How New Visa Regulations in Thailand forced me to leave, and why I may not return.

In All Topics, Featured, Mis-Adventures, Thailand by Ryan32 Comments

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There is still a bad taste in my mouth. No, it isn’t from the beef on a stick which turned out to be liver that I had eaten for lunch in the market in Mae Sai this day. That bad taste in my mouth was from an experience that happened on my recent visa run in Thailand. An experience that may have very well tainted the country for me and my desire to return to teach English.

Confusion spun in my head, which eventually began to boil into anger. I was standing inside the passport control office in the great blue building — the exit gate of Thailand into Myanmar — and I was being yelled at for no reason obvious to me. The small Thai lady behind the counter had taken my passport, given a quick glance at it, and returned it to me with a stern “No”.

I had no clue why she was barring me from exiting into Myanmar which I had done numerous times before, so of course I asked why.

Because you no leave. Go!”and she shooed me away with her hand.

So again I pressed for information, politely of course, stating that I had done this previously with no issues.

New regulations, you no leave. Speak with my boss” she said, while waving over the next person in line. But I wasn’t going to just turn away and retreat without some clear answer as to why I couldn’t do the visa run.

Okay, where is your boss?” I asked.

Bangkok. You go speak to him.” she said without even looking up at me.

What is his phone number?” I asked.

And that is when I got pissed off. After asking for the phone number to her supervisor, a different officer behind her laughed at me. The woman I had been speaking to shook head and said, “No, leave.

I took a deep breath and a step back so I could see if there would be an issue with anyone else in the line. The next person to approach was a girl from Canada come to find out later. After she handed the same border guard her passport and the woman looked at it, she said the same thing as she did to me.

No, cannot, new regulations.

Obviously the girl was just as confused as I was, so she began questioning the reasoning behind this refusal as well. And she had the same luck I did. At this point, a crowd of failed attempts from foreigners trying to either cross into Myanmar or to do a visa run was gathering outside the gate. I was the only United States dude; there were also two Germans, one French, two Dominican Republic, and someone from the United Kingdom. And that Canadian girl now.

They denied me as well” seemed to be the tune of the morning for everyone, and nobody had any information on why we couldn’t cross the border.

So with a dying phone I began scouring forums and Thailand groups on Facebook with a desperate message of something around the lines of “What the fuck is going on?!” In one group, comments began flooding in about some sort of sudden visa regulation changes that had dropped that very morning without notice.

Apparently the only information was in the form of an article posted in the newspaper, but otherwise there was no prior warning. Rumor and speculation flooded the forums, but it seemed as though visa runs (crossing the border and coming back in for an extension of time) were being axed for people with three previous Thailand stamps in their passport.

As I was giving updates to the group outside the gate, it caused even more confusion. Granted I had done 5 visa runs already, the girl who had approached after me had just flown into Thailand and had never received an exit stamp so that wouldn’t apply. Others were on their first or second stamp as well and were being denied.

Knowing that my bus was going to be leaving in the next hour and that my visa was expiring that very day, I was desperate to figure out the issue. I approached the window again behind an older Quebecois woman who was just being denied through as well. The Thai woman in the window gave her as much explanation as me, so when the woman started complaining about them not telling us more information, a male Thai guard came to the window and with a raised voice said, “No! Go! No visa runs, no visas for you!

The Quebecois woman was pissed, and responded by saying, “I don’t want to stay anymore, I just want to leave Thailand now because of you, you are being very rude!

Then the guard got aggressive and got within inches of her face.

Ok. Thailand not your country. You go back to your country!” he shouted at her. I was shocked, never seeing Thai people be so adamantly rude and unhelpful.

You wont let me leave!” she retorted, and stormed of after flashing a middle finger.

Knowing that things were getting heated and becoming angry would help nothing, I approached the window sincerely apologizing for the woman’s reaction (though slightly warranted I feel) and pleaded for them to help or explain the situation.

And they ignored me. They wouldn’t even look up at me. Most of the guards in the office were now chatting amongst each other, snickering, and occasionally glancing our way with a smirk.

