Changes to the 30 Day Visa Exemption rules were announced this week by Thailand’s Immigration Chief, as the back to back re-entry system is abolished for long term stayers.
Visa wise, when you plump on Thailand for your hols, you have two choices. Firstly, you can buy a tourist visa (60 days duration, single, double or triple entry) from a consulate or embassy in your own country or if you are out and about travelling, from a consulate or embassy in a country neigbouring to Thailand. On arrival in Thailand, that friendly soul behind the desk stamps you in for 60 days. You then have the capacity to extend this further and go in and out the country as detailed here.
Alternatively, you can choose not to purchase a tourist visa, remember there is absolutely no obligation to do so and simply arrive at an immigration point, the airport or land border and you will be stamped into the country for 30 days – this is not a visa but an exemption from one. In reality, this is what the majority of people do, think how long generally holidays are and it makes sense, certainly no point in going to the expense of buying a visa when you don’t need them.
For many years, farangs (foreigners) with lots of time on their hands have followed this 30 day system and then used the so called visa run to stay in the Land of Smiles for much longer than that. A visa run involves the farang staying for 30 days and then on the last day, he/she heads to their nearest border crossing, be it Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia or Malaysia, stamps out from Thailand, walks across to the other side and into the new country. Here he/she either buys a visa for that country or gets one free depending on their nationality. (Malaysia is in the Commonwealth, for example, meaning any other Commonwealth citizen is allowed in automatically for 90 days.) Having stamped into that country, he/she then immediately stamps back out, walks back to Thailand and receives a new exemption from visa stamp, permitting then to stay for another 30 days, rinse and repeat, month in and month out.
Well, it seems that the disappearance of the MH370 has wider ramifications than mere Diego Garcia conspiracy theories. Two of the passengers were travelling on stolen passports obtained in Thailand, so a small spotlight has fallen on Thai Immigration, who in turn have targeted the out/in 30 days exemption and its abuse, reasoning that people who wait for false documents use this system to move freely in and out of the country. They also argue that a sizeable number of “tourists” on endless 30 dayers now works illegally, with Russians, South Koreans and Vietnamese picked out as the main culprits. The irony cannot be missed that TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) has carried out a massive promotional push in Russia over the last few years, waiving visas and such and generally making it very easy for them to come and go. Given all this, from August, a new rule will be introduced allowing you just one entry using an in/out exemption, after which any attempt to enter again with be met with a 7 day re-entry stamp only (in effect a refusal of the applicant’s request for another 30 days). After the 7 days, you must leave Thailand and can only re-enter with a proper visa and repeat offenders will be blacklisted.
How does that affect the ordinary visitor? Well, it is a little early to say, but you should perhaps look at your travel plans and think seriously as to whether buying a tourist visa might make things easier if you are holidaying in the area for more than 30 days. Incidentally, the tourist visas and their use remain completely unchanged. As of now and despite the new rule outlined above, sources suggest that if you,as a genuine visitor, arrive in Thailand on a 30 day out/in exemption from visa, stay for a couple of weeks, head to, say, Laos for a week or so and then return back to Thailand, you will still get a new 30 day stamp at the border as before. By looking at your passport, the authorities can quickly glean that you are a bona fide tourist, not least because you won’t have page after page of in and out stamps. Indeed, you can make doubly sure they know you are not trying to buck the system by having your outward air ticket to hand. Of course, this can only be an assumption until things settle down and the new rules are in place for a while, so maybe buying the tourist visa will remove any nagging doubts.
Talking of bureaucracy, Koh Chang Electricity and its modest not overly busy office near the ferries got a brand new queueing system recently and we at explorekhochang.com, fingers on pulses and all that, were one of the first to try it out. Approaching the counter to pay our bill, we were shooed away by a lady in a uniform as she indicated we should take a numbered token, 42 no less and step back until that number came up. A tv in the corner showing a Thai soap had said numbers superimposed down one side indicating we were next but one, so we stood patiently waiting to be called, glancing to the left, to the right, behind and to the front to confirm we were indeed the only customers there. After a minute or so, where not very much happened apart from lots of ceiling and toe watching, we all gave up and just paid the bill, number 42 still next but one on the tv and the token absently-mindedly found a few hours later in a pocket.
Fingerprinting at all borders will also be introduced in the not too distant future, though that might be a bit more dependent on whether Thailand has a sitting and operational government to approve the budget.