Getting your visa for Thailand sorted

Getting your visa for Thailand sortedThailand is a very popular destination for foreigners. A safe country, relatively cheap, with warm weather and basically friendly locals. Despite some negative factors, tourist arrivals still totaled approximately 25 million for the year 2014 according to the Department of Tourism. Thailand’s popularity leads a number to seek ways to remain in the country for more than just a short holiday and often through ‘loopholes’ in the immigration rules.

This is counterbalanced by the Thai government attempting to ensure that foreigners do not live and or work in Thailand illegally. This partly explains the shifting of focus as one loophole is closed and another one opens. Perhaps the current rules need an overhaul, perhaps those seeking to stay here for the longer term need to abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Perhaps even a completely new approach is needed.

Certainly this perceived ever changing of the focus, if not of the rules themselves, adds to expat confusion and concerns as can be seen by perusing visa for Thailand discussions on internet forums. This internet debate is still further clouded by the differing interpretations of the exisitng rules made by immigration offices and officers around the country.

In essence the subject of visas for Thailand should be a relatively straightforward one. Visas for Thailand can roughly be divided into two groups, those that focus on tourism – visa on arrival, tourist visas and even visa exemption – and those that focus on longer term stays – Non Immigrant visas. Permanent residency and citizenship can be put to one side for future discussion

Tourism is an important industry for Thailand, providing employment for many locals and contributing perhaps as much as 10% to GDP. The exact contribution is itself subject to debate. Tourists come to Thailand from all over the world. Every year Thailand and Thai hotels and resorts win world tourism awards. According to 2012 figures Thailand received well over 20 million visitors. The majority of these visitors came from the region but visitors from Europe and the US tended to stay longer, in part because of the greater distances involved, but spent less on a daily basis. The average stay of all tourists was approximately 2 weeks and the average spend per tourist was approximately 44,000 baht.

Thailand obviously wants to encourage such visitors and offers a range of visas/solutions to accommodate them from tourist visa exemptions, visa on arrival to triple entry tourist visas. There are approximately 50 countries where their nationals are not required to be in possession of a visa when entering Thailand for tourist purposes. They will be given permission to enter Thailand for a period not exceeding 30 days if arriving by air. There is a small group of some 12 countries including Cambodia & Brazil where bi-lateral visa exemption agreements have been negotiated. For instance citizens of Cambodia can enter Thailand for a period not exceeding 15 days and citizens of Brazil 90 days under this regulation. There are also another 15 or so countries whose citizens can apply for a visa upon arrival at a Thai border. They will be given permission to stay for a period not exceeding 15 days. Tourist visas providing for single, double and even triple entry into Thailand can be obtained at Royal Thai embassies and consulates around the world and can offer a stay in the country of up to 60 days per entry

It should also be noted that those entering Thailand via a tourist visa, tourist visa exemption, or visa on arrival should be able to show proof of sufficient funds to support themselves whilst in Thailand and proof of departure from the Kingdom.

Those seeking to take up employment, undertake business, study or live with family in Thailand are obviously not tourists. Neither are those who choose to spend their retirement years in Thailand and Thailand is constantly selected as one of the world’s best retirement locations. For such individuals there is another set of visas, obtainable from Thai embassies and consulates. These are referred to as Non-Immigrant visas and use letters of the alphabet to differentiate somewhat between the different options. They each have requirements that must be met by the applicant and usually provide for a 90 day stay in Thailand.

Non-Immigrant Visa categories are as follows:

1. “O” (Over 50 years old and retired)
2.  “O” (to live with Thai spouse/children)
3.  “O-A” (Long Stay)
4.  “B” (Business)
5.  “ED” (Internship)
6.  “ED” (Education / studying)
7.  “O” (Volunteer Work)
8.  “RS” (Research)
9.  “M” (Media, filming in Thailand)
10. “F” (Official)
11. “R” (Study of Buddhism/Religious function/Missionary purpose)

Those seeking to avail themselves of a Non-Immigrant visa should ask themselves what their exact purpose is for staying for an extended period of time in Thailand and then see if such a visa option exists. Visas for Thailand are not personalized and created to suit an individual’s needs rather the individual must consider if they themselves meet the visa requirements. It is far from being a system whereby anyone who wishes to live and work in Thailand may do so. However many seek to remain in Thailand through applying for or being persuaded to apply for the visa which is easiest, rather than most appropriate, to obtain.

A visa means “a permit to enter” NOT “a permit to stay” and the validity of a visa is NOT the duration of stay in Thailand. Visa validity is the period during which a visa can be used to enter Thailand. The period of stay is granted to an individual, by an immigration officer at the port of entry, in accordance with the type of visa possessed by the individual. It is displayed on the arrival stamp which shows the entry date and the last date of permission to stay. Stay beyond the last date of permission to stay and overstay fines and penalties come into play. Not something to be recommended. To avoid overstays, extensions to the permission to stay can in most cases be obtained at the local immigration office provided that the specific requirements of the extension are met.

So what should arguably be a fairly straightforward subject is on further inspection more confusing than it should be. Visitors to Thailand should ensure prior to embarking on their journey that they are aware of the specific requirements and restrictions pertaining to their reason for entering Thailand and obtain an appropriate visa if necessary. This can be achieved through a talk with or a visit to their local Royal Thai embassy or consulate. Please note that governmental websites can contain out of date information.

Once in country should there be a desire to extend the stay a visit to the local immigration office or a call to the immigration help line on 1178 can provide the appropriate information needed to arrange this. A visit to a local reputable company/lawyer with regular contact with immigration officials should also be considered.

Finally, whichever approach is taken it is the Immigration Act B.E. 2522 (A.D. 1979) which applies. The latest amendment to which was the Royal Thai Police Order No 327/2557 which came into effect on August 29th 2014. Any other newspaper headline or internet discussion is simply talk until it too becomes subject to a Police Order.