Travelling to Thailand
As noted in the section on travel visas, I want to remind you to make sure your passport is not about to expire, nor the passport of anyone travelling in your party, and has more than 6 months validity left before your entry date into Thailand. Most countries in southeast Asia have a policy of not allowing you to enter if you have less than 6 months validity in your passport, regardless of any visa you may have.
The Process of Arrival
On your plane flight to Thailand, you will be given a card by the stewardess before you arrive in Thailand. It will have two parts, and is folded and perforated for the immigration officer to tear in half upon entry processing. One part is what the immigration officer will keep upon arrival, and the other part you will give upon departure. Do not lose this card! It's also a good idea to copy the number from this card (the same on both sides) and put it in a safe place separate from your passport (e.g., sent by e-mail to a friend or family member for routine archival purposes), because if you ever lose your passport and/or that card, and you don't have the number on it, then you had better be ready to waste a lot of time. While you're at it, you should also copy your Thai visa number and put that in a safe place, too, along with your exact date of arrival, and your own passport number. I just photocopy or scan the whole thing and put it onto a CD in a safe place.
You will also be given a customs declaration sheet on the airplane. (This has been relaxed on many flights as of 2007.) The Thai government officials are generally pretty relaxed when it comes to thing in luggage, and very few people are assessed any duties, with the exceptions being chiefly people who are bringing in new items which look like they could be for resale, e.g., several copies of the same new consumer item when an individual really needs only one. If you are squeamish, then bring in the receipt from your original purchase showing that it's your personal or company property, i.e., with your name or your company's name on the receipt. Few veterans of Thailand sweat customs, but I don't know what you're bringing...
Once you arrive, assuming you already have a visa, you will get into the immigration line where the officer will take your passport, enter info into the computer, and stamp your visa as used.
Then you will go pick up your luggage and pass thru customs where they usually just look you over with a quick glance, take your customs sheet, and you're in, usually all in stride. However, they can stop you and look in your baggage and luggage if they wish. Normally, they do not. Nevertheless:
Thai customs agents at the airport are generally quite reasonable. You won't get hassled over bringing in your valuable personal belongings or business equipment, though you would get stopped if you were carrying in more than one copy of something obviously resellable and valuable, e.g., several Rolex watches or mobile phones or somesuch. The same applies when exiting. When you are bringing in valuable items, you should be careful to declare them so that you avoid potential problems when exiting.
There are no legal limits on how much money you can bring into the country, but there are legal limits on how much you can take out, as covered in the section on money. The laws changed in 1997 due to currency speculators which caused wild fluctuations and instabilities in the value of the Thai baht.
There are few restrictions on what you can bring in or out of the country.
Drugs, guns and pornography are banned, as are certain other things like harpoons for fishing.
Buddha images are controlled, expecially large ones, as are antiques. You need to get a license from an approved national museum to bring many such items out of the country.
If you are moving to Thailand and shipping a large quantity of household goods here, then you need to make sure you get a well connected and reliable shipping agent from door to door. There are many stories of peoples' belongings winding up at the airport terribly damaged, looted, and/or held ransom for ridiculous unofficial customs charges. On the latter, you may be told to wait in a hot warehouse for some time period before an individual with negotiating power will come to negotiate. Getting a reasonable rate may take a long time. Some of the international shippers are listed in the section on Moving, Housing and Regions.
For small shipments, international couriers such as DHL will often hit you up heavily. A guy may come up to your residence or office with a box and paperwork for a large customs fee. You may not be able to recognize if it's official or unofficial. If you want to get the package quickly, then you might have to pay an exhorbitant fee to bypass customs quickly. If you have time, patience and energy, you can wait from a few days to a few weeks or months and get your goods at the official customs rate. I've been charged exhorbitant rates for things like obviously used toys and baby clothes for my daughter from my sister in the U.S.
Those with a work permit may receive their first shipment of personal property duty free. To benefit from this, you should get an experienced entity to deal with all the necessary paperwork and arrangements. Make sure you get all your valuables transferred in this first shipment.
Get Thai Baht
Foreign currencies, including the US dollar, are generally NOT accepted in shops and normal commerce in Thailand, except by major hotels but the hotels give a poor exchange rate. You must exchange your foreign money for Thai baht.
Foreign credit cards and ATM cards on major networks generally work in Thailand, so you can also just withdraw Thai baht at any of the ATM machines all over the airport and around the country.
Many Thai banks have currency exchange counters scattered around the airport, and this is the best place to convert any cash you are carrying on you which is intended pocket money in Thailand. The rates at all of them are practically the same, and there's no significant difference between exchanging your money at the airport or elsewhere, but most banks in the city are open only from 9am to 3:30pm Monday-Friday, so it's usually best to use the airport's bank branches with much wider hours of operation to accomodate incoming travellers.
