Work Permits


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First, you must have a Non-Immigrant visa to apply for a work permit.
Thailand Work Permit Processing

We assist in securing Thailand work permit for qualified individuals employed by qualifying employers.

  • Preparation of application
  • Preparation of letter of employment
  • Assembly of required documents

A FOREIGNER WHO RECEIVES A WORK PERMIT MUST FOLLOW THESE REGULATIONS:

1. Carry the work permit with him/her or keep it in the office during working hours to show to government officers any time.
PENALTY : Anyone who violate this rule will be fined not more than 1,000 baht .

2. The foreign must perform the work according to the work permit only to. If he/ she wants to do different work or change locality of working place, this change must be approved.
PENALTY : Anyone who violate this rule will be inprisoned not more than 1 month or fined not more than 2,000 baht or both.

3. The foreign who wishes to continue working musto apply for an extension before the expiration date.
PENALTY : Anyone who violates this rule will be imprisoned not more than 3 months or fined not more than 5,000 baht or both.

4. If his/her work permit is materially damaged or lost, the foreign must apply for substitute within 15 days from the date he/she knows about the damage or disappearance of the work permit.
PENALTY : Anyone who violates this rule will be fined not more than 500 baht .

5. In case the foreign changes his/her first name, last name, nationality , address, or name of the working place, he/she must notify the Employment Service office to update the information as soon as possible.

6. After the to foreign resigns from work, the foreign must return the work permit within 7 days from the date of the resignation
PENALTY : Anyone who violates this rule will be fined not more than 1000 baht.

Factors to be aware of:

  1. You must be present in Thailand on a non-immigrant status entry permit, on both the day your work permit application is submitted, and the day it is picked up.
  2. Your work permit will expire on the same date as the entry permit you use to pick up your work permit. This generally means that your first work permit – if issued against a 90 day entry permit, will have only 10 weeks validity, once issued. Most clients will need to use work permit to apply for extended entry permit – and once that entry permit extension is issued, apply for a renewed work permit whose expiration date matches the new entry permit.
  3. In most cases, for each work permit issued to a foreigner, the sponsoring company must have 2 million baht capitalization, and at least four Thai employees. For a start-up company, it is sometimes possible to obtain a work permit for purposes of opening a bank account without meeting all requirements, but obtaining later work permit renewals generally requires that qualifying criteria be met. If a company has four Thai employees, plus 2 million baht paid-in capital for each work permit requested, it is normally very easy to obtain a work permit.
  4. To satisfy new rules upcoming, monthly salary of work permit holders generally needs to be at least 60,000 Baht (you must be paying monthly personal income tax on at least this amount).

EMPLOYERS WISHING TO EMPLOY A FOREIGNER MUST DO THE FOLLOWING

  1. Do not employ the foreign without a work permit. Do not allow the foreign to perform work other than that which is specified in his/her work permit, or to work under any other conditions than those specified in the work permit.
    PENALTY : Imprisonment of not more than 3 years or fine of not more than 60,000 baht or both.
  2. An employer who employs the foreign to work or transfers him/her to work elsewhere or allows the foreign to resign must notify the Nakhon Ratchasima Employment Service Office within 15 days from the employment, transfer or termination date
    PENALTY : Anyone who violate this rule will be fined not more than 1,000 baht .

    NOTE:
    All aliens engaged in any kind of work in Thailand must hold a valid work permit, issued principally by the Department of Employment of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare pursuant to the Alien Employment Act B.E. 2521 (A.D. 1978).
    The term “work” is defined very broadly, covering both physical and mental activities, whether or not for wages or other remuneration. Working without a valid work permit even for a day is a criminal offense.
    The validity period of a work permit is governed by the holder’s immigration status, i.e. a work permit usually expires on the last day of the period of stay allowed by immigration officials as shown on the alien’s visa. Aliens holding transit and tourist visas are not permitted to work.

