent travelers should exercise caution and stay in vicinity of other travelers, especially in the beach areas of these islands.

Reports of serious crimes involving taxis or “tuk-tuks” (three-wheeled taxis) are also relatively rare, although attempts to charge excessive fares occur regularly. Several taxi-related incidents involving foreign passengers occur in Bangkok each year. Americans should not hesitate to ask to be let out of a taxi immediately if the driver is acting suspiciously or driving erratically. (See also the Safety and Road Conditions section.)

When arriving at Bangkok’s airport, travelers should use only taxis from the airport’s official taxi stand, cars from the airport limousine counters, or airport buses. All major hotels in Bangkok can also arrange to have a car and driver meet incoming flights. It is uncommon for Thai taxis to pick up additional passengers. Travelers should be wary of drivers seeking to do so, and should never enter a cab that has someone besides the driver in it.

Americans frequently encounter taxi drivers and others who tout gem stores or entertainment venues. These touts receive kickbacks or commissions that drive up the prices of the goods or services, and travelers should not accept tours or other offers from them. Scams involving gems, city tours, entertainment venues and credit cards are common, especially in areas heavily visited by tourists. Credit cards should be used only in reputable, established businesses, and the amount charged should be checked for accuracy.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) receives over 1,000 complaints each year from visitors who have been cheated on gem purchases. Gem scams usually follow a predictable pattern. Someone approaches a tourist outside of a well-known tourist attraction such as the Grand Palace or the Jim Thompson House and says that the attraction is closed. The friendly stranger quickly gains the tourist’s 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 the tourist to a waiting tuk-tuk. At the temple, another stranger – sometimes a foreigner –engages the tourist in conversation and, by seeming coincidence, also mentions the “special” gem sale. The tourist agrees to go look at the gem shop, and is soon convinced to buy thousands of dollars worth of jewels that can supposedly be sold in the U.S. for a 100% profit. When the tourist actually has the goods appraised, they turn out to be of minimal value, and the shop’s money-back guarantee is not honored. 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. Lists of gem dealers who have promised to abide by TAT guidelines are available online at http://www.tatnews.org/special_interest/shopping/979.asp, and detailed information on gem scams can be found on numerous Internet websites. A traveler who has fallen victim to a gem scam should contact the local branch of the Tourist Police, or call their country-wide toll-free number: 1155.

Although most bars and entertainment venues operate honestly, some, especially in tourist areas such as Patpong, at times try to charge exorbitant amounts for drinks or unadvertised cover charges, and threaten violence if the charges are not paid. If victimized in this fashion, travelers should not attempt to resolve the problem themselves, 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, the Tourist Police may be contacted toll-free by dialing 1155.)

There have been occasional reports of scopolamine drugging perpetrated by prostitutes or unscrupulous bar workers for the purpose of robbery. (Scopolamine is a powerful sedative.) Tourists have also been victimized by drugged food and drink, usually offered by a friendly stranger, sometimes posing as a fellow traveler on an overnight bus or train. In addition, casual acquaintances met in a bar or on the street may pose a threat. Travelers are advised to avoid leaving drinks or food unattended, and should avoid going alone to unfamiliar venues. Some trekking tour companies, particularly in Northern Thailand, have been known to make drugs available to trekkers. Travelers should not accept drugs of any kind, as the drugs may be altered or harmful, and the use or sale of narcotic drugs is illegal in Thailand.


PIRATED MERCHANDISE

Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available 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. Bringing these goods back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. For more information on the serious nature of this intellectual property crime.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical treatment is generally adequate throughout Thailand. In Bangkok, good facilities exist for routine, long-term and emergency health care.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.


MEDICAL INSURANCE

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation and overseas medical services. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.


OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION

HIV and AIDS - Thailand has been experiencing an epidemic of HIV infection and AIDS. Heterosexual transmission accounts for most HIV infections, and HIV is common among prostitutes of both sexes, as well as among injection drug users. HIV infections among men who have sex with other men appear to be on the rise. Additionally, alcoholic beverages, medications and drugs may be more potent or of a different composition than similar ones in the United States. Several U.S. citizen tourists die in Thailand each year of apparent premature heart attacks after drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Avian Influenza - The CDC, WHO, and Thai authorities have confirmed human cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as the “bird flu.” Travelers to Thailand and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Thailand, see the Center for Disease Control website regarding Avian Influence and Travel at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/ . You can also refer to theDepartment of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet, available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Thailand is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic moves on the left in Thailand, although motorcycles and motorized carts often drive (illegally) against the traffic flow. The city of Bangkok has heavy traffic composed of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks. For safety, pedestrians should use overhead walkways whenever possible and should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green “walk” light illuminated. This is particularly true in front of the U.S. Embassy on Bangkok’s Wireless Road, where many pedestrians have died crossing the street, and where several American citizens have been seriously injured. The Embassy has instructed its employees to use the pedestrian bridge to cross the road at all times, and other Americans are advised to do the same.

