Thailand Customs Duty Free Allowances

Tourism in Thailand is now about to enter its peak period for 2010 when an army of Christmas and New Year holidaymakers head for Asia’s number one tourist destination in search of the perfect end of year vacation. Many will have endured the rigours and stress of a long haul flight and will want to negotiate immigration and customs as quickly as possible, before heading to their destination city or resort.

Thailand’s immigration control is a long slow shuffle during peak season, but adopting the Thais attitude of mai phen rai (whatever will be), is the best subtlety for keeping your frustrations in order. No matter how much you fidget, moan and curse, you won’t pass through immigration any quicker. Do it Thai style and stay cool, calm and relaxed.

The chances of you getting stopped at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s customs green channel are very slim, but in accordance with international standards a quota of inbound travellers are stopped and checked. The procedure will take the form of either your suitcase and hand luggage being x-rayed, or a manual search by one of the customs officers present.

Over the past couple of years Thai customs have stepped up their efforts to stop excess import of cigarettes and alcohol. Staff routinely stop and search travellers prior to entering immigration control and also in the arrivals terminal after passing through customs red and green channels. I have been stopped five times on my last ten trips both before and after customs control but have always been within the law. You would be quite surprised at the number of people entering the Kingdom who are unaware of the maximum personal allowances for tobacco and spirits.

Green Channel – Nothing To Declare

  • 200 cigarettes or 250 grammes of rolling tobacco or cigars, or a combination of rolling tobacco and cigars totalling no more than 250 grammes in weight
  • One litre of alcoholic spirits

A fine of four times the value of undeclared items plus tax and duty will be applied on all goods over your duty free allowance. All items will be confiscated and a failure to pay your fine will lead to imprisonment.

Any newbie to Thailand should be aware of these rules before boarding their outbound flight, and even experienced Thailand travellers should ‘take on board’ the knowledge that the Thai authorities are now very serious about tobacco and spirits smuggled into the Kingdom.

So why would anyone want to smuggle cigarettes into a country where tobacco can be bought so cheaply. In my view there’s two clear reasons.

  • Not all brands of cigarettes or tobacco and cigars are available in Thailand so having a stash of your favourite smokes makes the risk foolishly worthwhile to some people.
  • If someone can smuggle through a large amount of cheap cigarettes, acquiring more whilst in Thailand gives them an even larger amount to either post back home or smuggle into their own country via their return flight. Black-market tobacco is big business in most western societies.

Thailand has wised up and is determined to stub out the habit.

If you are about to fly to Thailand over the coming weeks then please be aware of their customs duty free allowances. More information is available from the Thailand Customs Department website.

You won’t need reminding but I will do anyway, being caught in possession of drugs in Thailand can carry a sentence of the death penalty.

Smirnoff photo by Arne Hückelheim
Duty free photo by Wikipedia


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

9 Responses

  1. Catherine says:

    Martyn, a timely post. The man of the house had his luggage scanned just this weekend when coming in from Australia. This was his first time.

    I’ve never been stopped but it was my first time of seriously thinking about buying duty free overseas and again in the landing hall at Suvarnabhumi.

    In the future, I’ll give that idea a pass…

    The attraction was not just the price (1000 baht cheaper for Lagavulin), but the size of the bottles. In my experience, Asia generally goes for 750 ml, but duty free garners you the full wack.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine thanks for your timely comment, it backs my post up to the full. So many experienced Thai travellers are unaware of Thai customs campaign to stub out duty free abuse. Newbies will just zip up their brains and think Thailand’s a soft touch. Like the baht, things are changing.

    At least the man of the house was safe in the knowledge customs couldn’t take England’s fantastic Ashes victory off him.

    I once got stopped at Heathrow with 8,000 cigarettes, believe me I keep my ear to the ground and am well aware of Thailand’s new duty free kick ass approach.

  3. Catherine says:

    Until now I’d never heard of anyone I knew being stopped. Well, besides those who arrive looking like they are hiding something. But the man is a generic being. Short hair. Clean cut. Studious looking. And if he wasn’t so tall, he’d blend into a crowd of other business types with English noses.

    8,000 cigarettes? EIGHT THOUSAND? Martyn… we need to talk 😉

    Btw – the man is still chuffed about the Ashes. Our buddies in Australia don’t want to hear any more so I have to bite my tongue on FB to not make a mention. Tempting… tempting… as England have terrible luck at sports so this was a grand win.

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine I had 8,000 because I didn’t have enough money to buy my usual box of 10,000. I used to go to a supermarket in Pattaya and just buy a whole box of 50 cartons and pop it into my suitcase. I don’t do that any more, you can only sweat so much in one lifetime.

    Me and my old mate Tom were once stopped at Don Muang airport and had our luggage x-rayed. We each had three of the biggest black puddings imaginable inside our cases, at least 15 inches long and three inches wide (gorgeous stuff). Our case must have x-rayed like we were early versions of Viktor Bout. The customs officer didn’t bat an eyelid and just bade us farewell. Amazing.

    Facebook has many great uses and Aussie baiting must be a popular one at the moment.

  5. Catherine says:

    Martyn, please don’t laugh but I had it the other way around. Silly me, I thought you were bringing in 8,000 cigs to smoke during your brief vacations in Thailand. Not taking them out (I heard that they can be rough on the lungs).

    So let me get this straight… you were taking OUT black puddings from Thailand? Or bringing in? Because the only ones I know of are imported (blame my confusion the wonky time of day).

    I used to do a fair bit of smuggling myself but it was plants. Now that I’m in Thailand, there is no need as Thailand has a wonderful collection to chose from. I just wish to heck that I had a garden.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine you really must get some sleep, you’re all confused. Let me explain.

    I used to take cigarettes from Thailand to the UK, I don’t any more. Me and Tom once took six giant black puddings TO Thailand to give to expat friends and sell to a couple of bars.

    Plants….metrosexual man….I thought I’d leave that bit out of my post.

  7. Catherine says:

    And I still think you’d look great in pink… 🙂

  8. Talen says:

    Excellent information Martyn and good timing. It’s amazing what some people will try to get into Thailand.

    I have had friends caught over the limit with both booze and cigarettes.

    Another thing to remember is that pornography is also illegal to bring into Thailand…god knows why anyone would need to but…

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I can understand people taking a risk with booze because some spirits aren’t cheap at all in Thailand but cigarettes are definitely not overpriced for tourists, unless you smoke 60 a day.

    Pornography, I reckon there’s a lot more goes out of the country than what comes in it. Pattaya is rife with blue movies.

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