 

Q First off what’s the difference between a legal and an illegal teacher?
A A legal teacher has a teacher’s license (from the Thai Ministry of Education), a work permit (from the Thai Labor Department) and a one-year visa (from the Thai Immigration Dept) The one year visa is issued on the strength of you having a work permit. If you don’t get the work permit, you don’t get the one year visa. They are inextricably linked.
An illegal teacher has no teacher’s license and no work permit, and of course - no one year visa. Illegal teachers are resigned to doing border hops and consulate runs to neighboring countries every month or every 2-3 months depending on how they’ve got things organized.


Q What visa options are available to me before I enter Thailand?
A To say that Thailand’s visa regulations are extraordinarily complex just doesn’t do things justice. And if anything they seem to get more and more complicated as time goes by.
Well there are three main options and these themselves have options within them.

On-entry Visa: Most nationalities can receive 30 days on entry automatically with the option (at the Immigration officers discretion) to extend by 10 days (OR SOMETIMES 14 DAYS at a cost of 1,900 Baht) at an Immigration office. Go here for the list of countries: http://www.imm3.police.go.th/eng/ There are countless foreigners who have lived in Thailand for years and simply toddled off to a border point every 30 days, done a quick ‘in and out’ and received a fresh 30-day stamp. That all changed on October 1st 2006 when Thai immigration announced that you could only have a maximum of three 30-day stamps, and then you have to spend 90 days out of the country before you were allowed another one……….or you have to go to a Thai consulate abroad and get a ‘proper’ visa (tourist or non-immigrant) There are many theories as to why this rule came about but one popular notion is that it stops foreigners using the perpetual 30-day stamp as a cheap sort of permanent residency permit.

Tourist Visas: Can and must be issued by a Thai Embassy or Consulate and there are different numbers of entries (not always easy to get more than one though!). A single tourist Visa would automatically entitle you to 60 days on entry to Thailand, with the option to extend by 30 days (again at 1,900 Baht) at an Immigration office. A double entry tourist Visa would entitle you to the above, with a further 60 day entry once you’ve left and returned (exit and re-entry) to Thailand (see border runs further on) and the option to extend by a further 30 days. A triple entry would be the same but with THREE entries of 60 days etc. The most entries I’m aware of is four, but you’ll find that most neighboring Asian countries will only issue singles or doubles at best. A common question is ‘which embassy or consulate is the best to go to for a tourist visa? Penang in Malaysia? What about Kuala Lumpur? How about Vientiane in Laos? Or Cambodia even? The answer is ‘who the hell knows?’ You hear just as many success stories as you do refusals - from all consulates. It all really depends on which way the wind is blowing.

So let’s recap on what you can do with a double-entry tourist visa if you’re lucky enough to get one.
Let’s say you enter Thailand on the 1st January (for sake of argument). You get 60 days on entry which will allow you to stay in Thailand until the 28/29th February. Just before the 60 days expire (or on the last day itself) you go to immigration office in Thailand and extend for a further month. Then you can extend for another two weeks (all extensions are currently 1,900 baht). When your final day of your final extension is almost upon you, you catch a bus, train or plane to a neighboring country’s border point and then turn around and re-enter Thailand. Thus you now activate your second entry and your second 60-days. So in effect, a double entry tourist visa will get you 60 days plus 60 days plus an optional extension of one month on each entry and then a further extension of two weeks on each entry (all extensions can be done at an office within Thailand). So you would get about seven months out of your double entry tourist, but that includes one border hop and FOUR trips to the immigration office!
For the cost of tourist Visas in the UK go here: http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com
Remember - you cannot work legally in Thailand on a tourist visa!

Which brings us to Non-immigrant Visas! There are many many different types of these but I’ll cover the main ones in the next section.


