What began as a restriction on the number of 30 day visas on arrival has turned out to be a major reshuffling of immigration regulations, most of which were framed as far back as 1979. The new rules apply to short term and long term tourists and farang residents and cover yearly extensions of various types, investment visas and even work permits.
The fact that it was announced on September 24 that the national immigration bureau chief lieutenant general Suwit Thamrongsrisakul has been transferred to an inactive post is not thought to have any bearing on visa matters. None the less, Pattaya Today stresses that the changes described below were accurate as of September 26, when we went to press, with an anticipated implementation date of October 1.
“Living” in Thailand on 30 day visas.
As previously announced, it will no longer be possible to “live” in Thailand simply by travelling to the border of a neighboring country and receiving indefinitely the 30 day visa on arrival.
In future, foreigners will only be able to “live” in Thailand on visas on arrival only for up to 90 days (three months) in any 180 (six months) day period. Effectively, this means three consecutive runs to the border post (30+30+30) are the limit. The most commonly used border posts for Pattaya based visa runners are Aranyaprathet, Pong Nam Ron and Pailin in Cambodia.
Foreigners wishing to go on “living” in Thailand for the next three months would need to obtain a prior tourist visa at a Thai consulate or embassy in another country – not at a border post. The most likely destination for the budget traveler is Penang where the Thai consul general is currently awarding single entry tourist visas. These used to be valid for a stay of up to 60 days but from October 1 they are valid for a stay of 90 days. They cannot be extended.
The presumption is that, after that 90 days has elapsed using the Penang visa, foreigners would then be free to take visa runs to the Cambodian border for a further three months (30+30+30) before needing to return again to Penang or wherever
Foreigners traveling to Penang are advised to go and return by air. Some travelers have experienced difficulties on the Thai side of the Malaysian border when trying to return by train, even with a new visa.
The immigration bureau has confirmed that there is no limit to the number of 30 day visas on arrival for an individual, provided that he or she is “living” not in Thailand for longer than 90 days in any block of 180 days.
The logic behind the new rules about visas on arrival is to discourage their use as a kind of cheap residence permit.
Extensions to 30 day visas.
In an important new ruling, the former 15 day extension of a 30 day visa on arrival at Thai immigration offices has been changed to 7 days only. You may also have a 7 days stamp placed in your passport if the immigration authority refuses your application for a retirement or married man’s visa or if you are deemed to have made too many visa runs to the Cambodian border. If you get such a stamp, you must quit Thailand within one week or risk arrest for overstay.
Abolition of investment visa.
This visa allowed foreigners to reside in Thai for a year provided they placed 3 million baht in a Thai bank or in bonds. It was often used by foreigners under 50 who did not yet qualify in age for a retirement visa but wished to be based in Thailand. The understanding is that existing applications and renewals will be accepted, but that no new applications can be made from the beginning of October 2006.
The so called retirement visa.
This allows foreigners aged 50 and over to extend a non-immigrant visa for up to 12 months from the date of the last entry into Thailand. It requires either 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or a combination of cash in the bank and proof of pension paid in the home country. A letter from the respective embassy is required for proof of pension. From now on, the immigration officer will need to see proof that the 800,000 baht has been there for three months prior to the visa being issued. This is to stop the practice of moving money into a bank account, and promptly out again, once the visa is granted.
The old regulation, however, that you must produce an annual medical certificate for this visa has been withdrawn.
The so called married man’s visa.
This allows the foreign, legal spouse of a Thai national to extend a non-immigrant visa for up to 12 months from the date of the last entry into Thailand. The minimum cash in a Thai bank is 400,000 baht. As with the retirement variant, checks will be made in future to ensure that the cash is not simply put in a bank and then removed. This visa is issued in Bangkok only and, during the waiting period, checks can be made by immigration police at your bank to see if there has been a big cash withdrawal! If the funds have disappeared, you may be ordered to leave Thailand in 7 days. Local immigration officers will also visit your home to verify that you really do live together as man and wife.
Work permit regulations.
We are advised that work permits with the term “Consultant” in the title will not be accepted in future. It is felt the term is too vague and potentially condones work related activity contrary to the alien labour act. Obviously, work permit holders need to consult their lawyers about the detail.
Those applying for work permits for the first time will first require a non-immigrant business (type “B”) visa from a Thai consulate or embassy abroad. This will only be granted if the applicant has a Wp3 work permit receipt form from the Labour Office, photocopy of all limited company registration papers, all official paperwork showing company stamp, invitation letter from the limited company advising on your potential role and stating salary, photocopy of your passport, two passport size photos.
Multiple entry visas.
Many Thai consulates in the Pacific rim, specifically Penang, have now issued statements that they will issue only single entry visas in future. This ruling is irrespective of type. However, if foreigners choose to return to the country of their passport (say Europe, USA, Australia) they may find that multiple entry visas, both tourist and non-immigrant, are still being awarded. The reasoning seems to be that if you need a double, triple or multiple entry visa, then go back to your own country.