Fuck this shit” I said to myself and pushed my way back through the line and out into the gate. Everyone was still gathered outside venting about the whole situation, but it was clear this visa run wasn’t happening for anyone today.

Frustrated beyond belief, I gave up and decided to return to the bus station.

What was the reasoning for this? Why were the border guards, who are normally friendly, being so rude? What the fuck do I do about my visa expiring today?!

Even more so I was pissed at myself for not going with my friend on his border run the day prior — right before this random regulation was placed. But there was no way I could have known these shenanigans were going to take place.

The fact that I had taken the bus 5 hours there, sat at the gate for 2 hours confused, and had to return 5 hours back to Chiang Mai empty-handed added to the frustration of the day as well. I messaged my friend who was living in Thailand with me and told him everything that had happened that day.

I’m leaving Thailand now. As soon as possible.” I told him.

Don’t blame ya’ after that, I figured you would.

My phone died, so I sat for the next 5 hours trying to figure out a plan of execution while fuming with anger.

I had planned on crossing over that day for an extension just until the end of the month, and then I had to leave Thailand to attend a friend’s wedding in Slovakia. I just needed of. And I wouldn’t get it.

What really did it in for me was that since they unexpectedly dropped this new regulation on a Saturday morning, the immigration office was closed until Monday. So even if I was to go get an extension, paying 1,900 baht at the immigration office, I would already owe another 1,000 baht in fines for an overstay.

 

It seemed to me like it was a planned slight.

Imagine hundreds of people needing to cross for their visa extension that day, just doing something that had been normal to do each month for the past few years, and then being denied. That is at least 1,000 baht per person before they can scramble over to a neighboring country to apply for a visa or apply for an extension at the immigrations office.

All that passed through my head was that, “those fuckers did this on purpose for a quick dollar.

I can’t personally come up with any justifiable reason why they would drop a swift new regulation without warning on a weekend.

As more information surfaced later that night, it seemed as though the regulations would get even stricter. Soon, starting later that August, they would be barring flying out of the country and back in without acquiring a visa for Thailand in another country preemptively. Making it harder to stay long-term in a country many love.

I spoke to many, many travelers later that night about the slight at hand — about being screwed over last-minute. Some were in the same situation as I was. A small amount of others objected to or dismay, mostly uppity ones on forums who combated everyone’s panic and complaining with thanks and praises for a regulation that would “force out the teachers and freelancers exploiting Thailand’s loopholes“.

Older expats who had Thai wives and had been living there for 10+ years were ridiculing would-be teachers and freelancers for “living off Thailand’s easily avoided immigrant laws” — as if they didn’t fucking come to the country to exploit loopholes. How old was your wife when you found “love” for one another? How many times had you done visa runs?

I didn’t come to exploit anything, but clearly much of the older crowd making this argument had.

 

A country should accommodate my needs?

Hell no.

Some spoke of tightening regulations for entering the country as just enforcement for long-standing laws. Sure, the standard was that after 3 visa entries you would have to acquire a different type of visa. But what about those forced away while I was there that only had one? And though these regulations, in some form, may have been in place — the norm embraced by Thailand, travelers, Thai merchants, Thai companies, expats, teachers, and the like was the visa run.

Most people living in Thailand and doing visa runs are, from my experience, people who want to stay in Thailand because they love the culture and people. And they spend their money in the country. Freelancers being paid by other countries spend their money IN THAILAND. English teachers, who aren’t talking jobs from Thai people, are spending their paychecks IN THAILAND.

Sure, you might just say, “stop complaining and go the proper route to get a visa” but that isn’t why everyone was pissed. Or why I was pissed. I don’t think for one moment that a country should bend rules or accommodate rules just so I am comfortable. But when I arrived, the regular thing to do was to take visa runs until you got your work permit from a school you are teaching at, or do visa runs while exploring the country until you find a place you would like to settle. Then you can head on over to Laos and try to get a 90 day visa which takes a few days at least.

The reason everyone was pissed was because they established this new regulation without warning, without information, without explanation, and on a weekend while immigration offices were close.

