Every year, millions of people cross into and out of Thailand via a land border. Thailand is bordered by Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Burma (Myanmar) so more people travel in and out of Thailand via land borders than do by air. When most people travel across a Thai land border, they don’t always think about items they are allowed to have with them and items they are not allowed to have. Of course, most prohibited items are obvious, but some are not and, every year, unsuspecting travelers are caught at Thai borders with items they should not have in their possession. I’ve travelled across land borders from Thailand on several occasions, and always make sure I know which items I am not allowed to have with me. Jail sentences are harsh in Thailand for certain offences and, the death sentence is handed out for some drug offences. So it’s better, If you’re planning on traveling across a Thailand border, to make sure you check out this list before you go, so you’ll have minimal problems at the border and won’t face arrest or incarceration.
Contraband items under Thai law are sometimes the same as in other countries, and sometimes different. Obviously, attempting to transport illegal drugs over a border into or out of Thailand is nothing less than incredibly stupid. Thailand is very strict about drug use and drug traffickers so transporting any type of narcotic across the Thai border is illegal. This includes narcotics like amphetamines (known as Yaa Baa in Thailand), heroin, marijuana or pot, ketamine, metamphetamine (ice), opium, and a lot more. If you’re not sure if the drug you have is legal in Thailand or not, the safest course of action is to leave it at home. Violations of the drug laws in Thailand can lead to many years in jail or even the death sentence.
Even though pirated goods are available all over Thailand, it’s still illegal to transport them across land borders. Pirated DVDs, CDs, VCDs, t shirts, name brand bags, football shirts, key rings, watches, sunglasses and a lot more are prohibited to transport across Thai land borders. At Thai borders, you will see many people (including Thais) wearing and carrying pirated goods. For myself, I just make sure that I am not wearing or carrying anything that’s pirated – better to be safe than sorry. After all, why give a Thai border official any excuse to cause you problems?
Badges and Decorations of National Flags, Money, Coins and Fake Stamps
The official list says, “Any items with badges and decorations of national flags, money, valuable coins, and fake official stamps are also prohibited.” Some of this list actually doesn’t make any sense and no government official I have spoken to has managed to explain effectively as to what it means either. People cross Thai borders all the time with badges of national flags (the Thai flag, the US flag, the Canadian flag etc), or wear t shirts with national flags prominently displayed. As far as I know, no one has ever been stopped going over the Thai border wearing or displaying one, so who knows what this really means?
The list also states “money”, but obviously the Thai government allows you to carry money with you across Thai borders. 50,000 baht is allowed to be taken out of the country (around $1,428) per person, which is actually not a lot if you’re planning a long international trip, so make sure you have travelers checks or an ATM card with you. What it looks like they are probably meaning is ‘fake money or coins’, as these are not allowed to be bought or transported, or very valuable coins, which need to be sent out of the country via a licensed dealer.
It also goes without saying that traveling on any ‘fake official stamp’, visa or illegally altered government documents will cause you to be arrested and charged if caught.
Other Items That Can Be Transported Out of the Country With Approval From Governmental Authorities
Plants, rubber plants, or plant remains can be transported out of the country, but need to be cleared by the Department of Agriculture.
Protected animals and animal parts – these can be transported out of the country but Thailand is clamping down quite severely on the illegal wildlife trade. Any protected animal in Thailand needs to have its transportation out or into the country via a land border authorized by either the Livestock Department or the Wildlife Protection Department and Fishery Department. Arriving at the border without the necessary paperwork will just mean you are turned back and, in most cases, the animal or animals will be confiscated.
Buddha statues, religious items, antiques – There are many mass produced Buddha statues that are available at market stalls all over Thailand and most people I know have transported at least one of them through a land border. Thai customs doesn’t seem to care about the mass-produced items as they are a tourist attraction, but they are very aware of Buddha statues that are original, very old, or very rare and these have to have special permission to be able to be transported. The Thai Fine Arts Department can tell you more about what can and cannot be transported in and outside Thailand via a land border.
Drug, cosmetics and instant food – This is another one that makes absolutely no sense. Almost everyone is travelling across a Thai border with a drug (aspirin, Tylenol, cold remedies etc.), cosmetics (Revlon, L’Oreal etc), or instant food (coffee, dried milk, soups, etc.) I’ve never known of anyone getting stopped for carrying a nominal amount of any of these items but, if in doubt, contact the Thai Public Health Ministry for more information.
Guns, ammunitions, explosives, firecrackers, fake weapons – This one is self-explanatory. If you do want to transport anything from this list over a Thai border, you can contact the Thai Interior Ministry for the correct authorization.
Telecommunication radios and spare parts – If you’re a radio enthusiast, contact the Thai Post and Telegraph Commission and they can tell you what you need to be able to transport radios or spare parts across Thai borders.
Transporting liquor, beer and wine is limited to one litre and is checked very carefully by border authorities. You can carry 200 cigarettes per person, and not more than 250 grams or cigars and pipe tobacco.
Violations of any of the above items violate the Thai Customs Act, and anyone doing this can be given up to 10 years in jail and a very large fine.
Don’t forget too, if you plan on crossing a Thailand land border, you need to have your passport and also a passport-sized photograph to hand in to border officials.