Attention, fellow fifth-world folks!

Most expats know the ‘pleasure’ of having to travel to one of Thailand’s borders periodically, just to spend a few minutes in the neighboring country, then walk back and cross the border back inside the Land of Smiles. This process, which is about as fun as a colonoscopy, is referred to as the “visa run”.

Most people consider one-month visa runs tedious and boring. However, there are a lucky few of us, who get to repeat it every two weeks!

I decided to describe one of these visa runs for the sake of the “two-week” folks who don’t yet know what’s in store for them. How to decide whether you are in this group? According to the guideleines of the Royal Thai Embassy Extraterrestial Grouping Organisation (RoTE-EGO), if your country’s emblem contains a red star/ hammer and sickle, or did in the recent past (say, in the last few hundred years :p ) or if your country’s currency is equal to/lower than the Thai Baht (or was, say in the last few hundred years) – congratulations! You are in! Welcome to the club.

The first thing you have to do is find the appropriate bordercrossings, as not all borders let Farang through. This should be relatively easy; just go to the nearest bus terminal at 6am and look for the small group of grim-faced Farangs waiting around like soaked birds. Then follow them. Try to pretend to be friendly and pry valuable information out of your travel companions; otherwise, you might find yourself in all sorts of unpleasant situations. For instance, you can stuff your Thai baht you-know-where, if you only find out at the Burmese border that the officials accept only US dollar bills.

When you get to the border, updated with all the latest info, get yourself ready for a tough ride – and no, I don’t mean the shaky songtaew.

The initially friendly officials (friendly because they didn’t look at your commie passport yet) will handle you a tiny slip of paper – really easy to fill out, just a few lines of non-intrusive questions. Don’t get lulled into safety! This little form is only for the privileged majority of Americans, Swiss, Canadian etc citizens. They flash the paper, get the stamp and are welcomed in LOS for another month. You, my friend, will get the special treatment. So, you can take that little piece of paper and stuff it you-know-where (if there is still some place left near the Thai money :p ).

The fun starts when the officer looks at your passport. “Oh, from … (insert your fifth-world country here). Here! Fill this out”. Upon saying this, he will give you a bunch of forms with all sorts of intrusive questions, such as what you will do in Thailand, your address there, a Thai reference’s name and address, the color of your underwear, etc. You will also need two passport-size pictures, (inside Thailand: 20 Bt, at the border: 200 Bt), two copies of the back of your passport, two copies of the latest stamp in your passport (inside Thailand, 50Satang each; at the border: 5Bt each – hey, at least you make use of all those stuffed-in Thai banknotes now!).

By the time you finish, the size of the stacks of paper piling up at your desk could be enough to give you a greencard in just about any other country – but this is a LOS experience.

You put the stack in front of the officer. He takes it to the back, along with your passport. You are almost done – you think. The few hours of detainment (I guess they are checking whether you are a commie insurgent, agitator or secret agent), will give you enough time to check the others passing by. You can muse about the strangeness of the world, as you watch fornicators, child-prostitue recruiters and paramilitaries walk by without a hitch, while you are sitting there like a Bangladeshi refugee waiting judgement to be passed upon you. Your sin: born in the wrong place. But you can condole yourself with the thought that it’s nothing personal. They treat your country this way, not you (if this works, lucky you!).

After a few hours, if this is your lucky day, you are granted permission – but first you have to flash the cash! Depending on your status, you have to show 10.000 or 20.000 Bt – cash only. This will be really difficult time for you if its not your usual style to carry hundreds of dollars cash into safe heavens like Burma. But if you are smart, (and read this blog!), you will have the dough, show it to them and you are good for another two weeks. Of course, being the courteous fellow that you are, you compensate the country with 1000Bt for the wonderful treatment.

Every good thing has to end once…
…and so has your visa runs. If you linger around one border for too long, the officers will be tired of your ugly commie face and will tell you outright that the only way for you at this border is OUT. In that case, you just gotta try your luck at the next border, until they will know you there too…

What happens when all the nearby borders are closed for you at the last day of your visa, and the next available border is more than 24 hours away? In that case, you will get to experience the thrill and excitement of being an illegal outlaw in Thailand. Can’t work, can’t study, can’t re-enter the country. If you are caught with an expired visa, incarceration, a hefty fine and repatriation are the expected treatments.
On the other hand, if you turn yourself in at the nearest immigration office, you only have to pay a small fortune to get a grace period of two weeks, which you can use to find another, yet unused bordercrossing and hope for the best.

Amazing Thailand, isn’t it.

(Side note: America, the country often labelled as one having a paranoid foreign policy, was quite welcoming to this ex-commie writer. Yours truly still holds a valid multiple-entry US visa that was given for ten years, no questions asked. Like I said, the world is strange. )

12 responses to “Attention, fellow fifth-world folks!

