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When money laundering laws go too far

Reporting from: Bangkok, Thailand

I must have read a dozen travel blogs talking about the “scam” at the Cambodia-Thailand border yesterday. The Thai town of Poipet, in particular, has practically become an insider’s code word for border scams in the backpacking world.

Fortunately, I escaped the twelve-hour overland trek from Siem Reap to Bangkok and caught a flight. While it didn’t exact cost AirAsia peanut prices, it was well worth the expense.

And here’s another fun fact: tourists arriving in Thailand by air get a thirty-day visa on arrival, whereas those arriving by land only get fifteen days.

It’s like a modern-day Paul Revere calls for governments with silly immigration policies.

Upon arrival, I still had money from my time in Cambodia. After years on the road, I almost always get my cash exclusively from ATMs, and I take the max out each time to minimize fees ($500 in Cambodia, with a $5 local bank fee). Because Cambodia relies so heavily on the US dollar, that meant I had several C-notes still in my possession.

Score one for not looking like an American tourist.

Unfortunately, exchanging money isn’t as simple as you’d hope. Thailand isn’t the wild west that Cambodia or even Vietnam; just like in The Land of the Free, they take your photo when arriving. And they take strict protocols when doing some pretty simple tasks.

I was able to exchange a few singles at the airport – at 7% below the spot rate – I ran into great difficulty trying to exchange larger amounts. I kept hearing the word that, in just one day, has become ubiquitous here in Thailand: “passport”.

Heck, even the fast food joint I popped into for an after-dinner ice cream required a passport number to use wi-fi.

In Thailand, you need your passport to do practically everything relating to money. The money changers at the Western Union in Sukhumvit wouldn’t even talk to me without a passport. They suggested I go down the street to a larger bank that could help. That bank, while offering excellent rates, refused me without a passport as well. In turn, they suggested a smaller local bank next door. Only it turns out, that bank doesn’t exchange US dollars.

Eventually, I found another bank further down the street, where a little begging got the manager to do something in the back room and exchange my money. I only hope he wasn’t droned by the OECD and his way home last night.

Under the guise of “money laundering laws”, governments have imposed ridiculous requirements of banks in Thailand and around the world. Their lust to know every detail of our financial lives is truly insatiable.

Why exactly should I need a slave card to change one fiat currency into another? Governments will point to terrorism and other ruses, and the fact that they must know where every dollar, euro, and baht is going in the world. If not, buildings might just get blown up.

The United States has led a worldwide effort by empowering control-hungry groups like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to do their bidding around the world.

These are the same groups responsible for bullying countries like Andorra into imposing an income tax because not having one was unfair to France and Spain.

And they are the same groups that come to emerging countries like Thailand and indoctrinate them with their statist propaganda early on. The more nations they can wrangle in to a world of financial surveillance, the bigger their business – and their influence peddling – will be.

This is the face of the enemy.

Thailand is a popular destination for expats who want a year-round tropical climate, easy access to flights anywhere in the world, and a laid-back culture. Some of the world’s best beaches don’t hurt, either.

But the fact that Thailand has joined the global elite agenda to control every dollar you have been chilling.

And it means that, more than ever, being a slave to one government is a bad idea. Live in Thailand if you want, but don’t keep all of your money here. Not with such bastions of freedom nearby.

I’m not trying to single Thailand out as the worst place on earth.

What I am saying is that the forces of “economic fairness” are expanding their poisonous message to more and more places, using power-hungry politicians as their patsies to end economic freedom.

It’s time to take a stand against these so-called economic do-gooders. Just the other day, I was reading over a new report listing fifteen “non-compliant” banking jurisdictions around the world. While there are some obvious suspects like North Korea, there are also some pretty harmless ones like Turkey and Vietnam.

As I read the report, which detailed these country’s weak protocol to fight drug money, for instance, I wondered, ‘who the hell do these people think they are?’ For them, it’s not enough to have one set of standards in their own countries; they’re insistent on imposing their values on the rest of the world. It’s their way or the highway.

Heaven forbid some country somewhere would take a stand against the massive failure that is the west’s trillion-dollar drug war.

And heaven forbid some pasty-skinned raconteur like myself should be able to turn $300 into Thai baht without proving I’m android with some other country’s stamp of ownership.

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