Q Which visa will I need in order to become legal?
A A Non-immigrant B Visa is generally the Visa you need to obtain if you are looking to work here and to get one you are required to produce a whole stack of paperwork including a letter of employment, an employment contract, maybe a letter from your embassy (and there is even talk of a security background check). You really need to call the embassy or consulate ahead of time and find out EXACTLY what they require if you want a non-immigrant B. If you turn up with 100 pieces of paper, then you can bet your boots the officer will ask for 101.
On entry you’ll receive 90 days of cover, with the option to extend by 10 days at Imm (I GET 14 + 6 ALL FOR 1900) (cost: 1,900 Baht). You can also obtain (although this may have changed recently) double entry Non-imm Bs (two entries of 90 days, the second entry is obtained by exiting and re-entering the country). Multiple entry Non-imm Bs are the best as they will give you just under 15 months of cover in 90 day intervals. For a one year period ANY and EVERY time you enter Thailand with the Non-imm B you’ll receive 90 days on entry. Generally most school prefer you to be on a Non-imm B if you wish to obtain a work permit, although as mentioned before a Non-imm O (spousal or dependants Visa) is in some ways interchangeable and vice versa! A word of advice most Consulates are far friendlier when it comes to issuing Non-imm Bs (and multiples at that) than Embassies. Cost of Non-imm B in the UK: http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com
Again, the immigration rules overhaul of October 2006 meant that non-immigrant visas suddenly become a lot harder to get. Well, some people have had problems….but there are people who have problems doing anything.

A Non-immigrant O Visa is generally for people married to a Thai national or with Thai children or dependants. This works in basically the same way as a Non-imm B. Although if you can show funds in a Thai bank account (400,000 baht) or show sufficient proof of local or overseas income to prove that you can support your family, the immigration can indefinitely extend your Visa for up to 12 months. A work permit can now be obtained on a Non-imm O (it couldn’t before 2006)

Generally (or it seems a lot of employers prefer) a Non-immigrant B Visa. Although it’s possible to obtain a work permit with a Non-immigrant O Visa, it seems a lot of employers either aren’t aware of this, or it’s too much hassle for them. Generally you’ll need at least a couple of months of your Visa left (which would initially be for 90 days) for the school to obtain all the needed paperwork…although if they can show they’re going through the motions Immigration can and will grant an extension (generally of around a month) to give your employer time enough to finish everything off.

Important
Many people will disagree with me on this but I sincerely believe that no visa requirement rule is set in stone. There are many ‘human’ factors involved when you apply for a visa and you are face-to-face with an immigration officer.
Is the immigration officer in a good mood?
Does he / she like you as a person and are you polite?
Are you dressed smartly enough? (you don’t need to be in a velvet smoking jacket but Thais like clean people)
Do you look like someone Thailand would want living in its country?
etc, etc - the list is endless. Most of it is just plain common sense.


Q Briefly, what is the process of obtaining a teacher’s license and getting a work permit?
A Briefly, you give your school whatever documents they ask you for, and they process them. You need to be tolerant and helpful at this point even if you personally think hey have no need to ask for certain things. If you don’t co-operate, the process will get stuck and you’ll be the one leaving the country to get a new visa. First they obtain a teacher’s license for you, and then they use this to get a work permit. Once you have a work permit, your visa can be extended.

Lengthily, (and the details may vary between schools and provinces) the first step is the teacher’s license. This requires more or less the following: A personal information document, up to 12 one and a half inch photos, up to 12 two inch photos, a current health certificate (50 baht any hospital - are you alive? yes - you passed), copies of your degree and other certs (originals may be requested along with transcripts) certified Thai translations of your degree and other certs, copies of every page of your passport, school director’s license, school principal’s license, map of school, teaching schedule of teacher, list of other work permit holders at the school, a new blank teacher’s license book (blue), form Sor Chor 10, form Sor Chor 17, form Ror 11. And if you’ve had a license before, then you can add Ror 12, Sor Chor 19, Sor Chor 18, and your blue license book (not to be confused with the work permit book, plus some provinces don’t issue them, in which case you might need to fabricate a police report saying you’ve lost it)

These are all submitted in quadruplicate to the Min of Ed, and don’t forget to sign every single page. After a while (one week to who knows) you will get the license back. You take this, along with most of the same documents as above to the Labour Department, who will issue a receipt of application. You can use the receipt to extend your visa - the implication being that your application won’t be turned down at this stage. After about three weeks you pick up your new work permit. When the time comes for renewal, it’s a good idea to remind your school about one month before the expiry date, though they really should be on top of things by that stage.


