It’s no secret that customs officers at Bangkok’s two airports are known to target Thai travelers and fine them for bringing personal shopping items back into the country, but it seems that foreigners are finally getting a taste of random luggage inspections as well.
According to a Singaporean woman who landed Friday at Suvarnabhumi, officers at the airport demanded a whopping fine of THB75,000 (US$2,300) fine for six bottles of Balvenie 16 whiskey that she and her traveling party of 14 had brought into the country.
The alleged fine came despite the fact that the goods they brought in didn’t exceed the legal limit — one liter of liquor and 200 cigarettes per person — and were wrapped purchases from the duty free at Singapore’s Changi airport.
The Excise Department declined to comment for this story, while their unit at the Suvarnabhumi Airport could not be reached for comment.
The alleged scam/harassment came to light when the Singaporean national took to Facebook with the following claims.
On the morning of May 18, a group of 14 Singaporeans arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.
Prior to arrival, they bought six bottles of Balvenie 16 whiskey from Changi Airport’s Duty-free shop. Bottles were packed individually in sealed bags, and each bottle came with individual receipts. The six bottles were split — two individuals carried plastic bags of three bottles each.
Thai airport officers stopped the group when they were about to leave the airport after exiting through the “Nothing To Declare” path. They were asked to enter the Excise Department Office.
With nothing to hide, the group allowed the officers to search their luggage.
Two to three Singaporeans in the group were made to stay in the office, and their passports were confiscated.
The group was apparently penalized because the hard liquor allowance for Bangkok visitors is only one liter per person.
Technically, they were traveling as a group of 14, meaning they had a 14 liter limit. But the officers took issue with the two Singaporeans carrying three bottles of liquor each.
Thai officers demanded THB75,000 in fines, but it was negotiated down to THB49,000 if the group paid immediately. In cash.
The group was allegedly threatened with jail time if they did not agree to pay the fine.
Eventually, the fine was negotiated down to THB33,000. This amount was paid. Despite paying the fine, only two of the bottles were returned to the group.
During the 90-minute long detention, they saw other arriving tourists being escorted into the office and being charged with the same offence of literally carrying too much alcohol per person.
Later, the group found out from Thai and Singaporean friends that airport officers are said to carry out the same stunt on both locals and tourists. “…the officers in the airport will go out of the way to find reasons (even the 200 cig allowance) to justify the fines they impose on you.”
This was what she wrote in her Facebook post (which has since been deleted.)
I don’t usually write such long posts on Facebook but the terrible experience at Suvarnabhumi Airport during my recent trip over the weekend has prompted me to do so. What I want to achieve is to raise awareness and to prevent more people from being caught in the same situation.
I was travelling with 13 other Singaporeans and we landed in Bangkok around 9.40am on 18th May. Everything seemed fine, as per my previous trips to Bangkok – we went through customs, collected our luggage from the baggage claim area, and then proceeded to walk through ‘nothing to declare’.
When we were about to exit the airport to head over to our AOT transport (to be clear, we were already out of transit area, about to exit the airport, so that’s where the public is free to walk around), we got stopped by Thai officers, and they asked me “how many of you?” and I replied “14”. I saw the change in expression followed by “oh, can you follow me to office?”
With nothing to hide, we followed them to the Excise Department office. They told us they were going to search our luggage. Again, with nothing to hide, we agreed. Some of us came out relatively quickly but we soon realised 2-3 of us were asked to stay in the office with their passports confiscated.
Background info: 14 of us walked out together in a group, carrying 6 bottles of Balvenie 16 which we got from Changi Airport Duty Free. Each bottle was packed individually in sealed bags to be carried on board the plane, and each bottle came with an individual receipt. However, 3 of such sealed bags were placed in 1 plastic bag, which meant 2 of us were carrying the 2 plastic bags (containing 3 sealed bags each).
So, we are all aware that the alcohol allowance for hard liquor to be brought into Bangkok is 1L per pax. Were we well within our alcohol limit/allowance? You would think so, but NO. They told us we could be charged with tax evasion because only 2 people were carrying the alcohol (even though all of us said we were travelling as a group of 14), and that we LITERALLY were allowed to only CARRY 1 per person. They wanted to fine us up to THB 75,000 (~SGD3,160) BUT we were told they will lower the fine to THB49,000 (~SGD2,065) IF we paid IMMEDIATELY. Note: CASH ONLY, no cards allowed – they told us to get cash from our credit cards OR change our SGD and told us where the ATMs and money changers were. They even threatened to take all of us to the police station if we do not agree to pay the fine.
Allow me to emphasize one more time – 14 of us bought 6 bottles of hard liquor.
We managed to get them to lower the fine to THB 33,000 (~SGD1,390), not that I’m complaining we got a lower fine but isn’t it weird they could adjust the fine amount? We eventually paid the fine because we were in a foreign country afterall and it was extremely difficult to reason with them when they were threatening ‘jail’ in no time. They were definitely rushing us to pay up. Despite paying the fine, they only returned 2 bottles (out of 6) to us. We also realise that one of the officers was ‘stationed’ at the baggage claim area while we were there and was probably eyeing us the entire time but waited till we have gone through customs before stopping us. To highlight, the officer eyeing us at the baggage claim area eventually ended up at the airport exit, SUSPICIOUS MUCH??? That officer’s area of duty comprise of both INSIDE and OUTSIDE, and they could switch their duties as and when?
While we were stuck there (the longest 90mins ever…), we saw a number of people being escorted to the Excise Department office too, comprising of a group of 10 (bringing in 8 bottles which is still within the allowance!!!), a couple (well, apparently it is not okay for the guy to carry the bottle on behalf of his girlfriend/wife), and another smaller group before us. Think about the amount of THB collected over that 90mins.
By the way, there was a man from the Taiwan embassy who came up to me 20mins into this incident, asking me if I was Taiwanese. Apparently he snapped a few photos of us standing OUTSIDE the Excise Department office and perhaps he was going to help us if we were Taiwanese. However, he got called out by the Thai officers and they demanded him to delete the photos he took in a PUBLIC SPACE. They even took down his details and demanded to take a photo of his pass.
After the episode, we found out from some of our (Thai/Singaporean) friends that they do this to both locals and tourists, that the officers in the airport will go out of the way to find reasons (even the 200 cig allowance) to justify the fines they impose on you. In my opinion, it was absolutely unfair. To my surprise, nothing came up when I tried searching on google for people with similar experiences, which means many people out there could still be unaware since we can’t be the first. CN – EP