Customs and Duties
Customs and Duties
Most people pass through customs at Suvarnabhumi without even so much as a glance from a customs officer. Officers worry more about people smuggling opium across borders than they do about an extra bottle of wine or your new camera. That said, if you're bringing any foreign-made equipment from home, such as cameras, it's wise to carry the original receipt with you or register it with U.S. Customs before you leave (Form 4457). Otherwise, you may end up paying duty on your return.
One liter of wine or liquor, 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of smoking tobacco, and all personal effects may be brought into Thailand duty-free. Visitors may bring in and leave with any amount of foreign currency; you cannot leave with more than B50,000 without obtaining a permit. Narcotics, pornographic materials, protected wild animals and wild animal parts, and firearms are strictly prohibited.
Some tourists dream of Thailand as a tropical paradise floating on a cloud of marijuana smoke—not so. Narcotics are strictly illegal, and jail terms for the transporting or possession of even the smallest amounts are extremely harsh.
If you purchase any Buddha images (originals or reproductions), artifacts, or true antiques and want to take them home, you need to get a certificate from the Fine Arts Department. Taking unregistered or unauthorized antiques out of the country is a major offense to the culture-conscious Thais. If you get a particularly good reproduction of an antique, get a letter or certificate from the seller saying it is a reproduction, or risk losing it on your way out of the country. Art or antiques requiring export permits must be taken to one of the museums listed here at least a week before the departure date. You will have to fill out an application and provide two photographs—front and side views—of the object as well as a photocopy of your passport information page.
Local Do's and Taboos
King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ruled Thailand for more than 60 years, and is revered by his people. Any insult against him is an insult against the national religion and patrimony. Lighthearted remarks or comparisons to any other person living or dead are also taboo. If you don't have something nice to say about the king, don't say anything at all.
Thais aim to live with a "cool heart" or jai yen—free from emotional extremes. Since being in a hurry shows an obvious lack of calm, they don't rush and aren't always punctual. Try to leave space in your itinerary for this relaxed attitude, since something will invariably happen to slow your progress.
Always remove your shoes when you enter a home. Do not step over a seated person's legs. Don't point your feet at anyone; keep them on the floor, and take care not to show the soles of your feet (as the lowest part of the body, they are seen by Buddhists as the least holy). Never touch a person's head, even a child's (the head is the most sacred part of the body in Buddhist cultures), and avoid touching a monk if you're a woman.
When possible do not give or receive anything with your left hand; use your right hand and support it lightly at the elbow with your left hand to show greater respect. Don't be touchy-feely in public. Speak softly and politely—a calm demeanor always accomplishes more than a hot-headed attitude. Displays of anger, raised voices, or even very direct speech are considered bad form.
Thais don't like anything done in twos, a number associated with death. Hence, you should buy three mangoes, not two; stairways have odd numbers of stairs; and people rarely want to have their photo taken if there are only two people.
Out on the Town
Many Thais drink and smoke, but smoking of late has been banned in public buildings (including restaurants and bars). While you might spot a few drunken Thais stumbling about on a Saturday night, public drunkenness is not any more welcome here than it would be at home. Backpackers who flock to Thailand for cheap beer and beach parties rarely leave a favorable impression on the locals.
Thais are polite and formal in their business doings, employing the same sense of propriety as in everyday life. In professional settings, it is always best to address people with the courtesy title, khun (for males and females). As anywhere, greet a business associate with a Buddhist wai (hands clasped, head bowed.)
Business cards are hugely popular in Southeast Asia and it's a good idea to have some on hand. You can have them made quickly and cheaply in Thailand if necessary.
Local copy shops and business centers are about as common as Internet shops—ask around. In the cities, the nearest business-service center is likely a block or two away. Department stores such as Central (www.central.co.th/index_en.html) usually dedicate the majority of a floor to school supplies and business services.
Chiang Mai National Museum (053/221308.)
National Museum-Bangkok (02/224-1333.)
Cambodia and Laos
You are allowed to bring 200 cigarettes or the equivalent in cigars or tobacco and one bottle of liquor into Cambodia. You are not allowed to bring in or take out local currency, nor are you allowed to remove Angkor antiquities (even though, sadly, they can be found for sale in shops across Thailand). The export of other antiques or religious objects requires a permit. Contact your embassy for assistance in obtaining one before laying out money on an expensive purchase.
Tourists are allowed to bring up to one liter of spirits and two liters of wine into Laos, as well as 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 250 grams of tobacco. Bringing in or taking out local currency is prohibited, as is the export of antiques and religious artifacts without a permit.
Note that the dissemination of foreign religious and political materials is forbidden, and you should refrain from bringing such materials into the country.
Thai Customs Department (www.customs.go.th/wps/wcm/connect/custen/home/homewelcome.)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov.)
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