All sorts of changes are going on in Thailand at present. Since the unsurprising coup on May 22nd, the new military junta have actually become quite popular for cracking down on a burgeoning litany of vice and lax law enforcement. Everything, it seems, is being cleaned up; from the Phuket taxi mafia to overstaying foreigners. Many of the changes were visible by late July, but they continue to spread.
Visas for staying in the country have always been abused. Thailand is one of those places where people just want to stay on and on, sometimes on the cheap and without a valid means of getting a visa. Now, those days are firmly over, and it’s having knock on effects for the millions of tourists who use the country as a regional base.
New Visa Enforcement
Since May, people exiting the country and the returning within hours or days as a means of extending visas have been denied re-entry. Starting on August 15th the rule has been applied in airports too. So, if you jet off to Siem Reap for the weekend, say, and then return to Thailand you better have a good story because the immigration officer might not let you back in on a simple visa waiver. There are already horror stories circulating about the unfortunate visa runners being turned away at the border.
The best advice for visiting Thailand is to get a tourist visa in advance, preferably a multiple re-entry, which will be valid for 60 + 60 days and costs $60-100. It will make it easier to get back in on a first visa waiver. Nationalities from about 50 countries, mostly Europe, developed countries, or ASEAN neighbors, get these 30-day waivers automatically when they show up. Another 28 others get a 15 day visa on arrival.
If your onward ticket is more than 30 days hence, even if you plan to leave and re-enter the country within that time, the airline might refuse you entry. Sixty-eight year old Jane Blagus was refused at Auckland airport when overly zealous Qantas staff wouldn’t allow her on without a visa. She had an onward flight with another carrier in 35 days time. Few other airlines are as strict, but it is their prerogative and important to be aware.
More Types of Visa Crackdown
The Thailand immigration had planned this even before the coup, and have been tightening the screws over the years on people who can’t afford to attend Thai language classes. In the past, this has been an easy way for many to prolong their stay in Thailand and have very little responsibility; a four hour a week course can result in a 12 month education visa, but those are reckoned to be the next target.
Thailand is such a popular place that plenty of teachers subsist in the country on low-paying jobs that don’t come with a work permit, or else they don’t qualify since they have no general degree. Many have spent months or even years catching a minibus service to the border every thirty days. Some used to go to consulates and talk their way into three month non-immigrant visas but they have toughened up on the paper work.
Steve Hamner is one such example: he’s been in the country 18 months, deciding to stay after meeting a local girl. He teaches in a suburban school outside Bangkok for $1,000 a month, an entry-level salary, and his school dragged their feet getting his paperwork together. On his most recent visa run to the Malaysian border he got locked out and has now had to fly back to Australia to qualify for a tourist visa.
This is a country where anything goes, and everyone finds a resourceful compromise to work around the law, usually using gratuity. Now, corruption is the public enemy number one – having gotten out of hand under the previous government, which was one of the reasons they were sent packing by the army.
Many backpackers spend extended time in Thailand, it’s that cheap, and end up teaching in order to stay. There are plenty of legitimate teaching jobs once you’ve done a credible TEFL course, preferably in Thailand where you get the necessary teaching practicums. The visa situation will almost certainly impact the industry, with some going home and the better jobs up for grabs more easily.
The State of Thailand
As to safety, the country is surprisingly normal and calm, boring even, without the daily soap opera of tinderbox-politics. It’s never been more relaxed, if you can ignore the small signs of martial law such as the odd soldier sentry, which are mostly for selfies it seems.
There is little reason to worry about the situation in the country if you’re planning to visit in the near future. Travelers and residents alike are more surprised by the lack of the effects on their daily comings and goings than by the alternative. For those who live here, life goes on as normal with very little change to routine. The upshot is tourists are now less likely to be scammed or ripped off.
Thaivisa.com is the gossip central for various anecdotal advice among the expat community, giving up to the hour reports on which consulates are suddenly refusing visas. Afterall, this is a country where the application of the law is very much done selectively and inconsistently from one officer to the next, often on purpose. But they usually service you with that famous Thai smile.
About the Author
Andrew Bond is a full time travel and copy writer based in Chiang Mai Thailand, where he has been writing about Thailand, travel and teaching for 10 years. He formally taught English and is a director of a teacher training centre, UniTEFL International. They run month-long courses certified by TEFL International, and have several years experience training and placing teachers.