The Royal Thai Immigration Bureau has confirmed that holders of passports of certain countries, arriving at Thai border posts without a prior visa, will now receive 30 days permission to stay instead of a fortnight. The beneficiaries of this important rule change are passport holders from UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. It is believed that there is no restriction on the number of times foreigners from these countries can use the recently-announced facility. They can also receive 30 days on arrival when visiting Thailand by air as in the past. There are no changes to the regulations covering air-borne passengers.
Passport holders from most other countries will continue to receive only 15 days at Thai borders – at any rate for the time being. Those excluded for now from the widely-welcomed rule change include Australians, New Zealanders and smaller countries within the European Union. To obtain 30 days they must continue to arrive by air. However, there are exceptions. Russians will continue to enjoy a 30-day permission whether they enter by land or air, a discretion they have enjoyed since 2006 as a move by the Thai authorities to encourage Russian tourism and investment. A few countries from Latin America and South Korea receive an automatic 90 days at Thai airports and land-crossing points without, a prior visa, reflecting the ease with which Thai nationals can visit those reciprocally.
Down until 2006, all nationalities entitled to 30 days at the airport also received 30 days at any Thai land crossing point. The Thai government of that time believed that there were many unwanted foreigners, especially British and German, who were making frequent trips to the border to avoid the bureaucracy and checks associated with long-stay visas. Thus travellers arriving at land borders were cut to two weeks and restricted to three visa runs in six months. Many commentators at the time said this restriction was both petty and unnecessary as well as failing to identify overstayers, petty criminals, pedophiles and the like.
A Thai Immigration source told Pattaya Today, “At the moment Thailand is overhauling its entry policies in preparation for the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community in just over two years time. As an example, a memorandum of understanding is likely to be signed between Myanmar and Thailand to allow visa-less travel for those arriving by air. Also, the Thai government is actively considering removing the requirement for a visa-on-arrival for Chinese visitors who now form the biggest tourist group.”
He added that the Immigration Bureau was also trying to reduce the bureaucracy associated with “first-world” travellers from Europe, Japan and the United States as part of the policy to make Thailand the tourist hub of Southeast Asia. It is likely that the new 30 days discretion for some land-border visitors will be extended to other nationalities in due course. “Firstly though, the bureau has to be sure that its computerized systems can manage the huge increase in visitors to Thailand which is envisaged once the ASEAN Economic Community really gets into its stride.”