 

It’s not only foreigners complaining…

Think travelers were the only ones complaining? The Thai apartment building owner my friend rented from saw a mass exodus of travelers who had been renting a room the following day.

I don’t know what I’ll do…everyone is leaving. I won’t have a business.

Sure, Thailand businesses may do okay during busy season, but we were entering the slow rainy season, one where most of these businesses are helped by spending from expats, teachers, freelancers or slow travelers staying longer.

How about all of those businesses that relied on the daily flow of packed buses full of travelers on visa runs? Those companies specifically offering visa runs are done for. Also, the shops those vans force you to stop at on visa runs rely on daily flow of backpackers for business.

I even heard about new protests in Bangkok solely about this new regulation. Whether that is true or not, I heard it from a Thai person.

Trust me, it isn’t just “freeloading” backpackers complaining if you decided to call it that, it was a vast majority of Thai people I spoke with confused and angry as well.

Again, I have no worry ever about going through the proper methods to enter and stay in a country, but the way this was executed without warning was something that will leave a mark on me, many travelers in Thailand, and Thai businesses as well.

 

So, was I really forced out of Thailand?

Yes and no. I was forced to make a quick decision that in no way made it plausible to stay in Thailand. I’m sure whoever “they” are would have loved for me to stay longer and pay more in fines.

I had just over two weeks left in the country before I had to leave. For me to jump over to another country like Laos and apply for a visa would take a few days in addition to costs of the application, transportation, and accommodation. I would have already been at a loss of 1,000 baht ($30 which is a lot for a backpacker) and I would be paying for a 90 day visa only to return to the country for a couple of weeks. It didn’t make sense to me.

I know that the gate I was attempting to cross through was a trading post and not actually a border crossing. From there, without being able to re-enter Thailand, you would be stuck. It is basically for good and Visa runs. But I had heard this was the story at most borders around Thailand, be it one for visa runs or not.

And the longer I stayed, the more money I’d be fined.

 

Why not move on to another Southeast Asian country?

According to the border guards, I had to fly out since my visa expires and the regulation restricted me from crossing by land. So, to spend $50-$100 on a last-minute flight to another country close by, then to spend $700-$800 last minute to fly to Slovakia, would be a waste of money on flights.

Instead, I decided it was just my time to leave Thailand and Southeast Asia (for now) and just take an earlier flight into Europe. My accommodation and daily living costs may be more expensive, but at this point I just wanted to get away from Thailand unfortunately. And though I had been planning to go to Slovakia, the plans changed again.

Knowing each day I stayed in Thailand would be another $15 tacked on to my fine, I took the next bus down to Bangkok to fly out the following day. I switched my plan to fly to Slovakia because I found a cheaper flight last-minute to Italy ($500) and I also had a voucher worth $250 with a flight booking company that I could use. Taking that cheaper flight to Italy, I could finally live out a childhood dream as well, and then take a budget flight for $50 to Slovakia for the wedding at a later date.

Expenses wise, it would obviously be more expensive in Italy than it would be to stay in Southeast Asia, but with the turn of events and how it played out with flights, it seemed as though the travel Gods were telling me it was finally time to visit the country I always yearned to see. Fernweh was pulling me — that longing for a place you have never been — and it was pulling me to Italy.

I had spent 6 months in Thailand setting up roots for myself to teach English after the wedding…roots that would have given me the proper visa to stay long-term, but the experience at the border and the way the new regulations were handled really pushed me away. And it is a shame. I really love Thailand. But seriously, from my local friends, Thai merchants and business owners I know, and backpackers around the Land of Smiles — someone fucked up with this.

 

Will I ever return?

I think there is a good possibility that I could return. After all, I never did explore much of the southern islands. But to live long-term and teach English there after this experience? Before flying out I had to pay 2,000 baht ($60) in fines to someone at the airport that had a quick chuckle after saying, “oooh, overstayed? Not good”.  I can’t say for sure, but it Thailand isn’t on my radar anymore to live in.

*UPDATE* I have heard whisperings that Thailand has returned the policy back to the way it was. Still hasn’t changed how I feel about the experience.