Q How long does this process take, and do I have to do it myself?
A You need a school backing you up in order to get yourself a teacher’s license. If the school can’t do the paperwork then your own chances of doing it will be slim to non-existent. Many schools do not actually know how to get licenses and work permits for foreign teachers, or do not have a member of staff who has ever done it. In this case things can get very drawn out with the application being postponed indefinitely. If you’re the first or only foreigner in a school, good luck.

The actual process need not take a long time. The important thing is to get the teacher’s license because that will enable you to make your work permit application which is enough to extend your visa. When I process these, I consider the day the visa expires to be the deadline for getting the license in my hands. It can be done in a week. I aim for a month. If the paperwork is flawed you can just keep on waiting.


Q What are the current requirements from the Thai Ministry of Education?
A This is something of a 64 billion dollar question. Ask five different people and you’ll get five different answers. The general consensus (as of Feb 2006) is that you need BOTH a B.A (in any subject) AND a recognized TEFL certificate. If your B.A is in English (and only English), then you do NOT need to show a TEFL certificate in addition.
I’m one of the few people who seem to push this point, but a hell of a lot depends on your school’s relationship with the MoE. Some schools have poor relationships with the MoE and need to jump through numerous hoops to get their teachers legal. Other schools have good relationships and find the whole process fairly painless (not that I’d ever use the word painless to describe an aspect of Thai officialdom)
There’s a lot of argument over what exactly constitutes a ‘recognized TEFL certificate’ but in my opinion, if the certificate’s got the word TEFL on it in some shape, size or form, it should get through.
Contrary to popular belief and rumor, the MoE do NOT check the validity of degrees and TEFL certificates. They simply don’t have the manpower. The responsibility of checking all certificates falls on the shoulders of the employer (which is how it should be) You do however need to show original copies to the officer at the MoE.


Q Do people teach on tourist visas for a long time? Why?
A The main reasons that teachers work illegally (on tourist visas) are
1) they don’t possess the necessary qualifications to obtain a teacher’s license
2) their school / institute can’t get them a work permit / won’t get them a work permit / don’t know how to get them a work permit
3) they actually prefer to remain a ‘free spirit’ often juggling around freelance work and not tied down to one particular establishment.
Be warned though: teaching without a work permit can land you in serious trouble. Jail / fine / deportation - take your pick.


Q Does a work permit cover you for all types of teaching work and in any location?
A Surprisingly it doesn’t and this is something that language schools and institutes remain blissfully ignorant of. Your work permit allows you to teach in ONE location only - the location written on the inside cover of the work permit. The moment a teacher goes ‘outside’, perhaps to teach corporate clients at their company office, the teacher is breaking the law.
There has been talk of introducing a ‘roaming work permit’ which would allow a teacher to teach literally anywhere in Thailand provided it was for the same company…..but it’s just talk.


Q What is a border run or border hop?
A A border hop means taking a train, a bus, a plane or anything with wheels, and crossing a neighboring border. Then usually coming straight back into Thailand again. A border hop is usually done to ‘activate’ a second or third entry on a double or triple entry visa.

Q What is a consulate/embassy run?
A A consulate run is when you physically need to get a new Thai visa in your passport and that means schlepping to a Thai consulate/embassy in a neighboring country. It goes without saying that consulate runs are more expensive, more time-consuming (and dare I say more stressful) than border hops. Depending on what time of day you arrive, Thai embassies / consulates will issue you a new visa within 48 hours.

Q What countries are available to me to do these hops and runs?
A Phew! There must be at least a dozen border points in Thailand where you can perform a border hop, with the most popular being the Thai/Malaysian border point at Pedang Besar, the Thailand/Laos border point at Nong Khai, and the Thailand / Cambodia crossing at Aranya Pratheet.
Long-termers generally have their own reasons for choosing a particular border point.
As far as consulates are concerned, the most popular choices are Penang (Malaysia), and Vientiane (Laos). Other options include Singapore and Phnom Phen. If you fancy a particular place to do a border hop or consulate run, I suggest you put a post on the ajarn discussion board, and find out the latest vibe for that crossing or consulate. Who knows, you might even find someone to buddy up with!


