Paradise Maybe Already Lost
I have lived in Thailand for over 5 years now and whilst I love the climate, and Thai people, I have recently become very concerned about the rising level of cheating, and corruption that I have witnessed going on in the country. I talk to many other expats in Bangkok, Pattaya and in Isaan where I sometimes stay, and I feel sad that Thailand is seemingly "choking its rose with its thorn", as cheating the farang seems to have grown to almost pandemic levels. Many of my friends have expressed that they no longer feel as safe in Thailand as they did three to four years ago, and they, like me, fear and distrust any contact with government agencies, and also fear any encounter with the police in Thailand.
Whilst I have always felt that for me it is not sensible to try to buy property in Thailand, or to make any significant investment, particularly in business, as I have seen so many foreigners lose everything, and sometimes all of their life savings – I have been told about losses in the thousands of baht by farang investing in non existent apartments, and losses when apartment builds don't get finished. I have now become so sickened, and disheartened that I would not even recommend Thailand to someone considering a short holiday, and this is in sharp contrast to my opinion just three years ago when I used to rave about the merits of visiting or living in Thailand.
Even today I heard yet another disheartening story from a close friend of mine who is on holiday in Thailand :
My friend informed me that he and his girlfriend were returning from a visa run to Laos. They had been informed by the duty free shops at Laos that they could bring back 400 cigarettes each in to Thailand with no problem. They therefore purchased 4 cartons, 800 cigarettes total, for two people entering Thailand. This information was incorrect as the allowance is 200 per person. My friend was confronted by Thai Customs in the car park, and he suspects that the Customs officers already knew that the limit for cigarettes had been over exceeded by him, since only he was the only person in the car park pounced upon. He and his Thai girlfriend were taken to the Nongkhai Customs office where he was threatened with jail unless he paid 20,000 baht on the spot. This was calculated at approx 484 baht per packet of 20 cigarettes and he was told that this was on the full amount being carried, 4 cartons, not on the 2 cartons over the limit. They said that all of the cigarettes were his, "Farang's cigarettes" and none of them could be his girlfriends or her allowance. This is because the financial penalty for excess cigarettes is much higher for farangs than for Thai, and so the amount of the fine would be higher if all blame was attributed to him. <This is not correct, the fines are uniform for everyone – Stick> After hours of painful negotiation the amount was reduced to 12,000 baht which he had to pay or face going to court, and they confiscated three of the four cartons, not even leaving them with 2 cartons, one for each as per their allowance. Please be warned that this is a well rehearsed and well practiced scam designed to extract huge amounts of baht from farang and applies even if you only slightly exceed the customs allowance. You will not be told of your rights, or given any translation of what is going on in your own language, and my friend was taken away without being cautioned or read any rights. My friend was also threatened with police arrest, being held in custody, and a court trial and possibly not being able to enter Thailand again.
I believe that my friend was discriminated against and treated very unfairly in a scam like manner because:
1. The amount of the fine at 484 baht per packet over 200 cigarettes was ridiculously high, and it is unfair that the fine is four times higher for farang than for Thai people.
2. The duty free shops are misleading farang about their allowances, and maybe even tipping off the customs.
3. In this case Customs claim that all the cigarettes were my friend's and none of them were his Thai girlfriend's was deliberate manipulation to maximise the amount the farang is forced to pay in this trap. His girlfriend informed them that two packs were hers but they would not accept this.
4. Too many cigarettes were confiscated, even the duty free allowance of 200 per person were not returned.
5. Initially they tried to extort an amount based on the entire quantity in his possession and not just the amount above the limit.
6. Many other farang have reported similar experiences at the hands of Nongkhai Customs, and the amounts being demanded are huge and disproportionate, even when the allowance has been exceeded by a modest amount.
I WANT TO ADD AN IMPORTANT WEALTH WARNING HERE
You might be reading this thinking that this could never happen to me, as I know the correct allowances for cigarettes and as a law abiding citizen I would not bring more than a single carton of 200 into Thailand.
All it takes is for you to carry a friend's bag containing his or her allowance, just one carton, and Customs will say that both allowances are yours and you will be deemed to have exceeded the limit. In Nongkhai they pounced when my friend's girlfriend asked him to carry her bag for her, and immediately they took a digital picture of him with all of the cigarettes, both his and her allowances. They were waiting not at the Immigration Customs point desk but in the car park where one person can easily end up carrying more than just his or her own allowance. They want to ensure that fines are maximised and hence the penalty rate has been set at a massive 480 baht per packet of 20 cigarettes that you are over the limit. There are many recent reports of other foreigners being cheated in this way at the airports too. One visitor who came with four of his mates from Singapore made the mistake of carrying their cigarette allowances. They were already through the customs area but were ceased in the airport public area when he was helping carry their bags. Despite protests and involving the police he was advised to settle and paid just under 20,000 baht. As a group they were not over their group total allowances. This is a well engineered and detailed Thai Government trap and scam. It is an abuse of power, and it is disgusting and is being used to steal large sums of money from foreign visitors to Thailand.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED AND PLEASE MAKE AS MANY PEOPLE AWARE OF THIS AS YOU CAN SO THAT OTHERS ARE NOT CONNED IN THIS WAY !
I recognize, as my friend does, that he broke the law, by unknowingly exceeding the amount of cigarettes that you are allowed to bring in, but the level of financial penalty appears extremely harsh for the relatively small amount in excess of the import limit, and it cannot be fair that foreigners are paying more when caught than Thai citizens committing the same offence with much lower penalties. In many countries the excess cigarettes would have been confiscated, but in Thailand this was another excuse to take a large sum of cash from a farang! To me this is so similar to the Pattaya Jet Ski scams whereby once you have fallen into the trap any amount can be demanded from you. The trap in this case buying too many cigarettes, and in the other hiring a jet ski at Pattaya.
I am not even going to comment on the numerous other sickening scams going on here, because quite honestly there are far too many, and most are already well documented. What I will say again is that this corruption, and cheating needs to be addressed urgently, and this has to top the list of required reforms.
Thailand is rapidly becoming the Land Of Scams as many are now commenting, and Thailand has like me lost its smile, amongst the climate of greed, cheating and corruption. I know that this is a gloomy and depressing post, but I feel that it is fair comment, and an accurate picture of what is rapidly becoming Paradise Lost.
This is an unfortunate situation that your friend found yourself in. Unfortunately he should have acquainted himself with the law so that he did not find himself in this situation. Let me say outright that it appears his ignorance is the issue here. Getting caught bringing in goods to Thailand that exceed they duty free allowance because he failed to declare them is not a scam at all.
A few points to note:
– While I have not crossed this border point for many years, on crossing most land border points in to Thailand large signs in various languages outline what you can and cannot bring in to Thailand, with the penalties for those who exceed the limits on items such as alcohol and tobacco detailed. Yes, the penalties for exceeding duty free allowances in Thailand are HUGE.
– It sounds to me like Customs treated your friend ok and gave him a break. They gave him an easy way out. Had the full penalty been levied, it could have been much more and he could have faced formal charges and a date in court. He was lucky.
– It sounds like your friend was misled by or misunderstood was told by the duty free shop in Laos. If he wishes to be angry at anyone, that's where I'd channel my anger.