 

Comments

  1. James

    I can’t imagine how going through that Ryan. Great that it’s behind you now, but I implore you to try spending time in Malaysia next time you head back to SE Asia (3 months visa free on entry!), as it has the best food in the world, beaches as pristine as Thailand, and a culture all its own (mix of Chinese Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam)

    I will eventually return to Thailand in the future, but not without a double entry visa … I have used a border run to finish out my Chiang Mai apt lease though, so this visa run crackdown stung me psychically as well!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Ahh, Malaysia, well I do have some friends there as well and if a 3 month entry is free then that is rad! I’ll scope it out when I return east dude. But yeah, if I return to Thailand it’ll be with a double entry and probably just for that amount of time to explore the parts I didn’t.

  2. Mary@GreenGlobalTravel

    Oh man that sounds like a nightmare! Something out of a bad movie. Sorry you had to go through that but glad you worked things out. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. rebecca

    thats horrible. great post however! I must say its all that money grabbing with the government that makes me want to stay away from Thailand all together and boycott it. Those guards however, I would of been tempted to “loose my shit” as such. Rude! however keeping your cool and knowing that in the end, your in the better situation than them certainly helps.

    Everything happens for a reason right? Slovakia is a beautiful part of the world and maybe this pushed you to make a move at the right time 🙂

    Looking forward to reading a follow up

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Thank you Rebecca, glad you liked it. It does seem like there is a lot of shadiness happening in the government with policies like this or just random schemes for money. But I’m glad I didn’t lose my shit though, back in the US I would have freaked haha.

      But I guess it does…it got me out of the country before the coup and exploring Europe finally!

  4. Katie @ The World on my Necklace

    How frustrating, it does seem as if they were secretive about the changes. I was stuck in a road block for 10 days in a small village in Colombia and was also really annoyed that no one had told us it was going to happen as apparently it had been announced and was widely known among locals, but no one at the hostels we had been staying at told us anything. I think that they didn’t tell us so we would be forced to stay longer and spend money with them. Have an amazing time in Italy, one of my favourite countries and I’m sure you can do it fairly cheaply.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Wow, what a wild border experience for you as well Katie. Sheesh. Yeah, I would have taken care of the visas for sure if I had preemptively known that smack in the face was coming!

      And thank you, loved Italy =)

  5. Franca

    That must have been very frustrating especially considering it happened without any notice which it didn’t leave you with too much of a choice. Looking the bright side you get to enjoy Rome and Europe now! 🙂

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Chya Franca, I was super frustrated, and glad I gave myself time to cool down before writing about it. But I did love Italy and I cannot wait to return!!!

  6. Hayley (Lovepuffin)

    This makes me sad…. I met some of the best, most interesting travellers on visa runs. I’m glad that someone realised their error in changing the regulations but it’s so unfortunate for you that you had to experience such frustration. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be sure to thoroughly check the latest situation before heading back next year (with a new passport with no Thai stamps haha)

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      I quite enjoyed visa runs. A day to work in the van, meet people, and head to the trading posts to check out other Thai and Burmese goods I don’t see often. I don’t know if it was fully changed back, and given the coup, it’s even more confusing. But who knows what will happen. Definitely do some forward planning though!

  7. Daniel Roy

    Great post. I can’t imagine how pissed off I’d be if I was doing a border run that day… The 10-hour bus ride for nothing must be pretty galling. Fortunately, I did my last border run to Mae Sai two weeks prior.

    What I find sad about all this is to see the contempt expressed by Thai Immigration about long-term travelers to Thailand. I get the impression that they’re fine with the short-term tourists bringing in money and not giving much of damn about Thailand, but somehow, by staying longer in Thailand and not going on elephant rides, I’m “stealing someone else’s job” and I’m unwanted here.

    That’s such a contrast to Mexico, for instance, who seem perfectly happy to welcome long-term tourists, no questions asked. Like you point out, I might be making my money internationally, but I spend it all here, in family-owned businesses and markets.