Q If I need to get a non-immigrant visa from a neighboring country, what documentation do I need?
A Firstly, your school needs to be on the unofficial official school-list at the consulate you are going to. If your school has got its act together, they will have notified the consulate in the past and be ‘on the list’. Sadly, organization is not one of Thailand’s best traits. All is not lost though, and if you can plead your case well enough and you’re wearing a clean shirt, you’ll probably get your non-immigrant visa. From experience, it always seems that the consulate in Laos is by far the strictest when it comes to ‘hey your school is not on the list so here’s a tourist visa, now bugger off’  - Vietnam and Cambodia aren’t far behind so I’ve heard.
You will need to take paperwork with you in order to get a non-immigration visa. Again, if your school knows what it’s doing, this won’t be a problem. The keyword is ‘if’.


Q What are the costs involved in doing a border run and will my school pay?
A Very difficult to answer this question. You could take a cheap minibus from Bangkok to Aranya Pratheet on the Cambodian border and still have change from thirty dollars. Or you could fly to Singapore and stay a night in a swanky Orchard Road hotel. Border runs can be tailored to fit most budgets.
Schools almost rarely/never pay for a teacher to do a border hop or consulate run.


Q My school will get me a work permit if I sign a one-year contract. What happens if I break that contract?
A Well, the school will be pissed off for a start (unless you’re an awful teacher and they can’t wait to see the back of you). In addition to that, you will probably be required to reimburse the school for the costs of work permit, teacher’s license, admin staff’s shoe leather, etc, etc. You can expect to cough up something in the region of 5,000 baht.
More importantly, once you quit a job, your work permit and one-year visa are null and void. You now have SEVEN days to leave the country and get a new visa. Make sure that you keep tabs on EXACTLY when the school hands back your work permit to the labor department, because that’s when the 7-day clock starts ticking. I’ve heard numerous stories of schools failing to tell the teacher that they’ve already cancelled the work permit and the teacher suddenly staring at a hefty overstay fine. Needless to say, breaking a contract is something you really should avoid doing if at all possible.
Paully also adds the following - In addition to the advice already given, remember that if your written employment contract has a notice period clause in it (as is common), for example, allowing your employer or you to terminate the contract on one month’s written notice to the other party, you are NOT breaking your contract by giving your employer one month’s written notice of leaving. You are terminating your contract by agreement. This is as valid in Thai law as in US or UK law. Your employer may still be pissed off, but there’s nothing in law he can do about it other than try to hold up your application for a new work permit. Keep a copy of your letter of notice and contact the Ministry of Labour if your old employer refuses to give you/the Min of Labour a release form (Tor Dor 11) agreeing to your leaving and allowing you to get a new work permit.
Update from a teacher regarding the ‘7-day rule’
In my case, the employer wrote on whatever form it was that they presented to the Labour Department that my last date of employment was 12 June. They actually notified the Labour Department on 14 June and subsequently notified Immigration on 15 June. Immigration gave me until 18 June (ie, the clock started ticking the first second into 12 June) to leave the country. I was expecting a date of 21 June, so this was a bit of a surprise, but not a problem.


Q What is a re-entry permit?
A If you have a non-immigrant visa, it will be cancelled if you leave the country. To avoid canceling it, get a re-entry permit from immigration or at the airport (before you go through immigration to leave). It costs 1000 baht for a single re-entry, or 3,800 for a multiple. It’s valid as long as your visa.
This is very important if you have a work permit, because canceling your visa cancels the work permit and you have to start everything again. If you have a multiple entry non-immigrant visa which has been extended on a work permit (or you have a work permit application in process) then you still need a re-entry permit, because a new entry is considered to be a new visa, and everything will have been cancelled.
If you’re hoping to qualify for residence, this is another reason to make sure that your visa doesn’t get cancelled as you need to spend a certain number of years here on the same visa in order to apply. If in doubt, check with immigration first, because the consequences of getting it wrong are troublesome.


