Safety in Thailand

Renowned for its idyllic beaches and friendly inhabitants, Thailand may seem like paradise, and the good news is that it can be – as long as expats take note of the country's most prominent safety concerns and proceed with the necessary precautions.
The shortcomings of safety in Thailand are primarily the result of underfunded infrastructure, political instability and the high level of poverty. 
The main safety concerns for expats living in Thailand are listed below, with advice on the best precautions to take.

Terrorism and politics in Thailand

Thailand is viewed as a moderately safe destination for foreigners. Recently, the main concern for expats has been the unstable political situation after the military coup in 2014. Martial law and curfews have since been lifted from all areas except the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, the Sadao district of Songkhla province and some border areas, but there are various other safety measures in place. 

There is a high risk of terrorism in the far south of Thailand, but there have been several isolated incidents in larger cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

The political situation in Thailand

While foreigners have largely been unaffected by the country’s political situation, the UK and US governments have issued travel alerts for Thailand urging their residents to exercise caution.

The National Council for Peace (NCOP) has extensive security powers that have seen certain books – and even at one point sandwiches, which were used as a protest symbol – banned from public places.

Tensions remain fairly high and it is illegal to criticise the new government in public. For these reasons, expats should avoid making political statements as well as possible protests in Bangkok and other areas of Thailand.

Expats are advised to keep up to date with the news in Thailand and act accordingly. Security remains high, foreigners may be subject to extra security at airports and other checkpoints, and the NCOP has the power to institute new public orders at short notice.

Terrorism in Thailand

The southern provinces on the border between Thailand and Malaysia have been the site of separatist violence since 2004, resulting in thousands of deaths. Foreign governments have advised against all but the most essential travel to these high-risk areas.

Foreign governments have also warned against travel to Thailand’s borders with Cambodia, owing to an ongoing border dispute, as well as the Myanmar border.

Following sporadic bombings in previous years, there is also a risk of terrorism in larger cities and certain tourist areas. The general advice given by foreign embassies about this issue is to avoid crowded and tourist areas during high-risk terrorist alerts, and to keep a low profile. 

General safety in Thailand

Crime in Thailand is usually quite low compared to other international destinations, and violent crimes against foreigners are rare. However, crimes of opportunity can happen and require certain precautions. 

To avoid falling victim to pickpockets, expats should keep a close eye on their purses and bags in crowded places. In Bangkok. particularly, foreigners should be wary of being targeted by thieves who ride as passengers on a motorcycle and grab victims' bags as they pass. If this does happen, expats are advised not to resist as these thieves have been known to drag victims alongside the motorbike until the bag comes off or to quickly use a sharp knife to detach the bag. Any mugging or pickpocketing incidents of this sort should be reported to the police as soon as possible.

There have also been reports of criminals using skimming devices on legitimate ATMs to steal credit card and PIN numbers, so the use of credit and debit cards should be restricted to well-established businesses.

Finally, expats should take special care to safeguard all items that could be used for identity theft.

Road safety in Thailand

No matter where an expat ends up living, whether in a small town or the heart of Bangkok, road safety in Thailand will be a primary concern.

Thailand is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for road accidents. On average, a shocking statistic reveals that more than 10,000 people lose their lives to traffic accidents in Thailand every year.

The low level of safety on the roads is arguably best explained by reckless drivers, and the inability – or incompetence – of the traffic police to impose the rules. There is also a serious lack of awareness with regards to drunk driving.

Where possible, expats should always use pedestrian overpasses to cross roads. They must also watch out for motorcycles that use pedestrian walkways to avoid the traffic jams in Bangkok.

Expats intent on driving in Thailand are advised to drive defensively and to obey traffic laws, even if no one else seems to be doing so. 

Scams in Thailand

Expats who have just landed often fall prey to scams perpetrated by unscrupulous locals - and most expats in Thailand have experienced at least one.

The good news is that in most cases they involve a relatively minor sum of money and new arrivals usually smarten up after a few weeks in town and never fall victim again. 

Examples of scams include:

  • Taxi drivers trying to overcharge foreign passengers. If this happens, simply ask them to put on the meter, as they are obliged by law to do so.

  • Tuk-tuk drivers travelling all around town, taking their passengers to various tailors or jewellery shops instead of going straight to their destination.

  • Being taken to a restaurant that has no menu, then receiving an exorbitant bill afterwards.

  • Being solicited to make donations to false charities.

HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Thailand

It would be an outright oversight to pretend that Thailand’s reputation for sex tourism doesn’t beget less than attractive consequences.

While it might not concern all expats living in Thailand, prostitution is widely available and using the services of sex workers doesn’t come without its risks.

Some may have a sexually transmitted infection (STIs) – indeed, Thailand has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in Southeast Asia. Nearly one in five freelance sex workers in Thailand is said to be infected with HIV. Expats who use their services and choose not to use proper protection put themselves at high risk of contracting HIV or other STIs. In short, avoid engaging in unprotected sex with a sex worker in Thailand under any circumstances.

Expats should be aware that many freelance sex workers hide their true identity to potential clients by posing as regular patrons in nightclubs or restaurants. For this reason, new arrivals should simply avoid unprotected sex with anyone altogether until both partners have been tested for STIs and HIV in a respectable clinic or hospital beforehand. 

Condoms are available just about everywhere in Thailand, so there is no excuse not to use them.

Emergency telephone numbers in Thailand

In the case of an emergency, the following numbers can be contacted within Thailand. Expats should be sure to keep their embassy and insurer’s contact information handy too.

  • Emergency number: 191

  • Tourist Police: 1155