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Can you bribe your way out of trouble? Are the Thai Police reliable and approachable? Learn these tips and stay on the right side of law.

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With COVID-19 and strict restrictions in place, more and more foreigners who opted to stay in Thailand have been facing trouble with the local law enforcement. Whether it’s confusion over visas and the exemption period, or the long list of ever-changing restrictions, there are many ways you can end up crossing paths with the sworn officers of the Kingdom. Hear our advice, and stay safe.

9 Essential Tips for Dealing With Police in Thailand

  1. The most important rule — remain calm. Never raise your voice, or make any demands or threats. The police have a lot of power, and if you piss them off they might just throw you in jail, or as the locals call it — the monkey house.
  2. Be kind and courteous. Act reasonably at all times.
  3. If you’ve done something wrong don’t small mercy. Be prepared to pay an on-the-spot fine, which is almost always your best option.
  4. If you’re in a dispute with a Thai local, it’s likely the police will side with them. If you decide to challenge this it might bring even more trouble your way, even if you’re not at fault. It’s difficult to accept, but that’s often the smoothest way to clear the situation.
  5. This one might sound pretty obvious (it certainly is), but here it goes: Don’t be a dumb farang. Getting wasted and shouting at the police will get you in deep trouble. Any extra scrutiny from the police is usually bad for you, so stay smart and don’t attract attention.
  6. Don’t make false statements to the police. And yes, Tom, this includes insurance claims. It’s illegal and could carry heavy fines and/or jail time.
  7. Don’t get caught doing drugs. The fines and jail time are real, and it’s foolish to risk it.
  8. Wear a mask when necessary and follow the latest COVID-19 instructions.
  9. Go get yourself a business card from any local law agency, and carry it in your wallet. If you ever find yourself in deep trouble, you can give that card to the police as a last measure. It’s a message that might scare off a bad cop trying to extort money, and it doesn’t cost a thing to have it. Even if your bluff gets called and the police decide to phone them, the law agency is not going to turn down a paying customer.

Types of Law Enforcement in Thailand

Royal Thai Police

Royal Thai Police officer organizing traffic

The official khaki-colored uniform is an integral part of life in Thailand. The Royal Thai Police institution has been working to improve itself and its reputation in 2020 with crackdowns on corruption. The ordinary police usually seen on the streets are poorly paid, receiving a low salary of 6000 baht a month. To earn a livable wage they rely heavily on the support of their communities. Call it a Thai way of checks and balances. This means accepting payments from gold shops for protection, commission on the fines they issue, and taxing the brothels.

Stepping into the boots of a Royal Thai Police is not an easy task. Calling it difficult to balance your day to day responsibilities while dealing with foreigners from countries all over the world, with vastly different cultures and laws, is an understatement. And it’s a job, in spite of some razor-sharp criticism from foreigners, they are doing a pretty good job — considering the circumstances.

Tourist Police

Volunteers of the Foreign Tourist Police patrol Walking Street–an infamous entertainment area–in Pattaya, Thailand. Photo: Aaron Joel Santos

Tourist police are mostly volunteers, consisting of a mix of Thai locals and expats. They speak good English and offer helpful advice in an approachable way. You can find them in any major tourist hotspot, like Walking Street in Pattaya. Although they are not actually sworn law enforcement officers, they assist in policing the tourist industry. They can act as translators or intermediaries when you’re dealing with the real police, or identifying possible scams.

The hotline for Tourist Police is 1155 and works all over Thailand.

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Military Police

Military Officer protecting a national park in Thailand

Thailand has a strong military history and presence, which dates back to 2014 when the Royal Thai Armed Forces launched a coup d’état. The military has remained in the power of the Kingdom ever since, working closely with the local law enforcement.

The military police travelers usually encounter acts as park rangers, protecting key areas of national interest. This includes various national parks and islands with restricted access. They instruct visitors to clean their waste and collect protection and reservation fees. While the heavily armed appearance with assault rifles can be intimidating, the military police rarely cause issues and have a focus on environmental protection.

Security Guards

Thai security guards standing in a row

While not actually law enforcers, it’s important to learn how to distinguish security guards from the actual police.

Ensuring the safety of the public, security guards protect locations and businesses. They are often deeply connected with law enforcement, but not actually sworn officers. Some reports of security guards scamming travelers have been raised, which are usually attempts to extort money from unknowing tourists.

A new law was passed to regulate the security guard business and address these issues through strict enforcement. The new restrictions demand security guards to be at least 18 years old and have finished Mathayom 3 (Grade 9) at school or higher. It also bans alcoholics, drug abusers, or sexual abuse convicts from security-related professions. The bill is attempting to set industry-wide standards and improve the trustworthiness of guards.

Corruption in Thailand

Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Thailand at 101st place, shared with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Panama, and Peru. Its corruption score rose from 35 in 2016 to 37 in 2017 before dropping a point again in 2018. Full democracies scored an average of 75 on the corruption index, while flawed democracies averaged 49, and autocratic regimes averaged 30.

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The most likely type of corruption you might encounter will be from the police or low-level public service officials.

Can you bribe Thai officials and buy your way out of trouble?

While corruption exists, it’s illegal to offer a bribe to an official in Thailand. Taking part in bribery also means you’re perpetuating the cycle that Thai government is actively attempting to disband.

Instead of bribes, there are claims of asking subtly for a special fee that seems to resonate better with Thai officers. Paying the official to speed up the process, or offering to handle the fine “on-the-spot” can save you from a long trip to the police station.

This type of bribery is widespread despite being illegal. The locals rationalize it by viewing it as a way to respect and honor the officer who’s helping their day go more smoothly.

How much and when should you bribe the police in Thailand?

Depending on your offense, the bribe on-the-spot expression of respect is usually a small discount from the going rate of the fine. You can consider it as a discount for saving the officers from all the boresome paperwork. For driving without a helmet or a proper license, this can be around 400 baht. This applies to most traffic infringements. Getting caught drunk driving can hike up to 10 000 baht or more, so be responsible.

The alternative is to accept the ticket, take a trip to the police station, spend a few hours waiting, sign several copies of documents and jump through annoying bureaucratic hoops and still end up paying around the same.

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Stop searches are common around nightclubs in search of drugs. If there’s more suspicion the police can even force you to get tested, including urine and blood. Bribing your way out of drug offenses can hike up to hundreds of thousands of baht, which is still often better than the alternative.

Thai prisons are no joke, and most do anything to avoid a trip to the Bangkok Hilton. If you get stopped it’s important to keep calm and cooperate. If you have nothing to hide, the situation will escalate quickly and you can be on your way.

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