Q What happens if I overstay a visa?
A Basically if your Visa (be it a tourist, Non-imm, entry….whatever) is due to expire on say 7th May, 2004. You must either go to Imm (on that day…not the day after) to get an extension (if you’re entitled to one…although to be honest there’ll generally give you something although you don’t really want to be paying 1,900 Baht for a days extension), or you can do a run (see border runs) to a neighbouring country and exit and then re-enter to obtain a further x amount of days (depending on which Visa you already hold).

Now overstay (and I’ve heard differing views, but this is generally how it works IMHO) starts from the day (kind of) your Visa runs out. So if you run out on the 8th and you on the 9th you’ll pay 500 Baht overstay. 10 days would be 5,000 Baht, 20 = 10,000 Baht and so on and so on until you get to the ceiling fine amount which is 20,000 Baht. I was under the impression (and bear in mind the whims of Imm can change from day to day) that you were allows one over stay of this amount in your passport…two could mean you’re deported (again you hear a lot of different stories in regards to this).

Now I’ve been over a few times here and there (28 days three years ago was the most) and I’ve never had a problem with it although I have been shouted at. Now what seems to be happening is if you can get to the border or airport to pay the overstay you’ll (generally) be fine, BUT if you’re pulled on overstay while in a touristy area, or just routinely asked to show your passport and you’re on overstay…you could be in a heap of trouble. They can and from what I’ve heard will arrest you and possibly deport you (once you’ve paid the overstay amount owed). The worst story I’ve heard (from a very reliable person from S&A) was a chap got pulled on the Jack Golf bus (at Sukhumvit before it was due to leave) and he was actually only 7 hours over and on his way to the border to sort it out….nicked and locked up!
Visa services at the present time are a big no no (at least the ones that send your passports off).


Q Can my employer refuse to give me my teacher’s license when I leave?
A It’s common for schools to hang on to your teacher’s license (both the permanent version and the version issued to that school for your current contract period) while you’re working there. Schools sometimes like to hang on to your passport and your blue work permit book too, officially for safekeeping, unofficially perhaps in an attempt to stop you disappearing at the end of the month. Remember that your passport is yours, the school has no right to keep it and it should be kept with you. The work permit has to be kept with you OR at your place of work during working hours: again the school has no automatic right to keep it in the school safe forever. At the basic minimum, keep a copy of the work permit in case you need it to refer to the number or issue/expiry date.
When you leave your work, the school must give you your permanent teacher’s license (but not the current one issued for your employment) whether you leave Thailand or remain to go on to a new job. Check you have the original license with the original photograph and stamp on it. They have no right to keep the original permanent license and give you only a copy. It’s yours, not theirs.

One of the unique aspects of ex-pat life is the visa run.  Visa runs are common enough throughout the world but are especially a part of life for foreigners living in Thailand.  Visa runs are usually required because of some archaic law that requires foreigners to leave the county in order to get the proper visa, which allows them to return and work in the country they just left.I recently changed jobs in Bangkok, and since there was a gap between when my old visa ran out and when I was to start my new position, I had to leave the country to get a new non-immigrant “B” visa so I could get a new work permit and continue to legally live in the land of smiles. I have previously made three visa runs to Penang, Malaysia, which involved a nearly 24 hour train ride each way.  Now Penang isn’t the worst place to spend a couple of days, but since I’d already been there and done that and really didn’t have the time for a time consuming journey, I ruled out Penang as a destination.  I have also previously done a visa run to Vientiane, Laos, which was an interesting trip but I thought, since I don’t have as many opportunities to travel these days as I used to, I might as well go someplace I have never been before and may not have the chance to see again.  I chose to make this visa run to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I only had a few days to make the trip, and I’m getting to the age where making long bus journeys over unpaved roads no longer seems very exotic, so I chose to fly.  It is possible to make the overland journey for the more adventurous, or cost conscience, by traveling to Aranyaprathet, Thailand, crossing the border over to Poipet, and traveling to Phnom Penh from there.

