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Home / General Travel Tips /
XYZ Consular Info: Thailand

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XYZ Consular Info: Thailand

Thailand Consular Information Sheet
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
April 9, 2002
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Approximately 95 percent of the population is Buddhist and ethnically Thai, yet Thailand is a multicultural country. Most Thais in the northeast are closely related to the Lao people both culturally and linguistically, although a few northeastern provinces have substantial Khmer-speaking populations. The majority of people in the far southern provinces are Muslims who speak a dialect of the Malay language, while there are numerous ethnically distinct hill tribes in the north which practice Protestantism and animism. Thailand is a popular travel destination, and tourist facilities and services are available throughout the country.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizen tourists staying for less than 30 days do not require a visa, but must possess a passport and onward/return ticket. A Passenger Service Charge, currently 500 baht (USD equivalent as of September 2001: $11.50), must be paid in Thai baht when departing the country from any of Thailand's international airports. Thailand's Entry/Exit information is subject to change without notice. For further information on Thailand's entry/exit requirements, please contact the Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, telephone 202) 944-3600, or the Internet web site Thai Embassy or the Thai consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The far south of Thailand has experienced incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence, including incidents attributed to armed local separatist/extremist groups. Although these groups focus primarily on Thai government interests, U.S. citizen travelers should remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. At this time, there is no specific threat information.
Tourists should also exercise caution in remote areas along the border with Burma. 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. In addition, pirates, bandits, and drug traffickers operate in these border areas. In February 2000, two Australians camping near the Burma border in Ang Kang Park, in the Fang District, were attacked by robbers. One of the campers was shot and killed. In April 1999, a dozen Thai villagers and tribesmen were killed in separate incidents near Thailand's northern border with Burma. In January 2000, 10 gunmen from two fringe groups in Burma crossed into Thailand and took several hundred people hostage at a provincial hospital in Ratchaburi Province. All ten gunmen were killed when Thai authorities stormed the hospital to end the crisis. 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. Thai/Burma border crossings sometimes close temporarily as a result of armed clashes in Burma between the Burmese army and Burmese ethnic groups. Licensed guides can help ensure that trekkers do not cross inadvertently into a neighboring country.
Travelers should be aware that there are occasional incidents of violence on Thailand's northern and eastern borders with Laos. In July 2000, five people were killed and several fled to Thailand during a skirmish between apparent insurgents and government forces in Laos near the eastern border crossing at Chong Mek. Additionally, two U.S. citizens in 1999 and one in early 2000 were reported missing after attempting to cross illegally into Laos at the Lao-Thai border.
Although tourists have not been targeted specifically by this occasional violence, due caution remains advisable. It is recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check with the Thai tourist police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
Strong seasonal undercurrents at popular beach resorts sometimes pose a fatal threat to surfers and swimmers. During the monsoon season from May through October, the leading cause of death for tourists visiting Phuket is drowning. 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). In July 2001, an American tourist died in a surfing accident in Phuket at a beach that was not marked.
CRIME INFORMATION: In recent years, crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and burglaries have become more common, though the crime threat in Bangkok remains less than in many American cities. Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare. Travelers should be especially wary when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites and bus or train stations. Women are generally not subject to sexual harassment.
Reports of serious transportation-related crimes involving taxis or three-wheeled vehicles called "tuk tuks" are relatively rare, though fare scams can occur. More serious are incidents in which drivers tout disreputable gem stores or entertainment venues because they receive money for bringing in customers. Travelers should always use official metered taxis in Bangkok and never enter a cab that has anyone besides a driver in it. In March 2000, a U.S. citizen was attacked and robbed by a taxi driver and an accomplice picked up en route by the driver.
There are occasional reports of scopolamine druggings perpetrated by prostitutes or unscrupulous bar workers for the purpose of robbery. Tourists have also been victimized by drugged food and drink, usually offered by a friendly stranger (sometimes posing as a fellow traveler). 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 to unfamiliar venues alone. Some trekking tour companies, particularly in Northern Thailand, have been known to make drugs available to trekkers. In July 2001, an American died after smoking opium in a northern hill tribe village. Travelers should not accept drugs of any kind because the drugs may be altered or harmful, and the use or sale of drugs is illegal.
