If there’s one thing I love to do in Thailand it’s shop. On my last trip I noticed signs at the airport international arrivals area that warned tourists that exporting Buddha heads is illegal and there are restrictions on what type of Buddha images can be exported. This was a good reminder for me because a friend ask me to buy a Buddha statue for her.
I wanted to be sure to respect local laws, so I checked out the Thailand Ministry of Tourism site which referenced Customs Act BE2469 (1926 revised 2005.) There are very specific limitations about the exportation of Buddha. As Buddha is given high reverence in Thailand, it strictly prohibits the export of any and all Buddha images without written permission from the Thai Government Fine Arts Department or an license to do so.
So, what does that mean for a tourist? It means that if you purchase a Buddha make sure you are doing so from a licensed distributor/vendor. Also, you need to make sure you follow these rules: you may not export more than 5 statues/images at any time. No Buddha larger than 12 cm may be exported without permission from the Fine Arts Department regardless of use – personal or commercial. Licensed stores can provide you with this documentation or you can apply on your own.
There is a total ban on exporting parts of Buddha images/statues such as the head or hands alone. This law is meant to prevent looters from removing antique fragments from Buddhist religious sites and historical sites. It’s very common to see art work or statues with only Buddha’s head depicted and you should be aware of the laws before you buy. A licensed vendor may sell small full Buddha statues made from any material as long as they have been inspected and have an official inspection tag.
On June 30, 2015 there was a report that Thai customs confiscated 46 Buddha statues along with other prohibited export items in its Pattaya Customs location. As I mentioned in the start of this post, I’d noticed this sign at the airport and hadn’t noticed it on any trip prior to this one.
The items you’ll find for sale in the airport have obviously been inspected and are acceptable for export. When you’re shopping in local stores make sure you look before you buy! You don’t want to get stopped by customs on the way out of Thailand.