Friday, June 22, 2012

The Mysteries of Thai Immigration

written by Douglas Flynn June 2012

Whether you are outside Thailand planning your next fabulous vacation or already here contemplating staying longer; you are going to run across the Thai Immigration officer(s). One of the most important thing you should always remember is Thailand has a variety strict set of rules and regulations regarding issuing visas. The other equally important fact is these rules and regulations are implemented and enforced at the whim of whatever office and officer you are dealing with. I have visited several different offices regarding obtaining a visa and not matter how much research I did in advance to ensure I was prepared it usually ended up with the officer I was speaking with had just one or two more requests for additional forms to be completed or an extra copy of some miscellaneous page from my passport.

For those of you lucky enough to still be planning your vacation to Thailand you have several advantages, first, if you are coming from a recognized country (one giving automatic ‘upon entry visa’s) and staying less than fifteen (15) or thirty (30) days in Thailand, you don’t have anything to worry about. Flying into country you can apply for and get an immediate fifteen to thirty day visa upon arrival at the airport, problem solved. Just clear customs and head for you hotel, put your feet up and relax.

For those of you not in this category but people that do have to worry about making special applications for longer term visas; you have some additional work ahead to ensure your stay in Thailand is peaceful and uneventful as far as Thai Immigration is concerned. First decide how long you wish to stay in the kingdom and then determine if it is possible to obtain a visa for that period. I have found that the website Thai Visa is very helpful with many questions and helpful visa tips, plus there are far too many variations in the rules and length of visa’s per country to list here. And since the implementation of the immigration rules do have a tendency to change unannounced and on a whim it is best to always verify what you think you know and what documents you will need, then be prepared for potential changes when you are face to face with the Thai Immigration Officer. An important rule to remember is to always keep smiling, be respectful and give them whatever they want, no matter how silly it may seem. Remember this is their job; they know/make the rules and have all the power and you must never seem to be challenging their power, otherwise you are in for a long process and potentially a denial of your request.

Let me give you a few examples from my experience to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
  1. The first several times I came to Thailand, I flew in from Tokyo where I had been living for over 6 years and I never really gave a visa any thought, heck I was an American and we are ‘welcome; everywhere, right? As it turned out since I was only staying a week or two, I had no problem clearing immigration, obtaining the necessary visa upon arrival. Hey this is easy, no problem….

  2. My stupidity show itself on my third trip to Thailand from Tokyo. I was actually coming for two months, one as a vacation, the other to take a course to learn to teach English as a second language (big mistake). About half way through class, which was four weeks long, I discovered that my original 30 day visa was about to run out and that I must make a “visa run” out of the country to get a new visa stamp. Well I was ‘lucky’ and was able join a planned ‘visa run’ (there are lots) to Ranong on the Myanmar border, there to exit and re-enter Thailand getting the necessary new visa stamp. This is not the most fun experience; the trip was an all day affair in a minivan over very uncomfortable roads. Any plans I had of studying or even reading or sleeping went out the window quickly after a few minutes on the road. At the time I was also very lucky since they were still giving 30 day visas even if you entered the country via road; the rules have now changed and you can only get an additional 14 day visa utilizing the overland method. I must admit, even this simple task was not without a bit of drama, while at the border, re-entering Thailand the immigration officer went through my passport and started adding up the days I had been in and out of the country in the prior 6 months. It seems there is a rule that you can not just keep going back and forth across the border to maintain and endless visa. It was quite upsetting at the time as he pointed out I had spent too much time in country and not enough out. This appeared to be a problem until I pointed out to him in a very polite way that the other trips had actually been in 2006 and since it was June of 2008, not really a problem, to which be begrudgingly agreed.

  3. My third trip to Thailand was to actually take up residence and work out the remainder of my life. Why I chose Thailand can be found in another blog article. But this was to be my new home. I had finished my English Language Teacher training successfully, but had chosen a slightly difference career path, one that offered (at least in print) great rewards. I was told that to obtain a working visa and work permit, I must leave the kingdom, submit the necessary paperwork at a Thai’ consulate, obtain the correct stamps in my passport and then return. The company that was kind enough to hire me did provide most of the necessary paperwork to obtain the work visa, but since I was in Tokyo, gathering my belongings, I double checked what the Thai Government Website listed as the requirements. Luckily I had taken this precaution since in addition to the company paperwork I also needed a Japanese Guarantor, copies of my bank account and copies of my flight to and from Bangkok ( not sure why since my intention was on staying a long time). As are most things in Japan, the workers at the Thai Embassy were sticklers for paperwork, every “i” had to be dotted and every “t” had to be crossed, and low and behold I had forgotten some piece of paper that was most important to the process and would have to return to next business day (and I say business day because I had chosen a week in which there was not only a Japanese holiday, but also a Thai holiday. Now I had a problem, my flight back to Phuket was on Sunday and I couldn’t go back to the embassy until Friday and they stated that it took two working days to get the visa, which meant I couldn’t pick it up until Monday. When I asked if they could potentially rush it so I could get it on Friday, they answer was a very unfriendly NO, so I had to pay to reschedule my flights. And after all this hassled I only got a 90 day visa, so I was already looking at having to go through all this again in three months.

