Stickman Readers' Submissions February 8th, 2006

Lessons Learned, Cigarettes Can Be Expensive In Thailand

I'm a great believer in sharing information / experiences, especially when it involves heavy fines imposed, totally at the discretion of the Thai Customs and Excise officers. Whilst in transit through Dubai Airport en-route to BKK, I decided to buy
a 1,000 pack of Marlboro lights.

I'm aware that I could buy the same cigarettes in Thailand cheaper, but decided to buy in Dubai, because I find their cigarettes fresher and not as strong as the Thai Marlboro cigarettes.

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Unfortunately I was unaware of the allowance imposed by the Thai Customs of only 200 cigarettes per person, but that's down to my own ignorance.

Anyway, I cleared the customs hall at BKK, without a customs officer in sight, I still thought that I had nothing to hide anyway.

I collected 20,000 baht from the ATM and was just about to join the queue for a taxi, when I was approached by three customs officers. They asked me what was in my Dubai duty free shopping bag and I replied "cigarettes, is there a problem?"

They asked me how many and I told them that I had just under 1,000. You only should have 200 replied one of the officers. I explained that there was nobody at the Customs hall for me to declare the cigarettes too, but that fell on deaf ears.

I then apologized and discretely offered them 3,000 baht, to which all three officers snigger and one said "This is Thailand, we cannot do things like that". Sure I thought. I knew then that I was in a situation.

I asked them if they were going to confiscate the cigarettes and one replied, "you have two choices, either pay a fine now or go to court", to which I said that I was prepared to pay the fine. I was then taken to the airport police
station in Terminal 1.

This is where my ordeal began. Very soon after, two other Farang were brought into the police station, one was a drunk German with his Thai girlfriend and was trying to talk Thai and had the customs guys in stitches. His girlfriend told him
in English to keep quiet, because they were laughing at him and not with him, but he wouldn't let up and was starting to really piss me off.

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He had 2,000 cigarettes and about five bottles of Famous Grouse whisky. Although the whisky never came into the equation.

The other Farang was a young kid from Liverpool in the UK, he had 5,000 cigarettes. I really felt sorry for him later.

To cut a long story short, five hours later I'm in the Customs & Excise HQ, somewhere near Rama V and the head officer hits me with a fine of 17,000 baht. When I asked him how he came to such a figure, he replied that I must pay
the duty on the cigarettes and said that the duty was 35 baht per packet and I have 49 packets (980 cigarettes). I quickly worked out the maths and replied that it calculate to 1,715 baht. He said that because I had smuggled, he was fining me
10 times the cost of the duty. I tried to plead and get him to reduce the fine, but he would not budge.

Then I realized why. Whilst I was hanging around waiting for this mess to be sorted out, all kinds of monies were being exchanged between these three arresting officers , plus another three staff at the Customs HQ. When it came time for me to cough up,
the three

arresting officers had long since left to get back to Don Muang (I wonder why). I then said that if I am allowed to bring 200 cigarettes into Thailand, that I should have this deducted from the fine. He refused and said something like "I should have
mentioned that earlier".

I just wanted to get the hell out of there and gave him the 17,000 baht. As I walked out of the office the German guy was now sobering up and he was cursing the air in German. As I passed him I commented, "What's up mate, no more
Thai jokes, your not laughing now pal". I looked across at the poor Scouse kid and swear I saw a tear in his eye. I entered the Kingdom, not too pucker for my experience. I went back to my apartment dropped off my bag and headed off to Nana
Plaza to cheer myself up.

Oh and I forgot to mention, they kept the cigarettes. But I'm sure that they have been destroyed by now.

Stickman's thoughts:

Ouch! That is a nasty fine. Of course, you got a receipt with it, didn't you?

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