Last week I engaged in a common occurrence among expats here in Thailand—the visa run. Both my business partner and I were due for out 90-day excursion outside the Kingdom of Thailand, to satisfy our non-immigrant B visas granted to us for business purposes.

Visas and changes in visa policy are part of life as a foreigner in the Kingdom of Thailand. Until recently, visa and work permit requirements for most western developed countries and rich Asian countries were pretty relaxed. Visa extensions, long-term, and multi-entry visas could be had cheaply and hassle-free. 

All that changed with the terrorist bombing of a night club in Bali, Indonesia, which killed over 200 people, mostly Australian vacationers. In the past, each Thai embassy and consulate acted very autonomously, interpreting the law with their own twist. Visa agencies all over Thailand help foreigners with visa applications. They knew which Thai embassies and consulates were the easiest, fastest, and most likely to accept incomplete or improperly prepared applications. Singapore is an incredible hassle, but Penang in Malaysia, or Melbourne, Australia were always more accommodating. Earlier this year a new mandate for strict adherence to the rules was launched and everything changed.

Do It Yourself

I personally witnessed the misfortune of some folks who made the mistake of paying for a visa without actually leaving the country. For a fee, agents promised to take the foreign passports out of the country, have them stamped and new visas issued. Unfortunately, many of these agents took the money and forged the stamps. I saw two English women get detained at the immigration office in Ranong on the Burmese border. They had fake stamps in their passports and were required to reveal the agent that provided it. 

Now, the much sought after 90-day plus multi-entry visa is a bit more elusive than in the past. This results in more paperwork. And, apparently the new controls have been effective at thwarting terrorist activity. In fact, some of these changes were instrumental in capturing the mastermind of the Bali bombing who attempted to hide in Thailand.