Following in the wake of this year’s military coup in Thailand, there came a general tightening-up of immigration rules. The rules governing tourist visas and the so-called visas-on arrival seemed to change every few days during the summer with rampant rumors. Then the focus turned on those on the longer-stay visas – retired, working, and studying expats. It’s long been the requirement that if you work, you must have a work permit tied to your visa (either Non-Immigrant B or O varieties). However, there were many expats in the Kingdom who worked on tourist visas and never bothered with work permits or other formalities.
With the increased scrutiny have come new rules and regulations. The result is that even those who strived to maintain their legality are finding it difficult to remain abreast of them. Here in Phuket, we often have to follow “rules” that don’t exist elsewhere in Thailand. Each immigration office seems to have their own interpretation of what is required so it can be quite confusing when trying to track down the latest information.
In late October, Phuket Immigration Office implemented two new requirements for those seeking to extend their Non-Immigrant visas (the first actually affects all needing to use the “back row”). These are designed to decrease the workload on the officials working in an office which has seen a huge growth in the number of foreigners it needs to process; a huge remodeling of the building a few years ago actually DECREASED the amount of workspace!
The first has created the most mayhem but should die down as soon as the local expat community gets used to it. That is the new queuing system required just to enter the door. Earlier this year, Phuket Immigration still had a first-come first-served policy where one could arrive at any time and simply queue in front of the desk they needed for the business they had to do. This Spring, they began issuing queue tickets at the front desk manned by the Immigration Police Volunteers. These men (and woman) would check to make sure you had the required paperwork and photocopies before allowing you to stand in line, cutting down on the number of people sent away by the Thai officers for one reason or another.
This worked rather well during most days. However, it became quite crowded on Mondays and Fridays or the days preceding and following holidays when the office was closed. There just wasn’t enough space around this desk for the hordes seeking a number.
The new method is that only thirty (30) entry tickets will be issued in the mornings and an additional thirty in the afternoon. If you miss those released for entry at 8:30, you will need to return at noon and attempt to get a ticket for the afternoon entry (the office reopens at 13:00 after a one-hour lunch break). If you are unsuccessful, you will need to return another day so make sure you have extra days on your stamps so you don’t go into over-stay status (an expat was recently arrested in Patong for a one-day overstay so be careful!!).
The second day that this new entry queuing system was in effect happened to follow a public holiday so there was a huge crowd at Phuket Immigration in the morning. All available tickets had been issued by 7:45 and late-comers rushed the doors when they opened. Mass confusion! Following entry, one still needs to queue at the Volunteers desk for a business-specific queue ticket.
The second “new” requirement is actually an enforcement of an old on-the-books rule: the need for a Residency Certificate before a one-year (and soon to be two-year) visa extension will be issued. Earlier this year, Phuket Immigration began computerizing their records starting with those expats making their 90-day reports. They entered our addresses into the database, taking us at our word that the addresses were correct. A few high-profile crimes committed by unscrupulous foreigners has led to increased scrutiny. Phuket Immigration now sees the need for address verification.
In order to receive a Residency Certificate, an official verification that you live where you say you do, you will need to show your lease agreement or house book (the “tambian ban”) – bring both the original and photocopies – giving proof of your address. You will also need a copy of your landlord’s ID (the form I was given said this must be “certified”), and a series of photos – one of the exterior of your home/apartment building/condo showing the address number, one of the interior of your residence, and one showing you next to the front door (Immigration selfie?). Finally, they want to see a map pinpointing your home. One website I found stated that this needed to be hand-drawn but who knows at this point?
When your documents and photos are approved (and this can be problematic – one of the teachers at my school had to return FIVE times, once because the interior photo of her home wasn’t “clear enough”), you will be issued the Residency Certificate which will be stapled in the front of your passport, similar to the 90-days notification which is attached in the back. It’s best to do this BEFORE you need to return for the visa extension to cut down on the number of papers needed to be examined.
At this point, there is NO FEE for the Residency Certificate. Following a report of a foreigner being extorted 500 baht for one be be issued, the chief officer at Phuket Immigration went on record that any attempted bribes should be brought directly to his attention.
I haven’t yet obtained my own Residency Certificate. I live in one of the so-called “mansions” in Phuket Town and never signed a lease. The desk staff doesn’t speak a lot of English so there has been a bit of difficulty in communicating what I need from them. I believe I will be successful in the end – and will update this blog following my visit(s) to the immigration office next week.