Are the Thai police reliable and approachable? Can you bribe your way out of anything? Read these tips to stay on the right side of law enforcement.
If you’re an innocent party and need the assistance of the Thai police, you’ll find them polite, professional and efficient. They’re serious guys with a tough job, so don’t mess with them. But to make the most of your trip to Thailand you’ll need to know about:
Tips for Dealing With Police in Thailand
- Be courteous and act reasonably at all times.
- Don’t raise your voice, or make demands and threats.
- If you’re in the wrong, expect little mercy and be prepared to pay an on-the-spot fine.
- If you’re in a dispute with a Thai local, it’s likely the police will side with the local, even if you’re not at fault. Just accept this.
- Don’t smile or talk to a police officer unless he talks to you first.
- Don’t be a dumb farang (foreigner) and draw attention to yourself by being drunk or loud.
- Don’t make a false statement to police, even for an insurance claim. It’s illegal.
Check out our guide to Thai laws you should know.
Types of Police in Thailand
These police are paid poorly, about 6000 baht a month, and rely on the “support of their communities” to make the wage livable. This means accepting payments from the gold shops they protect, fines they issue, and commissions from brothels.
A generous interpretation of this is that police provide service without favor, and in return, the locals treat them with the honor and respect their status deserves. So you should do the same.
Although not actually sworn law enforcement officers, these officers ‘police’ the tourist industry. Mostly volunteers, the force is a mix of Thai locals and expats, speak good English and are really helpful. They can act as intermediaries and translators when you’re dealing with the real police, or with scammers.
The number to call, all over Thailand is 1155.
Corruption in Thailand
In 2017, Thailand ranked 96th out of 180, and scored 37 points out of 100 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking equal with Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Indonesia, and Zambia. By comparison, New Zealand topped the index (least corrupt) with a score of 89, the UK was 8th with a score of 82. Thailand can be very corrupt.
There are reports of multi-million baht kickbacks to government officials. But as a visitor, the type of corruption you’re likely to encounter will come from the police and low-level public service officials.
World Nomads Guide to Bribing Thai Officials
It’s illegal to offer a bribe to an official in Thailand. Plus, if you take part in bribery, you’re perpetuating the cycle and probably driving up the price.
But we’ve heard from people who claim being subtle in the cation of the bribe goes a long way. Instead of calling it a bribe, they ask if there’s a “special fee” they can pay the official to speed up the process, or if they can pay the fine “on-the-spot”, or if they can “help” the official in some way.
Although illegal, bribery is pretty common and the locals admit they rationalize it by thinking of it as a way to honor and respect to the status of the person who’s helping their day go more smoothly. Need a stamp in your passport, but it’s going to take a couple of days? You’ll be amazed at the time travel properties of 100 baht, or so we are told.
Bribing Police – When and How Much?
It’s common knowledge that the going rate for a bribe, sorry we mean an expression of honor and respect, is about the same as the fine would be, minus a discount for saving the officer from the paperwork. Most traffic infringements are between 200 and 500 baht (US$6 – $15). “No thanks, no receipt required officer.”
The alternative, legal thing to do, is to accept the ticket, take a trip to the police station while it’s processed, spend a few hours there, jump through several annoying bureaucratic hoops and STILL pay 200 to 500 baht. But at least you’ve done the right thing!
One of the most common police “fines” crop up after a license check. So what is the story with motorcycle licenses in Thailand?
Police are paid monthly, so it can be common to see them on the streets at the end of the month looking for ways to issue on-the-spot fines to tide them over till payday.
If you’re spotted coming out of a nightclub, you could be stopped and searched for drugs. Police are hoping to find an excuse to be paid enormous amounts of honor and respect. Don’t get upset, cooperate, and if you have nothing to fear the process will be conducted with smiles all around.