THE IDIOTIC THAI VISA RUN SYSTEM – I have heard so many stories of about how expats living in Thailand are routinely inconvenienced and racially abused by the Thai Governments foreign visa system.
And so I decided to venture on a ‘visa run’ to determine issues and uncover the truth to the allegations that many expats feel is abusive to the human right and a system that achieves nothing more than the Thai’s ability to make foreigners perform time wasting and unnecessary visa runs.
It’s 9:30pm and it’s already been a long day. All I really want to do is to relax with a beer and maybe listen to a little music before retiring to my much needed slumber. Instead I’m sitting in the back of a rather cramped Minivan and there is not a seat unoccupied.
The other passengers come from various countries, including Japan, Russian, Great Britain and France. All are destined for Penang, Malaysia, a trip that will take them through Thai and Malay Immigration which will take approximately 12 hours to reach Penang.
It’s hot, humid and very uncomfortable and I know this is one journey that I am not going to relish.
My biggest concern is the Thai driver. It is well known that the Thai Minivan Drivers like to consider themselves as the next up and coming Formula One racing star, but without the years of professional training. Obtaining a Thai Driver’s licence is simply a matter of turning up at the Driving School, doing a single circuit on a tract, answering a couple of questions and picking up your driving licence that is no doubt being printed even before any of the tests begin.
If you think I am over exaggerating the affair then consider this… I spoke to a 73 year old foreign expat. He openly admits that he is blind in one eye and there is no way, in his country of birth, he would ever obtain a drivers licence. He spent a total of 1 hour at the Driving Center and walked out with his new licence – it’s a known fact that anyone can obtain a licence and it’s also a known fact that most Thais don’t even bother.
The other real worry I have here is the number of reported accidents that Minivans have each year. According to the local expat community there is not a single week that passes by without another report of a Minivan crashing and killing passengers on board – I really am wondering what the hell I have let myself in for.
By the time we leave the checkpoint at Sarasin Bridge, in Phuket, it’s now 11:00pm and I decide to engage in a little conversation with my fellow passengers; regarding the purpose of their trip – that is the types of visas they are seeking.
Most are for the purpose of doing business while the rest are seeking Education Visas. Not one of them on the trip is able to understand why the Thai Government feels it needs to initiate such a system other than for the purpose of inconvenience – most feel it’s a racial thing and Thai Officials, especially those involved in immigration, make it perfectly clear that they view foreigners with disdain; an inferior human being and would much rather if all foreigners refrained from attempting to reside in Thailand.
After travelling for over 8 hours we finally reach the Thai Immigration border at Hat Yai and stand in line with the other two hundred or so other foreigners waiting to get stamped out of Thailand.
Of my fellow passengers the consensus was that we all got extremely lucky, regarding the driver as it appeared this was one Thai that didn’t feel the need to practice for next year’s F1 Team and drove reasonably well. It was of course cramped and uncomfortable, but at least none of us felt like our lives were going to be snatched away at any moment due to bad driving – Death no doubt was obviously busy on another Minivan elsewhere in Thailand; something we were all very grateful for.
After an hour I finally reached the customs desk where the immigration officer simply grunted and held out his hand for my passport. The process should have taken no more than a minute but he obviously wanted to find something in my passport that could cause me some inconvenience and compensate him with cash in his pocket – they are notoriously corrupt.
My passport is simply packed with stamps. Even I have trouble locating a relevant stamp to the country I am currently in and so I wasn’t surprised the immigration official was having a hard time locating my Thai Visa stamp.
When the officer finally located it and examined it a number of times he gave me my exist stamp and all but threw my passport at me. I’m actually surprised he didn’t spit at me for this is the level of hostility and contempt one feels from all Thai Officials.
Once again we were back on the Minivan for the 5 minute journey into Malaysia. At arriving at the immigration desk I was greeted with a lovely warm smile and a very cheery ‘Good Morning’ from the Immigration Officer. I reciprocated and for the first time actually thought this journey wasn’t so bad after all. This is not the first time I have entered Malaysia and I have never had a bad experience either entering or leaving – the Malays just seem far more civilized and certainly a lot friendlier.
Now finally through Malaysian immigration it was back on the bus for the final leg of the journey to Penang and our hotel. I have to say it was a complete joy driving along the Malay highways – they are well maintained and people drive far more sensibly; cutting each other up and driving as close to the car in front is not a sport, thankfully, that the Malays have adopted from their neighbours across the border.
