It’s estimated that a long-term farang in Thailand might fill in as many as 200 forms a year, dealing with assorted bureaucracies such as immigration, embassies, landlords, insurance, banks etc. One American expat said he had used over 2,000 photocopies of paperwork and signed his name 1,300 times during the five years he has been based in the Land of Smiles.
Earlier this year it looked like at least one form might be ditched – the TM6 immigration form which everyone must fill in and show to the officer on entry and on departure. However, the prime minister has used his supreme authority, under Article 44, to scrap the form only for Thai citizens. Aliens must continue to use the current TM6 until stocks run out, when a newer form with fewer questions will be introduced.
Many foreigners assume that the main reason for the TM6 is that it requires the arriving person to fill in his Thai address which is then transferred to an all-embracing data base. But a senior immigration source said that the address is not so transcribed and that, in any case, the handwriting is often only semi-legible. That is the rationale for the form TM30, which all hotel managements and home occupiers must fill in and report to immigration every time they have a new tourist, guest arrival.
What the airport TM6 is actually used for is to assist the tourism ministry to compile statistics about the country’s tourist and visitor profile. This is not necessary for Thai nationals as their personal data is already stored on government computers. Whether the abolition of TM6 for Thais will actually help shorten queues at Thai airports is a moot point as Thai nationals have their own immigration lines in any case.
In reality, the TM6 would not be necessary for anyone if the government invested in the high-end technology now available. As from last August, Singaporean tourists do not need to register with Thai immigration and can use the automated lanes at Suvarnabhumi airport. The system simply records their information and fingerprints at the gates for identification during future trips. It is not known when and if this pilot scheme will be extended to other nationalities.
Another problem for form-filling foreigners is the variation in the requirements of different government offices. A prime example is the yellow book – a kind of local ID for aliens living at a particular address. In some areas, the local city hall or civic authorities readily accept applications for the yellow householder book and the accompanying prink ID card provided that certain documents are presented, usually passport with record of non-immigrant visas, proof of local address and written support from Thai neighbours.
However, other city hall administrators seem determined to throw as many hurdles into the application route as possible. They require proof the passport is genuine and demand that the birth certificate is validated back in the home country. A few local authorities refuse to issue any yellow books on principle, usually arguing that they lack the technology to print the necessary documentation or the ID card itself.
Much the same – local variations – can be said of bureaucracies such as opening a bank account or obtaining a one year visa. There is a huge amount of paperwork discretion built into these systems. A spokesman for the interior ministry said, “Thailand has not yet fully embraced technological solutions to all visitor problems, but we are aware of the issues. Also, there is a long tradition in the country of allowing local bureaucracies some latitude in the light of local circumstances. But that is changing too.”
In the meantime, we are a long way from the much-predicted “paperless office” procedures of 20 years ago.