I flew on Bangkok Airways for a round trip cost of under $150; tickets are available at all travel agencies throughout Thailand.  The actual flight took less time than it took to get through Bangkok traffic and go from my house to the airport.  I didn’t bother getting a Cambodian visa before leaving Thailand since it is an easy affair to get a visa upon arrival in Phnom Pehn for a fee of $20. The Phnom Penh airport is very small and to get your visa and passport stamped, your paperwork has to go through the “line.” The line consisted of six uniformed men each performing a single task. The first one would place the visa sticker in your passport, the second would look at it and then sign it, followed by a third who would check it to make sure it was correct.  The other three did a similar procedure in order to give an arrival stamp in my passport.

A month previous, I did a border hop to Poipet, since my visa had expired and this was cheaper than having to pay 200 Baht a day for a month’s overstay, so this was my second trip to Cambodia, if you want to count the 10 minutes I stayed in Poipet.  In Poipet, the differences on the two sides of the border were extreme.  Thailand may seem by western standards to be very poor, but the children in Thailand are clean, well fed, and have the opportunity to go to school for at the very least a few years.  This is not the case in Poipet where the visitor is greeted by poor, obviously undernourished children, amputee beggars, and other equally depressing sights next to a multitude of garishly decorated casinos where rich Thais can come and lose some money. After this first experience into Cambodia, I was expecting Phnom Penh to be a city where extreme poverty was rampant.  But this was not really the case.

While there certainly is poverty, and some cases extreme poverty in Phnom Pehn, the thing that most struck me was how normal life seemed to be.  Most people seemed to have a place to go and things to do. While the pace of life is much slower than in Bangkok or New York, it didn’t appear (on the surface) to be very much different from a Thai provincal capitol.

Outside the airport I was told would be a multitude of motorcycle taxis to take me into town.  But when I arrived in the evening, the only transportation that was available was a regular taxi with a standard fare of $7.  There are number of guesthouses and hotels throughout the city with a variety of prices.  There are a number of cheaper places down by the Tonle Sap River, which seems to be the center for western budget travelers.  I ended up staying at a place called the Paris Hotel near the Central Market, which was clean, had very large rooms and about 60 channels on cable for $20 a night.  Whether this is a good deal for Phnom Penn or not I can’t really say but I was satisfied.  The hotel had a restaurant downstairs, a snooker room on the second floor, and a massage parlor on the third floor.  I don’t play snooker so I stayed off the second floor.

I used motorcycle taxis to get around.  There are regular taxis available, but they aren’t always easy to find, and bus service is extremely limited. I always paid a buck (US$ 1) for a trip; I’m sure old hands in the country pay less, but it seemed reasonable enough, and for that price the taxis would wait for you for the return trip.  Interesting use of money, the US dollar was the most commonly used currency and the local currency, the Riel, was used as the ”change.” The exchange rate was roughly 4000 to the dollar, so a thousand Riel note was used as a quarter would be used in the states. It was weird for me to be an American who had to change Thai Baht into US Dollars to go to yet another country.  A loaf of French bread or a glass, yes a glass not a cup, of coffee was 500 Riels or roughly 12 and a half cents, to give you some idea of prices. Unlike Thailand, they drive on the right in Cambodia, but since many of the cars are left hand drive seeing where you are going while driving seems to be more than a bit of a problem. Like in most SE Asian countries venturing out on to the roads is always an adventure. One very interesting thing I saw when I made a couple of trips around 11 kilometers outside of town was the use of homemade wagons where up to 20 people could sit attached to a common motorcycle as a crude bus service.

