The streets of Thailand are full of antique Buddha heads, newly-cast statues, painted canvases, and tiny tokens all featuring a depiction of the Buddha. They spill out of storefronts, are lined up in marketplaces and can be found for the equivalent of pennies all over the country.
Though Buddhas are easy to find, what most travelers don’t know is that it is difficult — and sometimes even illegal — to take them out of the country.
According to the Thai Customs Department, no antiques or objects of art depicting an image of the Buddha (including even newly cast Buddha images for religious or cultural purposes) can be removed from the country without obtaining an export license.
Here's what you need to know:
- There are licensed vendors that can provide you with the documentation you need to bring your Buddha purchase home legally.
- You can't export more than five statues or images of the Buddha at a time.
- You cannot export parts of the Buddha, like hands or feet — this is to prevent looting.
- If the Buddha image or statue is more than 12 cm you must get permission from the Department of Fine Arts, a department in the Ministry of Culture.
- To get documentation from the Department of Fine Arts, your application must include a photocopy of your passport and two front-view photos of the object. The department quotes 3-5 days for the process to be completed, but I would allow at least a week.
If you decide to risk it and get caught with a Buddha at the airport, you will lose it and most likely getting slapped with a hefty fine.