Traffic accidents are common in Thailand, and those involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. The Embassy has sent a notice to Embassy staff and family members strongly recommending that they refrain from using motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis), mopeds, and tuk-tuks in Bangkok, and the Embassy advises American visitors and residents to follow this recommendation as well. Use of motorcycle helmets is mandatory, but this law is seldom enforced. The accident rate in Thailand is particularly high during long holidays, when alcohol use and traffic are both heavier than normal. During the Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday in April, the problem is further exacerbated by people throwing water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration.

Paved roads, many of them four lanes wide, connect Thailand’s major cities. On the country’s numerous two-lane roads, however, slow-moving trucks limit speed and visibility. Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws is common in all regions of Thailand, as is the consumption by commercial drivers of alcohol, amphetamines and other stimulants. Serious bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight trips, and sometimes result in fatalities. Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention. Thailand requires that all vehicles be covered by third-party liability insurance for death or injury, but there is no mandatory coverage for property damage. The Embassy strongly encourages its employees to obtain liability insurance coverage over and above the minimum third party liability insurance required by the Thai Government. American citizen motorists should consider this as well, as the more affluent driver, even if not at fault, is frequently compelled to cover the expenses of the other party in an accident in Thailand.

Travelers in Bangkok may wish to travel about the city using the BTS “Skytrain” elevated mass transit system or the underground Metro system, which operate daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Bangkok also has an extensive bus system, but buses can be overcrowded, and are often driven with little or no regard for passenger safety. Cities elsewhere in Thailand typically have only rudimentary public transportation, and usually do not have metered taxis. In many cases, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks, bicycle-powered rickshaws, and pick-up trucks will be the only options available for travelers without their own transport. Americans should be cautious when using these services, as all can be dangerous in fast or heavy traffic.

Please see our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government ofThailand’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Thailand’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site athttp://www.faa.gov/


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Thai customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Thailand of items such as firearms, explosives, narcotics and drugs, radio equipment, books or other printed material and video or audio recordings which might be considered subversive to national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Thailand in Washington, D.C., or one of the Thai consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on Customs Information.

Strong seasonal undercurrents at popular beach resorts pose a sometimes-fatal threat to surfers and swimmers. During the monsoon season from May through October, drowning is the leading cause of death for tourists visiting the resort island of Phuket. Some, but not all, beaches have warning flags to indicate the degree of risk (red flag: sea condition dangerous for swimming; yellow flag: sea condition rough, swim with caution; green flag: sea condition stable).

Boat safety has become an increasing concern in Thailand. Ferries and speedboats used to transport tourists and local nationals to and from the many islands off the Thai mainland are often overcrowded and carry insufficient safety equipment. In January 2005, three U.S. citizen tourists died when the over-crowded speedboat they were in capsized and sank off the coast of Koh Samui. Three months later, two U.S. citizens narrowly escaped death when their dive boat sank off the coast near Phuket. The Department of State encourages U.S. citizens to avoid travel on overcrowded boats, and to ensure that proper safety equipment (including life preservers) is available before boarding any boat or ferry.

The rental of cars, motorbikes and jet skis is common in the tourist areas. Many rental companies ask to hold the renters passport as a deposit. If there is damage to the vehicle, the company often holds the passport until the renter pays for the damage. For this reason, a passport should not be used as a deposit or collateral. There are have been reports that some companies charge the renter for damage that they did not cause. Renters should be certain to examine the vehicle and note any pre-existing damage before operating the vehicle.


CRIMINAL PENALTIES

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Thai laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

In this connection, it is a criminal offense to make negative comments about the King or other members of the royal family. Thais hold the King in the highest regard, and it is a serious crime to make critical or defamatory comments about him. This particular crime, called “lese majeste,” is punishable by a prison sentence of three to fifteen years. Purposely tearing or destroying Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may be considered such an offense, as can spitting on or otherwise defiling an official uniform bearing 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. Numerous American citizens have been arrested or detained under suspicion of carrying out such activities; sometimes these detentions are carried out by military authorities, and the Embassy does not learn of them until many days after the fact. Many other Americans suspected of advocating the armed overthrow of other governments have been "blacklisted" from entering the country. Americans should be aware that attempts to overthrow foreign governments by force may violate U.S. law as well as Thai law.

Penalties for the possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Thailand are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, and often heavy fines as well. Thailand also has a death penalty for serious drug offenses, and has executed convicted traffickers. The U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident.

Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers in the establishment, and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. Although someThai civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenge to the practice, and customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate.

Shoplifting, even for low-value goods is strictly prosecuted. Arrests for shoplifting even low-value items can result in large fines and lengthy detention.


REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION

Americans living in or visiting Thailand are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Thailand. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok; the U.S. mailing address is APO AP 96546-0001. The central switchboard number is (66-2) 205-4000; the American Citizen Services Unit number is (66-2) 205-4049; and the fax number is (66-2) 205-4103. The web site for the U.S. Embassy is http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/. American citizens can register online via the web site. Questions regarding American Citizens Services can be submitted by email to acsbkk@state.gov. The U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai is located at 387 Wichayanond Road; the U.S. mailing address is Box C, APO AP 96546. The telephone number is (66-53)107-700 and the fax number is (66-53) 252-633.