Always Check Immigration Stamps in your Passport

Suvarnabhumi Airport, outside of Bangkok, has received a lot of criticism over the years. Of late, the complaint has been about the long queues at Immigration. Most of the complaints have been from outbound passengers, but inbound have also complained about grumpy and slow staff. They say that immigration officials seem to take forever. Although that may be true, you need to see it from their point of view. They are often understaffed and working long hours. They are sometimes faced with people trying to trick them with forged visas or just lazy people who haven’t filled out their arrival card.

Whenever something goes wrong, it is the officials that get blamed. But, that is not always fair. This morning, one of the teachers from my school had to go to the immigration office in Samut Prakan to have his annual visa renewed. His visa was due to expire on 31 May. Imagine his shock when immigration informed him that his visa had already expired on 28 April! Apparently there had been a mistake at the airport immigration. He had flown out of the country in March for a short trip abroad. He had paid for the re-entry visa in advance so everything was in order. But, the immigration official at the airport, on his return, didn’t notice this and just presumed that he was just another tourist arriving without a visa. So, he was given a 30 day stamp for visiting the country.

You would think that this would be a minor problem. After all, his passport had the proper re-entry visa that clearly says that he is allowed to stay in Thailand until 31 May. But, Samut Prakan Immigration said that they weren’t allowed to change the visa and that it must be done at the airport. I guess he should be lucky that they just didn’t arrest him for “overstaying” his visa. Anyway, this morning I took him to Immigration at Suvarnabhumhi (luckily we are only 35 minutes away) where they were more than happy to alter the visa with a Biro pen! No other record was made. We could have done ourselves that but then of course you can end up in prison for a minimum of six months for altering your visa stamps.

As far as queues go these days, it all seems to be a lot better. During my last five visits to the airport I have never seen long queues like they have had in the past. This is the picture that I took at the airport this morning. Anyway, the morale of this story is that you should always check your passport when they give it back to you. Don’t just presume that the officials have done what you expected. It is not unheard of for immigration officials to stamp the wrong date, even the wrong year at times. It is true that it would have been better if he had passed his passport to the immigration official open at the page of his re-entry permit. However, the official should have gone through his passport carefully checking for any irregularities.

What about you, have you had any good or bad experiences at airport immigration lately?

6 responses to “Always Check Immigration Stamps in your Passport

  1. I always write RE-ENTRY on the immigration card next to the visa number, and yes I open my passport at the re-entry stamp when handing it over.
    It is difficult because it is often 3 stamps on 3 completely different pages that they need to look at: the visa itself, the last extension, and the re-entry permit. All this in a passport full if 4-5-6 extensions and 4-5-6 used re-entry permits. Confusing doesn’t even begin to describe it, but of course, they should be able to juggle this…. I think it would help if the arrival card had more specific boxes to allow for non-B visa holders with re-entry permits.
    I have had issues when staying in a hotel in Thailand or when taking a flight: if they check your passport, some of them check your stapled departure card for “admitted until” stamps. So, in March holidays I always end up with a departure card stating a date the July in the year before because for the extension, the immigration official doesn’t stamp the departure card. Once a stupid hotel check-in desk clerk wanted to confiscate my passport and was already on the phone to the police when I managed to yell to her in Thai that I work here and have an extension if she cared to take a damn closer look – she didn’t want to listen to my calm English explanation at all hence the yelling. I use my driving licence whenever I can and prefer to leave my passport at home or in my wallet.

  2. When I came to Thailand in October 2010, I entered on my Thai passport. It was over a year expired and they stamped it anyway! I got my new passport a couple weeks later without anyone even batting an eye at the old one or wondering how I got in. How’s that for helpful 🙂

  3. Betti, with hotel check-ins I do the same. I use my Thai drivers license which doubles as a photo ID. You can also use it on domestic airlines instead of a passport.

  4. Great advice Richard. My husnband re-entered Thailand recently with his Business Visa and received a 30 day stamp, instead of the expected 3 month period. Nothing like spending half a day at immigration to correct things, is there!

  5. I always give the official hand my passport opened to the relevant page (visa, whatever) and they invariably grab it and let the passport close, and then do their own search through the whole passport.

  6. Courtney Robinson

    Yes, i,ve had a very bad experience. It was in November 2010. All the ENTRY queues were Long and very very slow. I,d NEVER seen them that slow on 5 previous visits. I had 2 impatient friends waiting for me and calling every 10 – 15 minutes to find out where I was. But My Biggest Nightmare were the Russians (Mafia?) who were in front of me, behind me, and to the side of me. The one in front of me kept demanding that I go to the back of the Queue .. because , he said they were all travelling together. My responses to him – that I also was in the Queue – seemed to make him more aggressive. I looked around for support, but everyone seemed to be studiously looking away. Boy, was I Scared!!! but I refused to retreat and, when he told me again to get behind. I said OK, I,ll call the Thai Police. I started waving my hand in the Thai way and shouting ” Dtam Ruaat, Dtam Ruaat ” Then the Russian to my left touched me on the forearm saying ” Its Ok. No problem ” Luckily for me, they were not waiting for me outside !! I.m still scared today about what happened at Suvarnabhum Airport 7 months ago.