Actually, you can usually get some Thai baht at airports overseas before you arrive in Thailand, but you will usually get a better exchange rate inside Thailand. The money exchange counters at the airport are usually open late, but if you have a very late flight then you might want to take some baht in from overseas.
There is no black market currency exchange in Thailand, since the currency floats on the free market.
The first thing you will see when you go out is people trying to guide you to a special commercial taxi or "airport limousine" (sedan car) or other service which will cost you more than an normal taxi, but still a lot less than a taxi in a western country would cost. You may want to take one due to the better English, but you can get a regular metered taxi for less.
At the Suvarnabhumi international airport, the normal taxi queue is on the ground floor, left side (inside facing outside). The process has changed as of July 2007 (due to regulations to protect tourists and other non-Thais). They ask you where you are going, reference a table, and tell you the rate. The meter is not used. In addition, you pay any tollway tolls.
Notably, the taxis at the airport taxi stand do NOT use the meter, and the rate they will quote you is twice the normal rate, whereby you pay it all to the taxi, none to the airport staff. However, don't see this as a rip-off, and let me explain, as I investigated this further. The reason for the double rate is that the taxis there are airport-only, so you also pay for their return trip to the airport. These taxis are not supposed to pick up customers in-between, but just return to the airport queue, and work the airport all day. They work for the company contracted to serve the airport. (Some taxi drivers tip the staff, but it's not required.) The government is regulating taxis and vans at the airport due to hucksters preying upon tourists and non-Thai speaking foreigners.
So how much does it cost? Usually about $10 to central Bangkok, and within about $20 to most anywhere else in the greater Bangkok metro region, plus about $3 for the tollway tolls. So figure $13 to $23. This is the "double" rate. There are English speaking people to get you to your destination, and even at twice the normal rate, it's still a lot cheaper than taxis in western countries! I know the costs of getting around town in metered taxis, and I found the rates to be truly twice the one-way trip back to the airport, approximately, so they are not otherwise inflated.
If you want to avoid twice fare, then you can go to the arrivals area and get a taxi dropping someone off at the airport, and request the meter. However, if you don't speak Thai, maybe you should go down to the ground level and use this service. At the normal meter price, you will pay about $5 to central Bangkok plus the $3 tollway fare = $8 instead of $13. Likewise, for distant suburbs, about $13 instead of $23. Is it worth the hassle?
Again, you must pay any tollway fares in addition to the quoted fare. The quoted fare is based on the distance only, and is what the meter would charge x2.
While it's best to book a hotel in advance, especially during the high season, you can usually find a hotel to your liking after you arrive. For the first night or two, it's best to have a hotel booked in advance from overseas where you can dump your luggage straight from the airport, have an immediate quick look at Bangkok, and get some rest after the long flight. However, many people choose to switch hotels after the first couple of nights to a more preferred location based on their explorations on the first few days, including exploring other hotels.
Money and Valuables
Thailand is a relatively safe place when it comes to the human phenomenon of robbery, i.e., it's very rare in Thailand with reasonable precautions. Confrontational robbery such as gunpoint or knifepoint is exceedingly rare here, especially towards foreigners. Robberies are generally of valuables left in vulnerable places, and pickpockets. Professional robbers are generally the culprits. Normal Thais won't snatch your property.
Nonetheless, you don't want to show how much money you have, and you don't want to carry too much around. Keep your travellers cheque numbers in a safe place in case you lose them, and check off every one you use. Of course, you should also keep your credit card numbers, copy of your passport, etc., in a safe place in case you ever lose them or have them stolen.
Starting around 2005, there has been a sharp rise in purse-snatching by guys driving by on motorcycles.
Consider getting a money belt for your trip. There are pickpockets in tourist places. A money belt is not just a belt, it's a pouch you wear under your clothes, generally inside your pants around your waist, which has a belt to hold it on, and where you put extra money, travellers cheques, a backup ATM card, or anything else vital. It should be comfortable to wear just like your other clothing. Use this until you are established here in Thailand with a Thai bank account, friends and colleagues.
(I've been here for more than 10 years and often wear a big external money belt -- more like a pouch with compartments -- for easy access to small bills and change, putting my small digital camera, mobile phone, business cards, etc., and have never had any problem.)
You should read the ThailandGuru section on money and banking, and especially the subsection on credit cards. Never let yourself run out of money in a remote place because the ATM machines sometimes don't work with foreign credit cards, especially late at night, and you don't want to run out of money in a foreign land without friends nearby...
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