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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Thailand

Thailand - Consular Information Sheet
July 28, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. It 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 departure tax must be paid in Thai Baht to Thai Immigration Authorities at any point of exit. 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 their Internet web site http://www.thaiembdc.org, or one of the Thai consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Tourists should exercise caution in all border areas. They may wish to obtain information from Thai authorities about whether official border crossing points are open, and should cross into neighboring countries only at designated crossing points. In 1998, some Western tourists who strayed across the border into Burma were held in custody by the Burmese military for several days. Upon returning to Thailand, they also faced immigration violations for departing Thailand outside of a designated border crossing point. Licensed guides can help ensure that trekkers do not cross inadvertently into a neighboring country.

Pirates, bandits, and drug traffickers operate in the 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.

Travelers should be aware that there are occasional incidents of violence on Thailand’s northern border with Laos in connection with the attempts of ethnic Hmong insurgents to cross into Laos. In July 2000, five people were killed and several fled to Thailand during a skirmish between Lao insurgents and government forces in Laos near the Chong Mek border crossing. Additionally, two U.S. citizens in 1999 and one in early 2000 were reported missing after attempting to cross 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.

CRIME INFORMATION: Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and other petty crimes are common in areas where tourists gather. Many tourists fall victim to gem scams, in which a friendly stranger offers to show the tourist an exceptional place to buy gems. The gems turn out to be greatly overpriced, and money-back guarantees are not honored. If you have fallen victim to a gem scam, please contact the local branch of the Thai Tourist Police or the Tourist Assistance Center at their local toll free phone number of 1155.

When attempting to catch a taxi at the airport, travelers should avoid unlicensed taxis and only enter taxis from the airport’s official taxi stand or go to the airport limousine counter and hire a car and driver there. All major hotels in Bangkok can arrange to have a car and driver meet incoming flights. Also, it is not common for Thai taxis to pick up additional passengers, and travelers should be wary of drivers seeking to do so. In March 2000, a U.S. citizen was attacked and robbed by a taxi driver and his accomplice whom the driver picked up en route.

A growing number of travelers report being robbed after consuming drugged food or drink offered them by a friendly stranger, sometimes posing as a fellow traveler. Americans have also reported being drugged by casual acquaintances they have met in a bar or on the street. In recent years, the death of one U.S. citizen was allegedly the result of a drugging incident. Some trekking tour companies, particularly in northern Thailand, have been known to make drugs available to trekkers. Travelers should avoid accepting drugs of any kind, as the drugs may be altered or harmful, and the use or sale of drugs by trekking tour companies is illegal.

Credit card fraud has also been increasing. Travelers may wish to protect their credit cards and use them only in known or established businesses.

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, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical treatment, especially in Bangkok, is good. 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 each year of apparent premature heart attacks after drinking in public places 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.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies 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. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies 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, because 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 http://www.cdc.gov.

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, and three wheeled "tuk-tuks." Accidents are common. In 1999, five Americans were killed in traffic accidents in Thailand. Two of these Americans were killed while riding motorcycles. Use of motorcycle helmets is mandatory, but this law is rarely 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 February 1999, there were two 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 in Thailand.

Travelers may wish to use Bangkok’s recently unveiled skytrain to travel about the city. The multi-million dollar project was completed in late 1999. The system offers a cheap and fast alternative to maneuvering Bangkok’s congested city streets. The skytrain operates everyday from 6:00am to 12:00 midnight.

For specific information concerning Thai driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Thai National Tourist Organization offices in New York via the Internet at http://www.tat.or.th/index-shock.htm.

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 U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. 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 telephone (618) 229-4801.

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 telephone (212) 354-4480, or send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org 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 inappropriate 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 3 to 15 years. Purposefully 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 in illegal drugs in Thailand are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Thailand strictly enforces its drug laws, including those prohibiting possession of small quantities of marijuana. 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. Americans convicted of drug trafficking have received long sentences, often in excess of forty years. There are more than thirty Americans serving long-term prison sentences in Thailand. A ruse sometimes used to get U.S. citizens to transport drugs out of the country involves offering the 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 legal defense in Thailand.

CHILDREN’S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living in or visiting Thailand are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Thailand and obtain updated information on travel and security within Thailand. The U.S. Embassy is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok; the U.S. mailing address is APO AP 96546-0001. The telephone number is (66-2) 205-4000 and the fax number is (66-2) 205-4103. The web site for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is http://usa.or.th/embassy/index.htm. 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.

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