It was 9:35am, a little over 12 hours later that we finally arrived at the hotel. It was decent enough; clean, tidy, comfortable and very good food, all of which was included in the price of the trip.
I ate breakfast and drank copious amounts of coffee – I didn’t have the luxury of hitting my room and getting some sleep, I had articles to write and edit and so for the next 11 hours I worked.
One relief, regarding the visa run, is that we were not required to go to the Thai Embassy in Penang. Instead our driver took all the paperwork, our passports and visa fees and took care of what is widely known as an extremely stressful event. I spoke to the driver and he said that all the Visa Run drivers have an agreement with the Thai Embassy staff so that it saves filling up the embassy waiting room with hundreds of people – a very sensible and efficient approach I thought.
I finally took a break from work at 7:30pm and enter the outdoor dining area. It was a beautiful evening with not a hint of a cloud and looking up into the star filled night sky was simply breathtaking. At 32C and humidity at over 70% I felt more than comfortable in my shorts and shirt and my sense of contentment was only accentuated with the ice cold beer I was served.
The food was excellent. I really wasn’t in high hopes of experiencing a good meal, but I cannot deny the food was extremely good and there was plenty of it.
I found the beer had hit me harder than I would normally expect, but I guess with the lack of sleep and the 9 solid hours I had work really had gotten the best of me. I was time for me to acknowledge that work would have to wait until the next day and therefore decided another one or two beers would be in order to finish off what was an extremely long 24 hours.
At 9:30am, shortly after breakfast we were once again corralled onto the Minivan for the return journey. Again, leaving Malaysia was a breeze with a nice smile and ‘Have a safe journey.’ However the Thai Border Immigration was, as to be expected, indifferent and openly unfriendly. I took the immigration office nearly 15 minutes to browse through my passport before he finally gave me my entry stamp and threw my passport at me.
I have to say of all the times I have entered the Kingdom of Thailand not once have I ever felt welcomed. In fact I find their open hostility offensive and their rudeness unparallel with any other country I have ever entered. It just appears, and this is noted by many travelers who have visited Thailand that they would rather you just emptied your wallet and leave.
Thailand is a country that spends millions of dollars a year promoting the wonders of Thai tourism and yet the message that the Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) is completely lost on the immigration officials.
The journey back to Phuket, Thailand was uneventful, other than being extremely uncomfortable and I had arranged to meet up with the expats on the minivan the next morning to hear their views on the Visa Run.
Most fail, as I did, to understand why the Thai Government insists on foreigners having to leave the country in order to obtain a new visa. On top of that they also cannot understand why Thai Immigration require all foreigners to report to the local immigration office every 90 days for the duration of their visa.
One of the expats, from the UK, appeared to have the answer. He suggests it’s a way to make us jump through hoops in the event that we will tire of the whole affair and leave. He suggests that the Thais think of us as sub-human and certainly inferior to them and therefore would rather we were not living in their country; regardless to the reasons.
One of the expats is married and has two children and yet if he cannot show funds of 400,000 Thai Bath in his account each year (that’s approximately 5 times the average earnings of a Thai National) then he is unable to renew his visa and therefore faces deportation. It is irrelevant to the Thai Authorities that he is married and has two young children to support – there attitude is that you can go back home and send money to your wife and children and the fact he would be separated from them, with no right to family life, is, to a Thai, irrelevant.
What many in the group couldn’t understand is why the Thai Government would forego the chances to earn so much revenue from the expat community. If they simply levied a fee at the local immigration office it is widely acknowledged that the expats would rather pay a fee other than paying money and go to the inconvenience of having to undergo the stress of the Visa Run.
I have looked into the system and I have even asked a few Immigration Officers why such a system exists of which none could come up with a plausible explanation – expect one did say; “If you no like then leave. Better for Thailand no have foreign people.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard this coming from a Thai Official.
For now the madness and inconvenience will continue and no doubt, as some fear, will get worse as the Thais disdain for foreigners clearly continues to grow.
For my part, this is not something I would consider doing, especially in a country that is openly anti-foreign and completely racist in their dealing with foreigners. Thailand is a country that is a signed up to the international Human Rights Convention and yet it continuously breaks every rule in the book and yet receives no admonishment for their behaviour and the treatment of foreigners residing or even just visiting Thailand. Thailand, in my opinion, is one country that foreigners would do well to avoid.