Getting a Thai Visa
Getting a Thai Visa to stay in Thailand for a short time is very easy. If someone is planning to stay in Thailand for a month or less, no visa is necessary. A three month non-immigrant visa can easily be obtained from any Thai consulate. If however, a foreigner plans to live in Thailand, it is another matter entirely. The usual thing for young traveler’s essentially living in Thailand is to get a multiple entry visa which allows the traveler to re-enter Thailand several times. However, this requires that the foreigner leave the country and re-enter Thailand every three months. Thus the ubiquitous visa run.
The first time I lived in Thailand, 25 years ago, I rather liked this requirement to travel somewhere else every three months. It meant that I HAD TO take time off work to travel. At that time, the borders between Thailand and Burma, Laos and Cambodia were closed, so the closest visa runs were to the south. I went to the island of Penang in northen Malayasia several times. And once I splurged and flew to Singapore. It was fun.
More recently, I have traveled by car through the Thai province of Tak to the Burmese border town of Myawaddy. This was amusing but rather tiring. It was possible to make this trip in one day from Phrae province where I was staying.
So this brings us to the present era: I am too old and tired to leave Thailand every three months, and besides they have changed the rules so that you can’t just cross a border to get a new three months, you must go through an airport. Anyway, if I was going to live in Thailand and help run a small hotel, I certainly didn’t want to go somewhere every three months. I did some online research and I found out that there were two kinds of visas that seemed to fit my situation: married-to-a-Thai visa and retirement visa. Surprisingly it turned out that a married-to-aThai visa was much harder to get than a retirement visa. So I phoned the Thai consulate in Los Angeles and asked them about the requirements for a retirement visa. In the past I have sent my passport to them to get a visa stamp before a trip to Thailand. But this time since I planned to visit Nok’s family in Southern California anyway, I decided that I would go there in person. I knew that you had to leave your passport with them overnight to get the visa stamp but I figured that when I went to pick it up I would take my niece Gwen and go to the LA zoo on the way back. That part worked out OK, but getting the visa was not smooth.
I took a number and confidently waited my turn at the consulate. I thought that I had everything I needed. Among the items required for this visa was a $200 cashiers check. A personal check was not accepted, neither was a traveler’s check, a credit card, cash or any other kind of currency. But I had gone to the bank the day before and got this archaic form of money ready for the consulate. When the clerk looked at my documents, he said that everything looked good except I hadn’t brought an affidavit from my local police department that I was not a criminal. I had never heard of this ludicrous requirement and I protested vociferously that my passport was full of various kinds of Thai visas, that I had been essentially living half time in Thailand for several years with no criminal activity in my dossier.
They even went into the back and looked at my file which contained the documents from my past visa requests. They brought out a copy of my marriage certificate, my bank statement and other documents and agreed that I was probably not a criminal. Nonetheless, a requirement was a requirement and thus I needed a police affidavit. They suggested that I take a quick trip down to the police headquarters in downtown LA. They said that they would hold my other documents and wouldn’t require me to wait in line when I returned.
Going to downtown LA involved a 20 or 25 minute drive through traffic and then the expense/hassle of finding a place to park near the police headquarters. But,
I acquiesced and went back to my car and plowed my way into downtown. I found a place to park for only $5 an hour several blocks from the police headquarters.
I walked over there, went through an airport type security check and was directed to the records department. I handed the lady my passport and told her what I needed. She asked for my driver’s license. She looked at it and said, “You are not a resident of Los Angeles. I can’t give you this certificate.”
“But I was born in Los Angeles, I lived in Los Angeles for many years. If I had committed any crimes, I would certainly have committed them in Los Angeles.”
“No way will I give you this certificate,” she said, and walked away.
So I rushed back to my car, and drove back to the Thai consulate, still hoping there was a way to resolve this matter amicably, since I was planning to leave for Thailand shortly. When I got back there the clerk told me that since I was now officially ineligible for a retirement visa, the best he could give me for my $200 would be a year long multiple entry visa which would allow me three months at a time in Thailand, and I could deal with this problem when I got there.
