Always Carry Your Passport or a Copy while in Thailand

Always Carry Your Passport or a Copy while in Thailand


The best advice for any tourist or person living in Thailand is to carry your passport at all times. Or at least a copy of the photo and visa pages. You just never know when Immigration Police will do a swoop on your hotel or night club. If you don’t have it you face the risk of being handcuffed, put in the back of a pick-up truck for all to see and then taken to the nearest Immigration Office. Here they will check their records to see your current status. That make take some while if that is not your local office. I know there are people like myself who have never been asked to show a passport. We have just been lucky. This could happen to anyone and at any time. Even more so at the moment while Immigration hunt the foreigners who used one of the visas recently stolen from the Thai Embassy in Malaysia.


Never give your passport to anyone other than Immigration Police. If you have to do this, then never let it leave your sight. You definitely shouldn’t allow your passport to be used as collateral for when your rent a motorcycle or passport. This is actually illegal and you should only give a photocopy of your passport. Don’t forget to put a line through it with the date and say what it is being used for.  The best form of ID that I have is my Thai driver’s license. I use it for everything. For example, check-in for domestic flights at the airport, check-in at a hotel I’m staying at and proof of identity if asked by a policeman. Please remember, Immigration Police are the only ones authorized to ask for your passport. Ordinary police have no business in asking to see your passport.

Although the law says you need to carry your passport at all times, this isn’t actually very practical. It’s not really a good size to fit in your wallet. Plus, if you lose it or it gets wet, then it can get very expensive and time consuming to get it replaced. So, I have been told by Immigration officers that it is perfectly acceptable to carry a photocopy. What I do every year is photocopy my photo page and also the latest visa. I then shrink these down to credit card size so I end up with two small pieces of paper. I put these back to back and then laminate them. This then slips easily into my wallet and will safely last the full year. A tip by @in0nymous on Twitter is to scan all of your documents including work permit and put these in your dropbox. Then you can access them via your smartphone or tablet if anyone asks to see them.

If you have overstayed your visa, even by one day, and you are found out during a swoop on your hotel, you will be arrested and sent straight to Immigration Detention Center. It doesn’t matter if you can show them a ticket for the next day to fly out of the country. You will be detained for a few days before being taken to court to pay the fine. You are then sent back to the detention center where you have to find someone on the outside to arrange a flight for you. Basically, you stay there until you have a ticket out. Average stays seem to be five days. Some people have stayed there years as they have no money. You will then be escorted to the airport and put on your flight. My best advice if you have overstayed is to surrender yourself at the airport and pay the fine. Maximum is 20,000 Baht even if you have overstayed by years. I know someone who had done this. He paid the fine and flew out. He then got a new visa in a neighboring country and came straight back. No problem.

What about you? Have you ever been asked for your passport? What did you do?

11 thoughts on “Always Carry Your Passport or a Copy while in Thailand

  1. I’ve never been asked, but have a laminated copy, like you. Also, my Thai license suffices for hotels, etc, so rarely have to use the laminated copy for anything. I also use Google Drive and Dropbox, where between the two, I have all my documents, even vaccinations! I did use that once to show my work permit to get into a national park at the Thai price, but they wouldn’t accept it in my attempt to use the Thai line for I’m immigration at Suvarnabhumi; they wanted a paper copy, for some reason!

  2. It might be obvious, but perhaps worth pointing out that if you’re travelling near border areas you do need your original passport. The Bangkok-Mae Sot bus, for example, stops just outside Mae Sot and Immigration Police/Border Patrol get on and check everyone’s documents (usually not very carefully though). Army checks in these areas can also sometimes ask for passports.
    Like you say, though, police can and do ask for proof of identity, and certainly would after a traffic accident etc. So if you are travelling without any other form of photo ID, ordinary police may well demand to see your passport – they wouldn’t be too impressed if you refused to show it them because they aren’t immigration police!

  3. I was stopped yesterday by traffic police who examined my Thai driving license. They then asked for my passport which I did not have with me. As they are not immigration officers am I entitled to refuse?