    I’m gonna stay two more months in Thailand, but I don’t think in the current climate it’s a very good idea to make plans to stay longer. I wouldn’t dare rent a place for six months, say, for fear that the regulations change again and I’m somehow forced to leave without notice.

    And meanwhile, all those retirees who marry Thai wives and don’t care about Thailand beyond the low cost of living are welcomed with open arms. Feh.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Ahh Daniel, you got through just in time, like my friend did days prior to my experience.

      I agree with the short-term tourism and elephant rides and drugged tiger cuddling — I really wanted to stay a while to immerse myself, learn Thai, volunteer, etc. But a lot of the hoops you have to jump through just kept me putting it off for another month and another month. And when I did travel around the country I tried to also spend my money at local markets and local restaurant to make sure I was at least, in the slightest bit, putting my money to the people.

      I see where you are coming from though, after this and now the coup it just seems like things are wildly out of gear and a lot needs to change in the government and maybe in how tourism is handled as well. Or, how long term travelers in the country are handled. Most I told were excited when i said I wanted to teach English there, but it doesn’t seem like the government had a clear view on acceptance of it.

      And yeah, frustrating to see the gluttonous old guys and the young YOUNG Thai girls having it a bit easier.

  8. MikeE

    I’m leaving in 7 days, never to return.

    I’m over the racism, the nationalism, the xenophobia, the corruption and the general “fuck you falang, you don’t like, you go home” attitude, and the ridiculous notions of Thai exceptionalism, and that foreigners can’t understand Thainess.

    Goodbye and good riddance to the place thats been my home for the last 15 months. There are plenty of other places to spend my money in the world!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      I have felt some of those things expressed to me as well, but they were so often balanced out by the other positive Thai side; curiosity about my country, kindness, and eagerness to have me experience Thailand fully. But, I will say, that was usually after friendships were made or barriers broken after the initial foreigner awkwardness. I’d sai more in the south I was treated just as a money object, but in the north people were just chill and accepting usually. Wow, 15 months and you felt this way a lot?

  9. Roger lorton

    As an ‘oldie’ I can add this. Been living in Thailand for nearly a decade on a private pension that’s far better than the State one will be when I eventually get it. Went to the Consulate in Birmingham, England after a few weeks visiting family – to renew my O visa. Told that only State pensions were being accepted and that Thailand did not want people between 50 and 65 as they believed that most could not really afford to live and were parasites on Thailand’s back. To be fair the Consul was at her wits end, as she did not understand the changes either. Possibly what caused the border guards reaction ie a failure to comprehend what was going on and an inability to answer = a loss of face.

    Eventually got a multiple O on the back of my marriage certificate. No idea what’ll happen when I do a border run.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Wow Roger, sounds like a whacky situation on that end as well. It seems like overall the “official” visa requirements of the country are so obscured by lack of enforcement on official policy that most didn’t know what was the proper way. So entering the country and hearing from locals and travelers alike that it was no problem to just do border runs gave me the assumption that I could until I got the work visa. Yeah, again, I never wanted to make the guards feel dumb or react in arrogance and was completely kind when asking them for more information. Sometimes in situations like that, lack of knowledge and communication can get tempers high, and it fed into my own mood in the end. I was just trying to ask politely as well. Good luck on your end!

  10. Brendon @ nerdtravels

    That sounds like a really sucky situation, I’d have reacted the same way as well.

    Glad to hear that you managed to turn a negative travel experience into something positive by getting to visit Italy.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Totally sucky Brendan…and I didn’t want to react that way, but it was a result of all of the elements that day. The negative did get me out of Thailand in time before the coup which I couldn’t have seen coming!