  1. Excuse me? You know nothing about my situation. Allow me to enlighten you, ‘doctor’.

    -You wrote the blog right? You wanted to tell us something of your situation right? I must know something, and as I read it: you just ain’t got the necessasary/ legimate paperwork to satisfy the Thai powers that be…that’s all. Never did I question your integrity; I just stated a ‘truth’. You call it a ‘sin’; those with the stamps call it a 15 day tourist visa…mai ben rai…

  2. Sorry to read about your troubles. A classic case of judging a book by its cover. Literally in your case as they judged you by your passport cover. I had actually heard before that your country was “blacklisted” but I didn’t believe it was true. I think someone needs to revise and update the manuals for these guys as they seem to be stuck in the past.

  3. That sure sounds a pretty tough experience Seeker. At least living in Chiang Mai the border is not too far away.

    I have my own troubles too sometimes, though not on the same scale. These stem from losing my passport in Thailand 4 years, and (to cut a long story short) as a result overstaying my visa by three weeks. Obviously, that is not a good idea! There’s a handscribbled note by an immigration officer to this effect in my passport and saying my old passport number was XXXXXX and it was lost etc… Sometimes the immigration officer doesn’t notice this note, sometimes they do. If they do, they tend to re-read it several times, look me up and down suspiciously, call over another officer, umm and err a bit, and then re-read it again. I’ve been made to wait inside the office a few times too. So far in the end it’s always been ok though thankfully!

    I often wonder what would happen if you were declined though, especially if you have all your belongings in Thailand and only take a small bag with you for the visa-run. I mean, what could you possibly do if at, say, Mae Sai-Tachilek the immigration officer (for whatever reason) refused to admit you ?

  4. Yes Richard, I too think that their procedure is quite a bit outdated. The Thai bureaucratic machinery is not known for keeping up with the changing times… I think the only institution that lags even more behind is the Christian church. It took them until now to acknowledge that Galileo was right! 😀

    Mike, sorry about your passport incident. I talked with a German woman who also lost her passport and was also given a difficult time for it.

    I also overstayed my visa for the reasons I wrote about in the blog. Four days. After paying at the CM immigration office, they didn’t make a big deal about it. But I’ve yet to see how other officials will react when they discover it next time.

    what could you possibly do if at, say, Mae Sai-Tachilek the immigration officer (for whatever reason) refused to admit you ?

    Then I’d be stuck in the no-man’s land (the place between the borders) as the Burmese allow only a single day of stay in the country, and they keep the passport. They only give a slip in return, which one must exchange for the passport on the way back. However, the situation would not be so hopeless in Laos, for instance. I would just have to stay in the country, go to Vien Tiane where the Thai consulate is located and apply for a proper visa, which takes about two days. I don’t think border officials could refuse a proper visaholder from entry – they pick more on the ‘visa on arrival’ types.

    So, just to be on the safe side, this is my next plan. It takes much more time, it costs much more, but at least it is a relatively safer option.

  5. “Your sin: born in the wrong place.”

    How about:

    “Your sin: not having legimate business/ paperwork in the right place (Thailand)…”

  6. Excuse me? You know nothing about my situation. Allow me to enlighten you, ‘doctor’.

    I’m not here to do any business. I am here to study at CMU in the next term, which is starting in June. At that time, I will have a proper student visa. Until then, I have to survive on tourist visas. This wouldn’t be a hassle at all, if

    a) I were born in a “nicer” country

    b) Thailand would follow suit and would do it the American way (10-year tourist visas, no border runs).

    Smartass.

  7. Hi Seeker,

    I forgot to tell you before that the school in North-East Thailand liked you so much that they keeping ringing us to ask if you would go back there. Maybe you would want to consider a summer school position to tide you over until you start your studies in Chiang Mai?

  8. “Allow me to enlighten you, ‘doctor’. “

    -You seem to have some trouble with the finer print…it’s D.R. Silvers.

  9. Well , I guess many of us are now really “blessed” for where Seeker/Siamjai was born.

  10. dont spend your life on computers

    Regarding your post on a fellow bloggers article:

    It was interesting to read about your story with the US immigration officers, but I’m still trying to find something in it that has to do anything with Thailand, this being thai-blogs.com

    Is it possible people can get over computer snobbery and little jabs at other people mixed with compliments? It is so two faced of you to tell someone their article isnt welcome on the site then make plesant comments on it.

    In fact, if his aritcle is completely innapropriate you wouldnt have any comment at all for him besides – wrong site buddy! Instead you show exactly how his article is linked with Thailand.

    Grow up people!

  11. If Siam Jai is an international researcher conducting medical research in Thailand why does he need to do this visa run like a common criminal ?

    Which begs the next question, do the Thai police/authorities know he is conducting “medical research” in LOS.

  12. Regarding your post on a fellow bloggers article […]

    Wrong place to comment, buddy. You see, we usually write comments under the actual blog which it pertains to, not under a randomly chosen blog of the writer. Write it at the proper place, and perhaps you’ll get a proper response too.

    If Siam Jai is an international researcher conducting medical research in Thailand why does he need to do this visa run

    Well, Leveni, there is a very simple explanation, one that most readers would’ve probably figured out after a few brief moments of thinking. At the time I wrote this blog, I wasn’t employed as a researcher yet. If you look at the date, this blog was written on February the second, the beginning of the year. FYI, this is August. 🙂