Scams involving gems, city tours, entertainment venues and credit cards are also common, especially in areas that are heavily visited by tourists. Credit cards should be used only in reputable, established businesses, and the amount charged should be checked for accuracy. Travelers should not accept tours or offers from touts who solicit on the streets. Shopping at lesser-known gem stores carries a serious risk; the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) receives over 1,000 complaints each year from visitors who have been cheated on gem purchases. The gems often turn out to be greatly overpriced, and money-back guarantees are not honored. Lists of gem dealers who have promised to abide by TAT guidelines are available online at Gems while information on gem scams can be found on the Thai Tourist Police web site at Tourist Police
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. Finally, bars or entertainment venues in tourist areas may at times try to charge exorbitant amounts for drinks or unadvertised cover charges. If victimized in this fashion, travelers should not attempt to resolve the problem themselves, but should instead pay the price demanded and then contact the nearest branch of the Tourist Police for help in getting restitution. (The toll-free number for the Tourist Police is indicated above.)
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. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at Documents or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at Travel State
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical treatment is good. This is particularly true in Bangkok, where excellent facilities exist for routine, long-term and emergency health care. 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. Additionally, alcoholic beverages, medications and drugs may be more potent and 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.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.
Travelers should check with their insurance company to confirm whether their policies offer coverage overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. Travelers should ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or if the traveler must pay first and then be reimbursed later. Some insurance policies may also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Persons with serious medical conditions who travel to Thailand may wish to consider insurance that specifically covers medical evacuation, as the cost for medical evacuation from Thailand can be extremely expensive.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions 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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at CDC
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.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Traffic moves on the left in Thailand. The city of Bangkok has heavy traffic composed of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled "tuk-tuks." For safety, and to avoid jaywalking fines, pedestrians should use overhead walkways whenever possible. Accidents are common, and those involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that Americans refrain from riding motorcycles. In 2000, four Americans were killed in traffic accidents in Thailand, three of whom were riding motorcycles; during the first nine months of 2001, there were five American traffic deaths in Thailand, two of which involved motorcycles. Use of motorcycle helmets is mandatory, but this law is seldom enforced. Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention. Paved roads connect Thailand's major cities, but most have only two lanes. Slow-moving trucks limit speed and visibility. Speeding and reckless passing in all regions is common. Consumption of alcohol, amphetamines and other stimulants by commercial drivers is also common. In recent years there have been serious bus crashes involving foreign passengers on overnight bus trips; one of these crashes resulted in fatalities. Motorists may wish to obtain accident insurance that covers medical and liability costs. The more affluent driver, even if not at fault, is frequently compelled to cover the expenses of the other party in an accident.
Travelers may wish to use Bangkok's elevated "Skytrain" mass transit system to travel about the city. The system operates everyday from 6:00 a.m. to midnight.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Thailand's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Thailand's air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at FAA The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 256-4801.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: 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.
Thai customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information, please call (212) 354-4480, or send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org, or visit ATA for details.
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 -- dubbed "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.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Thailand are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. 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. Prison conditions in Thailand are harsh, and Thailand has a death sentence for serious drug offenses. A recent change in Thai law lowered threshold quantities that may result in its imposition. After a period when the death penalty was seldom imposed, Thailand is once again executing convicted traffickers. There are at present approximately fifteen Americans serving long-term prison sentences in Thailand, but in previous years the total was above sixty. A ruse sometimes used to transport drugs out of the country involves offering an American a free vacation to Thailand, then requesting the American's assistance in transporting excess "luggage" or gifts back to the United States. The American's claim that he or she did not know that the package contained drugs has not been a successful defense in Thailand.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For general information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Office of Children's Issues home page on the Internet at Children's Issues or telephone (202) 312-9700.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living in or visiting Thailand are encouraged to register either online or in person at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai. At both locations updated information on travel and security in Thailand is available. 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 US Embassy
American citizens can register online via the web site. Questions regarding American Citizens Services can be submitted by E-mail to . 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) 252-629 and the fax number is (66-53) 252-633.
Notes
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2001 to update the section on Safety and Security.