Now, we fast forward to the present. Having been in Thailand for almost three months, I realized that it was time to revisit this problem. I looked up the requirements for a retirement visa in Thailand. Surprisingly they were completely different than the requirements for the same visa at the Thai consulate in Los Angeles. All that was required was proof that I was over 60 years of age. And proof that I had money to live in Thailand. This proof could be supplied in one of two ways: 800,000 baht (about $26, Protected content a Thai bank account which had laid there without being used for at least three months, or proof a monthly income from your home country. I opted for the second option and produced bank statements which showed the monthly money Ning was giving us from the restaurant.
With this proof in hand, I went down to the Thai Immigration office in Chiang Mai. The first time I went down there mid-morning, and was almost laughed out of the place. They said that I must come before 7 AM to get a number in order to be served that day. So I went back the next day at 7 AM. There was a long line and a complicated system of assigning numbers. Fortunately, by speaking Thai, I managed to get someone to quickly examine my documents to see if I had the proper forms or needed anything else. They said that my bank statements were not regarded as proof of income. They said that I should go to the consulate of my country and get proof from them.
So later that same day, I went down to the American consulate in Chiang Mai. I was lucky because they only provided this kind of service on Tuesdays or Thursdays, and that day was Tuesday. When I got inside, they said that I needed an appointment which I could make online in order for them to help me. However, this was a slow day so the clerk said they could help me then. I explained what I needed and showed him my bank statements. He didn’t even glance at them but handed me a form and told me to go outside, fill it out and come back. The form asked for the usual stuff, passport number, address in the US, address in Thailand, and monthly income. It asked for no documentation. I went back inside and when I was served, the first thing they did was ask me for fifty dollars, credit cards accepted. Then they asked me if everything in the document was true. When I said yes, they stamped the document with a bright red seal, gave me back my passport and sent me on my way.
So the next day I go back to the immigration office at 7 AM and get a number, I wait for an hour and a half and get another number. They tell me to keep this number and come back after lunch. I go home take a nap, eat lunch and return at 1 PM. There is an electronic board which shows the numbers which are presently being served, so I can see that it will be awhile before my number is called. In the meantime, I strike up a conversation with a Japanese student who speaks Thai but no English. It is amusing and uncommon to have a conversation with a non-Thai in which Thai is the common language. This girl is writing her master’s thesis on the agricultural practices of Thai communities living on the edge of protected forest regions. I find this subject quite interesting, so at that point I don’t mind waiting too much.
My number is called at about 3 PM. The immigration officer treats me very politely and I treat her politely. We get along well, especially when I commiserate with her about her heavy workload and low pay. She approves my retirement visa. But when I thank her and reach for my passport, she says that the process is not complete because I need to have my picture taken. This seems strange since I was required to provide two photos with my application and of course they also have a copy of my passport photo. Nonetheless, my passport is sent to another desk and I am told to go back outside and wait until my name is called. I go back outside and continue to chat in Thai with the Japanese student, but we are running out of things to say, and I am getting tired. I just want my passport back and to go home.
I go inside to look more carefully at where I stand in the picture line. It is impossible to say because on the picture lady’s desk there is a disorganized pile of twenty or thirty passports. The women at the desk is chatting on the phone. I politely complain to my new friend, the immigration officer. It takes time because there are so many applications, she explains. Well yes, I say, that is true. On the other hand, the lady at the picture desk isn’t taking any pictures. I say this rather loudly in Thai.
The picture lady starts calling people in for their pictures. After another half an hour my name is finally
Called, and surprisingly the picture lady apologizes for the delay. OK. I get my picture taken and reach for my passport which already has my retirement visa stamped in it. No, no, the picture lady says I must send the passport to that desk before it can be returned to you. I see another desk piled with passports. We will call you when we are ready for you. I go back outside to wait.
It is getting close to five o’clock and I worry that the office will close and I will have to return again the next day. In the meantime, I sit down next to an older couple who tell me that last year it took them three days to get their retirement visa, so this year they hired a lawyer to do it for them. But they still had to come in to have their pictures taken. They had been waiting for two hours.
At exactly 5 o’clock my name was called, Mr. Paul of America. My passport was returned in exchange for Protected content (about $70). I was told that my visa was good for a year, but that every 90 days I was required to report to the immigration office.