Here is our current and updated summary of Thai immigration rules as they apply to foreigners. The trend for increased discretion by immigration officers at borders, airports and offices appears to have increased. For example, some visitors – probably very few in practice – on 60-day tourist visas or with visa exempt 30-days on arrival are being asked to show at least 20,000 baht as proof they can survive here. Informal feedback on social media suggests those most likely to be questioned are people with back-to-back or frequent entry stamps, giving rise to the suspicion they might be working illegally.
The TM 30 form, on which householders are required to report to local immigration officials the details of any foreign guests, also varies in detail according to which office is involved. Some are very strict about reporting re-entries of guests, others not so provided the initial registration has been made. Reports suggest that some immigration offices require the form for one-year visa holders at the time of application or renewal or re-entry – an example of self-certification – but others have exempted 12-month visa extension holders altogether unless they relocate their Thai address. Thus it is vital to be familiar with regulations and interpretations in your particular area.
Europeans, Americans and Australians, and some other nationalities, will now receive a 30 days on arrival stamp if they do not hold a prior visa. It makes no difference whether entry is made at an airport or border and the extension permitted is now a further 30 days in most cases. However, those foreigners using a land crossing can enter Thailand without a prior visa only twice in a calendar year before needing a visa in advance. Those visa-less foreigners entering Thailand at airports are not currently subject to the same limitation, but may be questioned if they make “several” such trips in the course of a year. Again, the determining factor is individual immigration officer discretion.
One-year extensions based on retirement have again been in the news. Earlier this year, the government published the details of a new 10-year visa (in fact two segments of five years) for aliens over the age of 50. This visa is available only in the applicant’s home country and requires a host of documents including police clearance, a special form of Thai medical insurance and substantial proof of income and property in the first country. This visa is most likely to attract those prospective retirees with an accompanying family, but the existing one-year retirement extension requiring cash or income of at least 800,000 baht remains in force. Few existing or prospective retirees are likely to want to change their visa status because of the mammoth bureaucracy of the 10-year alternative. Rumours persist about whether the existing one year retirement option will remain as it is, but they are just speculation at this stage.
It was also reported this year that the government wants all tourists to have Thai travel insurance in an attempt to reduce the costs of medical care for uninsured aliens. However, the issue is proving quite complex to introduce. Travel insurance is very limited in scope and would presumably cover only medical costs associated with “holiday” illnesses. Moreover, elderly visitors might well be excluded from coming to Thailand at all since travel insurance always has a cut-off age limit. It is claimed that some private hospitals in Thailand are unconvinced about the value of compulsory travel insurance, since they have a booming market in wellness and significant health care for wealthy foreigners who may be too old to have significant medical cover. As one source said, “You could end up throwing the baby out with the bath water”.
Working in Thailand without the requisite Labour Department permit remains strictly illegal under the alien labour act of 2008 which even includes voluntary work, although it is not enforced for court translators, volunteer police and others who are deemed to be assisting state authorities. Much of the recent publicity about cracking down on employers using workers without a permit is directed at companies using large numbers of Cambodian and Mynamar citizens in the construction and hospitality sectors.
Many commentators, Thai as well as farang, are currently advocating a wholesale revision of immigration rules which seem to become more complex every year. Suggestions have included allowing retirees to work on a limited basis (as in Malaysia), simplifying the regulations for multiple entry visas (as in Cambodia) and having less restrictive property ownership laws (as in Indonesia). But there is no sign that the current government is anticipating any significant relaxation of the framework. Traditionally, the immigration regulations do tend to be more restrictive under coup-installed governments. However, a new civilian government – unlikely to be in place before 2019 – is unlikely to see foreign immigration as an immediate priority.