  11. sarah @ Live Dream Discover

    Wow, what a crappy and stressful experience. Even though it of course was not personal I imagine it feels that way. I read about this here http://www.thaivisa.com/ last week and I wondered how it would affect all the ex-pats and back packers. Obviously a country has the right to make changes to their immigration laws but to do it in such a way is ridiculous. As you said they are hurting their own people as well as the foreigners…makes no sense. We were debating whether to go to Thailand or Eastern Europe for our next Live, Dream, Discover adventure and this may just be our answer.
    Good luck in whatever you choose to do. Either way I know you’ll love Italy!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Yeah that was the first time I heard about the news was on that visa site, but it had just been posted that day and most information was also speculation as well, so tons of people were at a loss as to what to do. And I agree, like I mentioned in the post, I am fully cooperative of visa requirements for countries and had no problem abiding — except that just wasn’t the norm and the sudden execution of the policy was what really made the issues. Thailand is still worth a visit, but obviously you will have to be extra diligent with an entry visa.

      And thank you!

  12. Hannah Wasielewski

    what a nightmare! even though the experience sucked, it makes for a great blog post! I have a friend who had negative feelings about returning to Thailand as well. I still haven’t been there yet, but from everything I’ve read I have mixed feeling!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Ha, I guess in hindsight it does make for one of those “mis-adventures” but I would have much rather stayed another couple weeks without issue in the country. It’s not necessarily negative feelings toward the country, just the execution of this policy that really had me frustrated and confused. Still a great country with great people, just wonky government policies.

  13. Pee Pee the Sailor

    I feel for you, but this new visa policy has been talked about on-line on different social media for a few weeks before it officially kicked in. And your school should have informed you of the new policy. Good luck.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      I didn’t meet a single Thai person or traveler that had heard about the new policy coming into effect. So maybe it was discussed, but surely it was not discussed widely. Most Thai locals I know and chatted with were completely taken off guard by it and freaking out about what it meant for them in slow season. I wish I had been informed, but neither my school or anyone I knew in the country was informed about it.

  14. Marc

    Never forget that we are just uninvited guests here and the tables can turn at any moment without any warning whatsoever

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      I disagree with that statement fully. If we were uninvited guests then they should close themselves off like North Korea. Tourism is a huge economic industry for many countries including Thailand, so though they can change course and completely shut down traveling in the country or become stricter — to say we are all unwanted is too broad. There were tons of local people I became really close to who constantly stated that they were sad to see my friend and I leave. And to say that we are unwanted would destroy the bottom line of many Thai businesses that thrive by the tourism dollar. We obviously aren’t Thai and never will be, and have no say in tourism rules in general, but I think that is far from being “uninvited guests”. Having a large tourism influence is essentially inviting people to come to the country to experience it.

  15. Ryan

    That was pretty crappy of them to spring the new regulation without warning on a Saturday when tons of people would naturally be doing border runs.
    And now they are not letting in the ones that even have tourist visas in some cases.

  16. Rachel

    I’ve lived in Thailand for 12 years and am leaving at the end of the month due to the new visa regulations. Just about everyone I know is doing the same. That’s because I don’t work in Thailand (I own my own websites that are operated from the US) so I can’t get a work permit. Doing LEGAL tourist visas is how I’ve managed to stay over the last 3 years. Now the Thai military junta is clamping down on them, there’s no point staying anymore. I’ll take my money and go to Spain instead 🙂

    It’s also typical Thai cluelessness. These new visa regulations are going to absolutely kill the Thai tourist industry as word gets around people are being denied access to the country even WITH valid tourist visas, while other people like you are being stopped from leaving.

    Meanwhile, I’ve put 12 years of my life into Thailand helping Thailand and the Thais improve their lives. I’m leaving with a very sour taste in my mouth and, like you, I doubt I’ll be back.

    I also would NOT recommend anyone consider teaching in Thailand right now. Not unless you have verifiable teaching experience, an undergraduate degree and a TEFL as the military junta is going to make it very difficult for anyone to get work permits.

    There are many countries just as nice as Thailand, and most of them pay teachers a lot more money than they do here with a lot less hoops to jump through. Take your money and go somewhere else, and I say this as someone who has loved Thailand for more than a decade.

    Not any longer as I can’t stand xenophobia, and that’s what this is all about.

  17. Rachel

    Oh and I highly highly highly recommend Malaysia. Free 90 day stay on arrival that’s easily extended another 90 days without leaving the country, as cheap as Thailand, and just as beautiful and the people are lovely.

    It’s my second favorite country behind Spain.

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