30 Foreigners Caught Without Passports on Walking Street

Walking Street raid

Planning a night out on Walking Street? Wanna hit the clubs and party the night away? You better don’t forget your passport – and have nothing to hide from authorities.
Local media report that more than 100 military and police officers from the Central Investigation Bureau raided five popular nightclubs, including 808, Flexx and Fever, on Walking Street late Thursday night, apparently on the lookout for transnational criminals and tourists without a valid visa. No, there were no urine drug tests or anything. People simply had to show their passports or other valid form of identification.
“At least 30 foreigners” who could not produce their passports were taken in for interrogation and background checks. According to Khaosod English, “all of them were taken in for criminal record checks and were reportedly released after they were able to show their passports to police.”

In case you’re surprised by this unusual and obviously little tourist-friendly action, no, his was not the first raid of its kind in recent months. Only in December, one foreigner of unknown nationality was arrested for carrying an expired passport when more than 100 police officers raided several popular nightclubs on Walking Street.
As we commented then,

The regular fine for not carrying one’s passport or other valid form of identification is 1,000 Baht. As far as we’re aware, a photocopy of one’s passport and the relevant visa pages, or a Thai driving licence [if you happen to have one and unless they’re specifically looking for visa overstayers] are also acceptable.

The question is: Has this somehow changed now and do foreigners in Thailand now have to carry their actual passports at all times?

UPDATE I – An unknown number of foreign tourists in Chiang Mai were reportedly given the same treatment late Thursday night, when more than 100 tourist police and police officers, some armed with assault rifles, raided the Zoe in Yellow entertainment complex in the northern city.
In a number of tweets, travel blogger Richard Barrow quotes the head of immigration in Samut Prakan as saying that the maximum fine for foreigners not carrying their passports is actually 2,000 Baht (?); a photocopy of your passport is however also acceptable.

UPDATE IIPattaya One confirm that “previously” a photocopy of one’s passport photo page and the relevant visa stamp pages have always been an “acceptable” form of identification for foreign tourists. But, they add,

that seems to have stopped as the police conducted the operation with the aim of detecting and disrupting transnational organized crime groups (…)

While we cannot fully follow this line of reasoning (yeah, a foreign gangster boss might be carrying a photocopy of a counterfeit passport etc.) it’s not been officially confirmed yet either that foreigners now have to carry their actual passports at all times.
We hope we can give you an “official” update on the passport-versus-photocopy situation a.s.a.p. For the time being, we’d suggest foreigners should at least carry some form of photo ID at all times and make sure their actual passport is always nearby, so you can easily produce it if you have to.
Unless authorities are specifically targeting tourists/suspected foreign criminals who have overstayed their visa (remember there’s an ongoing crackdown on overstayers who will soon be at risk of getting blacklisted) or you appear somehow “suspicious” in their view (sorry to say this but if you’re black, from an Arab country or India you may automatically appear “more suspicious” to Thai authorities than a white Western male), they will most likely not insist on seeing your actual passport.
We would however not recommend traveling to anywhere in Thailand, say, you’re based in Pattaya but go on a trip to Chiang Mai, without having your original passport with you. If you ever ran into a checkpoint, police raid or any other situation where authorities wanted to see your passport they might detain you until you could produce it somehow. Granted, that’s speaking of the devil, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

UPDATE III – Given that most of the foreigners seen in photos of the raid appear to be non-Caucasians it seems likely that it was part of “increased security measures” in response to a reported warning by the U.S. embassy in Bangkok of possible Islamic State (IS) terror attacks in Thailand and the Southeast Asian region, where the terror group is allegedly expanding its influence.
A similar yet more specific warning directly concerning Pattaya was reportedly also issued to Thai authorities by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in October last year.
Despite local authorities claiming there was no evidence of IS activities in Thailand, security has reportedly been tightened at all border checkpoints around the country. Preventive measures and surveillance have also been stepped up at public transport systems, shopping malls, entertainment venues and general tourist hotspots.
According to the Bangkok Post, security officials and immigration have also been ordered to check on foreigners who have overstayed their visa, while “various checks” [background checks?] are also being carried out. Given the Islamic State context it seems natural that related raids would target primarily (suspected) Muslims.

UPDATE (March 19) – Police in Bangkok have today advised foreigners to carry either their original passport OR a photocopy with them at all times; so yes, a photocopy is obviously sufficient too.
The warning was issued after metropolitan police set up two passport control checkpoints in the Soi Nana/Asoke area and raided a total of 15 nightspots in the capital “to ensure that foreigners were carrying either their original passport or a photocopy with them.” The raids were described as part of a “crackdown on transnational crime” but likely also targeted visa overstayers.
There are also reports of daytime passport control checkpoints in Bangkok.
In view of the rigorous new overstay rules that go into effect on March 20 and a much publicized crackdown on transnational crime, we would expect similar checkpoints and raids also in Pattaya rather sooner than later.

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