  4. I have been asked for my passport three times by police. They were all in the lower Sukhumvit area of Bangkok.

    1) In front of The Emporium. I was on the back of a motorbike taxi heading to meet a friend to drink a few beers and catch up on Soi 22. These two cops on a motorbike saw me on the back at the red light. When it turned green, they made a very fast u-turn and signaled for my driver to stop. They looked very serious, and my driver wasn’t taking any chances. He stopped quickly. They asked to search me first. I said no. I was firm about this which seemed to agitate them. They them demanded my passport. I told them I didn’t have it, but I produced my Thai motorbike license. For identification, this satisfied them. They were not happy about not being able to search me. I told them I had nothing to hide, but I didn’t want them putting their hands into my pockets. I volunteered and took everything out myself and put them on the back of the motorbike. They went through everything meticulously … cigarette pack, wallet, hat lining, etc. The found nothing, and we were on our way.

    2) Sukhumvit Soi 22, just north of Sai Nam Phueng School. I was driving to Washington Square to get some food on a Friday after work. I used to like to eat at The Silver Dollar back then. It was difficult to find meat loaf. It still is! These two cops on a motorbike saw me drive by on mine. I was dressed very well, shirt and tie. They sounded their horn several times before I realized they wanted me to stop. I did so. They came up to me and demanded my passport. I told them it was at home. I proceeded to tell them I was a teacher and dropped the name of my school (somewhat famous). I handed them my Thai motorbike license. They thanked me for teaching Thai children, shook my hand, and sent me on my way. I wasn’t searched. I was merely asked for ID.

    3) Sukhumvit Soi 4. These 6 cops were brutal and nasty. I was accosted in front of the police box. I had their hands in my pockets. They were nearly strip searching me. They demanded my passport. I told them it was at home in my car. I produced my Thai licenses, both motorbike and car this time. They weren’t pleased. They said they were taking me to a hospital to check my pee. They searched and searched. They kept asking me what I was doing. The truth was I was just out looking for some food. I explained that. They kept searching me over and over again and comping up with nothing. It seemed to infuriate them for some reason. To this day, I think I fit the description of someone they were looking for. We argued back and forth for 30 minutes. They insisted that I needed my passport or I would have to go with them. I pleaded that I needed to get home to my wife and son. Eventually, they told me to call my wife. I did that, and they spoke with her on the phone for 10 minutes. They hung up. They gave me my phone back and told me to go away. I still don’t know what that was about, but they were asking me if I knew any black people. I’m pretty sure there were drugs involved with something or other. I don’t have a clue. They were satisfied after speaking with my wife who pretty much echoed the same information I already gave them. She offered to bring the passport, etc. However, she did insist to them that I was here legally with a work permit and was supporting our family. She said she was a bit short with them. I don’t know!

    Other than that, I have been stopped over 50-60 times over the years, even without a license in the early days. I was never asked to produce a passport any time other than the three mentioned. Only once did they make an issue out of it. Given the large police presence lately with the crackdown (traffic), I might just pull the laminator out and get a copy into my pocket. I always have it with me in the car, but I don’t carry it with me on the motorbike. Let’s see if I get around to it or not!

    Good luck people!

    1. Thanks for that. I’ve lived here for twenty years and have never been asked by police for my passport. But then again, I don’t live in lower Sukhumwit. I use my Thai drivers’ license for ID. Even when flying domestic. However I do have a small laminated copy of my passport in my wallet.

  5. yer me to been coming to Thailand for 30ty years never been ask for my passport even when ive been stooped by police when driving.. now ive stared living hear might be different..

    1. Yes, I tested this yesterday when I went through a checkpoint to enter Sanam Luang. I pretended I didn’t have my passport and they let me in. But for sure, carry a photocopy just in case. BTW, there are no such checkpoints yet to enter Grand Palace. Only bag check.

  6. I tried to be a good tourist and carry my passport with me. Unfortunately one of the times of the year I go is during Songran. It got wet and I almost didn’t get out of Thailand. They told me to replace it once I get home because they wouldn’t accept it if I came back.

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