  4. The visa run from Phuket just to renew my work visa was the worse trip as far as transportation and accommodations, a friend at work suggested the cheapest way to make a visa run was to handle everything myself as far as booking the minivans and hotels in Penang, Malaysia, about a ten to twelve hour trip through southern Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I like an adventure as much as the next guy, but to me Holiday Inn had always been considered roughing it, boy have my values changed since living here. Getting the visa was easy, I had the company paperwork and the nice desk clerk at the Banana Republic Hotel took it and my money and did everything else, all I had to do was stop by the next day and pick up my fully stamped passport, again a 90 day visa. However, as I said the rest of the trip was a nightmare, the vans were old and the air conditioners didn’t work; the area of Penang where I was forced to stay was the lower end of the backpacker’s area, so you can image the accommodations were not that great. To top off this experience, once back across the border in Thailand with my 60 day stay on a 90 day visa we were forced to take an unplanned detour thanks to rebel activity along the road just south of HatYai. The problem came when our driver got lost; it seems detours are not well marked for avoiding rebel attacks.
Now this was the cheapest way to go, but I would not recommend it to anyone, I later found Bangkok Legal offers a very nice “Visa Run Package” for around 4,500 baht that includes transportation in a luxury minivan (limited seating), a night stay in a nice hotel in Penang, plus multiple meals. Heck they even take you to the Thai embassy and help make sure you have everything you need including copies and most important pictures.
I did make several visa runs to Penang to renew my work permit and then switch to a tourist visa once I got fired, I was a lousy timeshare salesman, too honest I guess. Each was easy, but beware, Penang does at time clamp down on renewing your tourist visa multiple times there.
  1. Once I got my pension all set and was ready to switch to a retirement visa I went to the immigration office in Phuket Town to double check the rules. The government website states that you must be over 50 years old and have either 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or proof that you get the equivalent of 65,000 baht a month income from a pension. I had no intention of putting 800,000 baht at zero interest in a Thai bank for the three months required nor did I get 65,000 baht a month in income. So I asked if I could use a combination of the two and was told “yes” by the nice officer in the well tailored uniform. I did forget to ask if I could do it all right there, which I could have, but thought I still had to leave country to get it done. I booked the flights hotels to Kuala Lumpur and headed off with all my paperwork, including a notarized paper from the US Embassy stating how much money I got monthly in pension, plus an official paper from my bank stating how much I had on deposit. I had booked an inexpensive air carrier to Kuala Lumpur, but did not realize there are actually two airports there, one for full fare carriers and a second for the low cost carriers and you can guess which has the fuller services and is nicer.
The real importance of this tail is that once I reached the Thai Embassy and waited forever for my turn, the nice official behind the bullet proof glass told me that he would not except my documentation, that it had to be EITHER 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or proof of 65,000 baht per month income, NOT a combination there of. I did mention that the official at the Thai Immigration service in Phuket had told me that a combination was acceptable, he said not to him and as I have mentioned it does you no good to argue! So I ended up with yet another 90 day visa, which got me a 60 day stay upon arrival at Phuket airport.
I went to the Phuket Immigration office to complain, knowing it would do little good, and was told I never had to go to Kuala Lumpur, that they could and would do it all right there. With little to no trouble since I already had everything, although I did need one additional copy, never entirely easy, I had my retirement visa good for a year. All I have to do is report to immigration every 90 or so days to tell them I plan on staying another 90 days. Don’ ask why, there is no reason, just another rule!
I now go once a year with all my paperwork, yes I have to get a notarized paper from the US embassy stating my monthly pension income which costs me 50 USD, and the retirement visa itself costs me 1,900 baht, but that is it. No more three day visa runs all over Asia or hassles with multiple different Thai immigration offices, I just have to deal with the one office and they now know me on sight, so do not give me any problems.
The one conclusion that I can draw from all my experiences and those of others I have heard about is to always be RESPECTFUL to the immigration officers and NEVER challenge their authority, all that will get you is more trouble and a refusal for a visa. Also keep in mind that if you do make a visa run to get a 90 day tourist visa, that will only get you 60 days upon entry into the country, to get the other 30 days you must go to the immigration office and pay an additional 1,900 baht, rules are rules!

Need help with your Phuket Visa?

No comments:

Post a Comment