Visa enforcement tightens for tourists and expats in ThailandBy Casey Hynes Jul 16, 2014 1:13PM UTC
The days of ‘border runs’ in Thailand are coming to a swift end. Immigration is putting a stop to these brief overland trips in and out of neighboring countries, popular among long-stay travelers and tourists who want to extend their time in the country. Even those on valid tourist visas may be denied entry if immigration officials suspect feel they are spending too long in the country or working illegally.
Though some border crossings had appeared more lenient than others since a crackdown was announced in May, new directives to weed out those who are not “genuine tourists” have been made country-wide.
“Every immigration post on land borders and at airports now has the same rules,” said Pol Col Sanchai Chokkayaikij, Superintendent of the Phuket Immigration Office, according to The Phuket News. “If they are genuine tourists that’s fine. But if we believe they are not tourists, they will not be readmitted into Thailand. We can see [from their passport stamps] if a foreigner has stayed in Thailand too long [on tourist visas]. We will not let them in.”
Ajarn.com, a popular resource for teachers in Thailand, posted that after mid-August, “anyone using back-to-back, 60-day tourist visas will be refused entry to Thailand – even at the airport.” However, as is always the case, entry seems to depend on the discretion of the immigration officials and the validity of each person’s claim to be a tourist.
The Immigration Bureau announced in May that those taking advantage of the in-and-out exemptions would be scrutinized and that border runs by land were being phased out. Those done by air will be allowed until mid-August, after which the same-day reentry would no longer be possible for tourists. Those wishing to stay in the country longer than the 30-day exemption allowed were encouraged to apply for 60-day tourist visas, which are easily available from Thai embassies and consulates around the world.
In the past, people could arrive on a double-entry tourist visa and do an in-and-out run at border points to start their second entry. Those arriving from countries that had visa exemption agreements with Thailand could fly in and stay for 30 days without obtaining an official tourist visa. If they wanted to stay longer, they could simply exit and reenter at a border crossing and get another exemption. But the government has begun cracking down on foreigners who live and work illegally in the country, insisting that people get the proper documentation for employment and staying in Thailand long-term.
People did heed the warning in May and left to secure proper tourist visas. But now that may not be enough. The ThaiVisa website reported that some foreigners with proper visas were refused entry at points along the Thai-Malaysian border. Their reporter said 20 foreigners holding 60-day tourist visas were turned away at the Sungai Kolok crossing in Narathiwat Province, and that “all of the foreigners who were denied entry had a previous history of multiple visa exempt entries or back to back tourist visas.” They were told to take a bus to Kuala Lumpur and fly back into Thailand. Those affected were from several different countries, including the U.S., U.K., Ukraine, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, and Italy.
ThaiVisa also reported that more than 100 foreigners with tourist visas have been denied per month at the Sadao crossing in Songkhla Province, also in the South. Tourists would do well to have travel itineraries and flight confirmations for leaving Thailand on hand, to prove they are actually tourists.
The Nation reported that, “The Immigration Bureau has instructed checkpoints on shared borders to stop visa runners from entering the Kingdom effective immediately.” Not all immigration officials are turning away those doing an in-out run, but people are being warned to get the proper visa before coming back to Thailand.
The fact that even those holding a tourist visa are being denied in some cases suggests the seriousness of this crackdown. Though Immigration officials can deny anyone entry, many have gotten by for years getting back-to-back visas or doing regular in-and-out visa exemption trips. The government has said the crackdown is meant to prevent people from working illegally in Thailand and to decrease crime.
The increasingly tight enforcement prompted a flurry of activity on the ThaiVisa forum, a website with information on all aspects of life in Thailand. People have shared their recent experiences and observations at border crossings, and posted looking for clarification on what exactly the crackdown means for them. If someone has a double-entry tourist visa and leaves for seven days, will they be considered a legitimate tourist or an in-and-out case? What will happen to teachers and other employees whose companies have never bothered to provide documentation for getting the proper visa?
Those concerned with the tightened standards should follow ThaiVisa, which regularly has posts and forum updates on visa issues.
As this author noted in an earlier piece on the crackdown, the digital nomads and location independent entrepreneurs who favor Thailand will be directly affected by the crackdown. Many stay on tourist visas, traveling around the region and frequently returning to Thailand, thanks to its low-cost for high quality living, reliable Internet, and other attractive perks. Thai work permits are linked to an employer, meaning those working for themselves online will need to seek other ways of staying in Thailand long-term. One option is an education visa, though that does not include a work permit but does permit long-term stay.
The crackdown will undoubtedly affect businesses built around visa run services, including tour companies that offer transportation services to and from the border.
In other visa news, Chinese officials have requested a visa-free privilege for Chinese tourists to Thailand, according to The Nation. Chinese make up the number one foreign tourist group in Thailand. Four million Chinese nationals visited the country between January and October 2013. Thailand’s Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the request would be sent on to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), The Nation reported. “The Foreign Ministry will gather pros and cons of the free-visa privilege and submit them to the NCPO to substantiate this for consideration,” they quoted Sihasak as saying. The agreement would allow Thais to travel to China visa-free as well.