If you reside in Thailand on a long-stay permission such as a Non-Immigrant or Education visa and you want to leave the Kingdom on holiday, you must obtain a Re-Entry Permit prior to your departure. Failure to do so will cause your visa and work permit to be cancelled upon your return. You may even lose your job as many employers would be reluctant to go through the lengthy processes to obtain new documents should you be so negligent.
Don’t worry. The process to obtain a Re-Entry Permit is relatively hassle-free. If you live in Bangkok, you can even submit your application online. And if you forget, it is even possible to receive one at least two Thai airports at the last minute although I wouldn’t recommend waiting so long!
The vast majority will need to do this a few days prior to your trip by going to the branch of Thai Immigration that is closest to where you live (the one you go to for your Address Notifications every 90 days). You will need a 2-inch passport photo, a Form TM8 filled out in either blue or black ink, a photocopy of your photo and Departure Card pages from your passport, and the correct fee.
The current cost of a Single Re-Entry Permit is 1000 baht. It’s valid until the expiration of your current Extension of Stay. If you are planning to leave Thailand several times before that expiration date, then consider the Multiple-Entry permit at 3800 baht.
The easy part is submitting your passport, documents, and fee. If you are lucky, the queue won’t be very long for this. Then you must wait. Different Immigration offices in Thailand operate with different levels of efficiency. I’ve heard mentions of waits ranging from 30 minutes to half a day.
Phuket’s office is quite streamlined. There is even a poster on the wall that lists projected wait times for each step in the process. First, the clerk who takes your application and cash drops your passport into a basket on the floor next to his desk before moving on to the next customer. Soon, a young women (usually a university student on a bureaucratic internship) will retrieve a stack of passports from the basket and take them to a desk off to the side in order to write out the receipts. The passports are then carried to another desk where an official signs the stamps (which the first clerk had entered in the passports when he took your money).
Each step is supposed to take five minutes, according to the poster. It might be less or longer depending on how busy they are and if the official who needs to sign is on a break at the time. Lastly, the young lady assistant will call out the names listed in each passport in order to return them (usually horribly butchering the names in the process so listen carefully; I have a brightly-colored sticker on the back cover of my passport so I can spot it from across the room).
I arrived at opening time (8:30) on Thursday morning this week. There were perhaps 20 other customers when I got there. I believe it was so crowded due to Monday being a public holiday (the substitution for Chakri Day). Upon asking for my TM8 at the information desk, I filled it out and then noticed I’d left one of my photocopies at home. I went downstairs for a new copy (costing 2 baht per page in the ground-floor shop) and when I returned upstairs, there wasn’t a queue at all. They returned my passport fairly quickly and I was on my way by 9:00. Fast, as usual.
Phuket Immigration has become steadily more efficient over the years I’ve been here and have never had a problem there. Some of the officials even know me by sight and greet me kindly. I wish the others were as well-run and friendly!