Getting my visa wasn’t much of a problem, dropped it off one day and picked it up the next.  There was a delay, probably because I didn’t have one official document that was required but used a photocopy of a brochure instead, on the second day, and I had to wait around the Thai Embassy for the better part of an hour.  While waiting I did watch a guy who made two cardinal mistakes of doing things in SE Asia and the difficulties he was encountering.

The guy, who was British, claimed to be a journalist for some obscure French organization and clearly his paperwork wasn’t exactly in order.  First mistake, he showed up wearing the typical backpacker’s uniform of shabby looking worn-out clothes with lots of pockets, and he needed to borrow a pen to fill out the application form. (A journalist without a pen?) Now, showing up claiming to be a journalist looking like this may impress on Khao San Rd. (the center for backpackers in Bangkok) but it surely will not help your cause when dealing with an individual who comes from a country where journalists wear suits and ties. When dealing with SE Asian bureaucrats leave the torn jeans, bandannas and tie-dyed T-shirts at the guesthouse.Second, he told the clerk that the clerk was wrong and demanded to see the Consulate General.  The clerk smugly agreed, and refused to further discuss the matter with him and said that the Consulate General would see him, when she (The Consulate General) found the time to talk to him. My guess is that wouldn’t be until after it was too late to get your application in for the day, but I didn’t wait around to find out. Don’t lose your cool and make demands.  No one likes confrontation, but it is especially disliked in SE Asia. Dress respectably and avoid raising your voice when dealing with bureaucrats, especially if your paperwork is a bit dodgy.

Food there was ok, but didn’t see a McDonald’s or any other western chain restaurants. Some of the guesthouses supply good western food at affordable prices, and there are a number of Khmer restaurants, also. The Khmer people are very friendly and don’t worry, you can always just point at things that look good.  There was a fast-food type place there called lucky burger, it was ok and the prices were low but it’s only for real fast-food addicts who need their fix.

There are not a great variety of typical tourist attractions.  I did go to the national museum, which is worth an hour of two of your time, as is the Royal Palace. I decided not to visit the “attractions” associated with the Khmer Rouge regime; I didn’t want to spend my few days there looking over morbid sights.  The Khmer people seem to have for the most part put that part of their history behind them and are now getting on with their lives.

I decided to check out the nightlife, and some of the places where a lonely traveler can find some companionship, strictly for research purposes mind you.  Sharkey’s Bar was an interesting place where a traveler can find a variety of ways to quench a thirst while playing some pool or chatting with individuals from a multitude of nations.  Strange thing, there seems to be an unusually large number of Khmer or Vietnamese women that appear to be very friendly to the weary traveler. Martini’s Disco is another interesting place, but I didn’t see a lot of dancing going on there, and many of the ladies would have been way too young to get into an American disco.  For the most part I found Cambodia to be a fairly normally place with isolated pockets of outlandish decadence.

One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to take long walks without really having a plan on seeing anything in particular, and I often did this in Phnom Penh. This was a great way to see how the average citizen of Phnom Penh lives.  However the Khmer people think this is crazy.  Why, do they ask, would anyone with money in their pocket choose to walk in the heat when they can ride ataxi or motorcycle to get where they want to go?  So every motorcycle taxi, and there are countless numbers of them, has to stop and ask if you need a ride.

One of the joys of taking a walk is to have some time to think while getting a bit of exercise, but this constant appeal for use of their services by the motorcycle taxis makes continuing any train of thought for over a few moments next to impossible which is a bit annoying.  I never felt unsafe during my time there.

The biggest problem the country has is obviously a lack of jobs, but there sure isn’t a lack of NGO officials driving around in Land Cruisers.  I wish I had the Land Cruiser dealership there.  The country would be better off if all the NGOs sold off all their Land Cruisers and used the money to open factories that would actually employ some common people.   Investors with the resources for some foreign direct investment could do some serious good for the people and would be most welcome.

All in all it was a successful visa run, I got the visa with a minimum of hassle, I went someplace new, meet interesting people, saw new things, didn’t spend too much and basically enjoyed myself.  If you have to make a visa run, or happening to be visiting SE Asia, you should consider making a short trip to Cambodia. 
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 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.

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