One Day of Hell (At Thai Immigration)

November 11, 2014

Posting a little late this month, but I have a good excuse. My son, daughter-in-law, and their three children came from Okinawa for a nice visit to Chiang Mai and Krabi. For ten days Pikun and I were in grand parents’ heaven. Now, with lots of empathy for the two long-suffering parents,  we are trying to recuperate.

Sonya, Brandon, Natalie, Ethan, Warren

Sonya, Brandon, Natalie, Ethan, Warren

But the “One Day of Hell” came a few days before they arrived.

immigration 1

I have a retirement visa for Thailand. This requires an 800,000 baht deposited into a bank account for at least three months before applying for the visa or extension. Then once a year you take some forms, a picture, and a letter from your bank proving the amount in your account down to the immigration office. Then the fun begins.

immigration 5

Here is how it goes at Chiang Mai Immigration.

  1. You can book a time online to be interviewed by immigration but it must be not before 100 days in advance. The visa companies have booked most of the spots by the time you get online so I have not yet been able to book a time. That means I have to show up at immigration and get in (a real) line
  2. Woke up at 4:30 am on immigration day (can be up to 45 days in advance of the visa expiring) and got all the forms, pictures, letters, and passports ready. Got to the immigration office just before 5:30 am. By that time there were a dozen or so people already in line. They had found some plastic chairs and each person was sitting in a zig zagging line. The office opens at 8:30 am.
  3. The line continued to grow and by 8:00 am there were 40 or 50 people in line. The plastic chairs had run out long ago. This is when they hand out a card with a number on it. At first I thought this was a card telling what place in the queue you were. But noooo! We were led into the smallish waiting room and told to wait.
  4. And wait.
  5. At 8:30 they began calling out numbers. When mine was called I went up to the counter. There they gave you another number. This was the queue number. I was number 10. Not bad I thought. Little did I know.
  6. At around 9:00 am they began calling out our numbers. There are a number of different sets of numbers because people are there for different kinds of visas. In our line one number was called about every 15 – 20 minutes. That means that in about two and a half hours I would be done. Little did I know.
  7. At about 10:45 am my number got called. You go up to an immigration officer. The one I had had seen me many times. She was quite friendly and efficient. I have much respect and sympathy for the immigration officers. I titled this post “One Day in hell”. They are here six days a week, all year. And every day for them is hell.
  8. In about 20 minutes, after going out and making copies of pages in my passport which I had missed (happens every time), we were done. At 11:00 am I paid my 1,900 baht and was told to go back to the waiting room and wait.
  9. And wait.
  10. At noon an immigration officer stood at the counter and told us all “We are closing for lunch. Come back after 1:00 pm.” No explanation. No “Sorry to inconvenience you.” Just come back after lunch.
  11. Since I hadn’t eaten for about 18 hours at this point my brain went postal and for one of the very few times in Thailand I got angry and demanded an explanation – in a rather loud and annoyed voice (which never works very well in Thailand). We were told that the colonel was at a meeting and wasn’t here to sign the receipts for the visa fees. And he was the only one who could sign. I turned to the 50 or so of us still waiting (including one guy I had talked to earlier who had been on line since 4:00 am) and explained the situation. So we went to lunch.
  12. At 1:30 I returned and went up to the woman I had been abrupt to and apologized telling her I had been in a hypoglycemic fit at the time and I was sorry for getting angry. Really, it wasn’t her fault.
  13. At 2:00 pm I was given back my passport and my “Day of Hell” was over – at least until next year. All together, from waking at 4:30 am to getting my visa at 2:00 pm it really wasn’t one complete day of hell, simply nine and a half hours. Piece of cake.
  14. As I left there were at least another hundred visa applicants still waiting in the waiting room. I hope by now they have their visas.
What all the fuss is about

What all the fuss is about

19 Responses to “One Day of Hell (At Thai Immigration)”

  1. Don said

    No problem with immigration in Korat and Bangkok. Been here 2 years.

  2. Lani said

    I just wrote about my hell in Vientiane. I had to leave to change my visa from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Seriously. I feel like the efficiency is getting worse, not better. Then again, like anyone who has lived here for a long time – there are good and bad experiences. Sigh.

  3. David said

    i paid a visa agent 5500 baht and it still took 5 hours to get this done. Surely the Bangkok authorities could do something to ease the situation in Chiang Mai. Asking 60-70 year olds to queue in line at 5:00 am is just not reasonable. We get penalized for living in Chiang mai!

    • I talked with an immigration official in CM and he said that Bangkok refused to fund a renovation and upgrade of the facilities. All of the CM immigration officials are doing their best but they get no support at all from Bangkok. Sad for us. Sad for them.

