Hopefully, you won’t have to engage with a police officer in Thailand outside of the occasional inquisition about directions. If you do find yourself needing to interact with the authorities, we have compiled a guide below on the best ways to interact with the police in Thailand.
As a general rule of thumb, you should be courteous, formal and polite with any police officer that you encounter in Thailand. Thai police officers are usually friendly, trustworthy and professional. It certainly helps that most officers have adequate English skills.
While most police officers in Thailand are polite and respectful, it’s important to understand that the body that governs them is quite different than many Western cultures. Thailand is currently under what many refer to as a military dictatorship, so it’s easy to assume why you might need to understand how Thailand’s laws are created and enforced.
Who Should I Approach in the Case of an Emergency?
It’s important to remember there are two different kinds of police officers available to help you. Tourists most commonly interact with the tourist police (understandably). These officers are stationed in the Sathorn-Silom and central Sukhumvit areas of Bangkok. The emergency number for these officials is 1155. All calls are free.
The other Thai police department is found everywhere in Bangkok. Their emergency numbers are 191. These police officers likely speak less English than their tourist police counterparts but are still a reliable source of help.
Both groups of police officers are trustworthy. In cities with high rates of tourism, you can expect their English skills to be solid. In smaller cities, one should not expect the same language scenario. Google Translate goes a long way in small rural towns when you need help.
There is a new partnership to help make police reports easier. In the town of Pattaya, the Thai police have partnered with 7/11. You heard that right. If something unfortunate has happened, you can report the action at your nearby 7/11. The employees working there will help you interact with the police to get the ball of justice rolling.
Is it Really an Emergency?
If you are reporting a pickpocketing, the Thai police are interested in hearing where this illegal action took place. However, they are interested in where to station police officers in the future. It’s unlikely you’ll get your money back.
Thai police don’t get involved in personal arguments and heated disputes unless an injury is threatened or occurs. Make sure that the police will actually be able to help you as not to waste their time (they don’t like that).
How to Behave
Nobody ever thanks a police officer for their service after they get a ticket. Likewise, people’s negative interactions with the police abroad often times stem from the very fact that they were doing something illegal in the first place. As such, you’ll read many different articles claiming that the Thai police behave in a shady manner. It’s an unfair characterization that paints a broad stroke in an attempt to categorize an entire group of people.
If you find yourself in a situation that warrants police attention, the absolute best thing you can do is keep your composure. It’s important to maintain a level of calmness to demonstrate your ability to behave rationally. Those who have an inability to remain calm are seen as a danger to those around them. Thai police do not tolerate the latter group, no matter who is in the wrong.
Police (like officers in every country) are likely to judge you by their own current belief systems. Foreigners and tourists who have dreadlocks are likely to be treated with suspicion. There are several accounts of police officers targeting black and Hispanic minorities who travel in Thailand. If you need to interact with the police, make an attempt to dress well.
In essence, you can expect the police in Thailand to treat you however you treat them. If you are respectful, they will act accordingly. If you are not respectful, have a good time in the Bangkok Hilton.
If you have been caught doing something illegal, you can expect to be treated as such. Even if it is a small infraction, you should expect to pay a fine on the spot.
Thai police are not paid well. Most of the officers you encounter are working long shifts during the day and interacting with a slew of annoying drunk tourists at night. If you need genuine help, you should be prepared to tip them like you would a waiter.
To clarify, this is not a bribe. Be very careful with your wording here, as a bribe can land you in hot water. Police in Thailand makes the equivalent of $200-300 a month. If they are going to go through the trouble of paperwork and returning results for you, it is expected to support their helpful behavior financially.
Instead of handing an overworked police officer money under the table, say something along the lines of “Thank you for your expedient help and professionalism. May this money be a token of my respect for your hard work”. You can do this in a way that is subtle, without implying you are giving a bribe.
Many police in Thailand supplement their incomes with the cash flow of local illegal businesses. Whether it is a low-level pot dealer or a nearby brothel, these businesses operate by paying certain taxes to the police officers that patrol their neighborhood.
If you are engaged with the police and worried about how the situation will progress, don’t pull money out. Ask if there is a ‘special fee’ you can pay the official to move the process along more quickly. While it may seem unethical to pay your fine ‘on-the-spot’, doing so will save you significant time.
If you don’t pay the officer 200 – 500 Baht ($7-$18 USD) on the spot, you can expect to pay the exact same amount in the police station if you take the ticket instead. The difference is that you’ll have to find the police station, wait for your ticket to be processed (will take several hours of waiting there), then endure more bureaucratic nonsense just to pay the same amount.
In summation, we recommend that you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about the Thai police. People have a nature of sensationalizing their interactions with foreign police officers to paint a more grandiose or exciting adventure than what actually happened. While there are surely some interesting encounters some Americans have had, you can expect most Thai police to be full of smiles.
At the end of your day, consider the source of your information. Put emphasis on your actual encounters with these officers instead of the tales from a friend of a friend. You’ll find friendly, hardworking people who are slightly overwhelmed by the number of drunk tourists they need to manage in their shift.
Assuming you’re not starting fights or visiting Thailand as a sexpat, your experience with local law enforcement will be positive. The odds are in your favor. You likely won’t need to interact with the police at all. Tourism is such a large industry for the Thai people. As such, the local government severely punishes people who threaten this cash cow for the country. Thailand is a safe country.
What is the Emergency Number in Thailand?
The emergency number for the tourist police in Thailand is 1155. The phone number for the Thai fire department and ambulance services is 191. You can expect basic English skills from phone operators.
How do I File a Police Report?
You can report stolen goods at any police station in Thailand. Most of the work handled will be for your insurance purposes. It’s unlikely that stolen goods will be recovered. It’s recommended that you have a Thai translator accompany you to the station.