  4. David said

    Maybe if they added one or two more officers to just process visa extensions they could take care of everybody in a timely fashion. Just a thought.

    Anyway, thanks for your great blog!

  5. Bruce M said

    Scary post, Hugh. A bit late for Halloween. But I can be scarier.

    I remember a couple of years ago I mistakenly overstayed my tourist visa by one day. I had thought I could go to the local visa office to rectify the situation. But unbeknownst to me, or anyone else, they had moved the Bangkok visa office from its convenient location in Sathorn to the deepest reaches of darkest Bangkok, one hour by Sky train plus a forty minute taxi drive away.

    So we went the next day, now a day late.

    Got there finally around 1045. Pick a number. Wait an hour. Oops, you were supposed to copy this and that from your passport. The copy shop is at the other end of the mall, about a ten minute walk from here. Did that, got back to the officer (a young man sporting a recent hickey–glad someone has had a good time in the past couple of days!) at about 12:30. A very grumpy senior officer glowering behind junior officer with the hickey informed me in no uncertain terms how unimpressed he was that I, the stupid farang, didn’t understand the rules. No I couldn’t stay in Thailand until my plane left on Feb 7. I had one week to leave the Kingdom and come back with a new tourist visa.

    So this is how I ended up taking a round trip to spend five hours in the lovely Kuala Lumpur airport. My husband’s family was most amused to take me to the airport at 6am and pick me up at the airport at 7pm the same day. The Kuala Lumpur airport, by the way, has a perfectly adequate Starbucks. This little misadventure cost me about $220.

    Comedy is tragedy plus time.

    • Robb said

      YES, the event from Hell.. you did not mention the clerk who will do everything, speak to everyone, and yet will start over every time he is interrupted to process your application. You know the type to make a big show that he is working, smiling, being a Thai who is abusing his position..

      • I have found that the clerks there are very good at what they do but they are under so much pressure, understaffed, and I am sure, underpaid. I did get angry at the clerk who told us to come back after lunch but it probably wasn’t her fault. It was the boss, who was out of the office and still refused to work through his lunch to make up the lost time. They need a bigger office, more staff, and better training. But then life might just get too easy. One day in Hell a year I guess is not too much to pay.

    • The trick to not having immigration problems is 1. never over stay, 2. always have the right papers, 3. follow all the immigration laws, 4. never try to circumvent them. The worst problem you then will have is one day in hell.

  6. Bruce M said

    Hugh, can you tell us a bit more about the 800,000 baht requirement? This must mean that you have all that money, about $26,000 Cdn, just sitting there and you can’t use it. What if you need it for emergency open heart surgery? You have the surgery, recover, and get kicked out of the country when your year is up unless you can come up with another 800,000? How does one stay there into the time we all face, if we are “lucky,” when we are 80+ with chronic illnesses that can be very expensive? I’m curious if you have heard of farang not getting their visas renewed at a very advanced age, maybe even despite being married to a Thai citizen. Also wondering if this problem is worse for single people.

    Thanks as always, for your thought provoking posts. I do look forward to them!

    • You can always withdraw the 800,000 baht. But it must be there 3 months in advance of your applying for a visa or renewal. If you are married to a Thai you can apply for a spousal support visa and need just 400,000 in the bank, but there are other restrictions. I believe if you already have had a retirement visa you can’t apply for a spousal support visa. But check with Thai immigration on that.

      As for being 80+ and getting kicked out – haven’t heard of that happening but they do have the right as the law is the law.

  7. Although Thailand is our plan B and we like it, I’m sorry but this is total insanity. Yes I only got laid off last year and still live in the USA so perhaps I’ve not learned to get the American impatience out of my system but this is why we chose Malaysia and hope to get approved on MM2H; Even though the financial requirement is twice as much (150,000 MYR) and you have to tie it up in a fixed deposit, you only renew once every 10 years.

    I’ve never understood why Thailand can’t adopt some sort of longer term system; it’s almost like they want thousands of people coming and going at all times; maybe it’s to good for their economy? But it seems retarded to me so I hope we can avoid that and get approved in Malaysia.

    Great post though; very informative

  8. Dan said

    I was at CM immigration on almost the same day, though I was there at about 4 am to claim my place. Unlike you, I’m on a marriage visa, which entails even more paperwork; this year we needed to submit the original certificate issued by the consulate confirming the validity of the (British) marriage certificate, rather than a photocopy. Unfortunately, we were told this the day after we had submitted the paperwork and we live in Lampang….heeerrrr.

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