For reasons unknown to me (and perhaps unknown to most travelers), Thailand changed their visa-on-arrival scheme to the detriment of most travelers. While 5 years ago you could get a 30-day visa at any airport or border crossing, visas being issued are now only valid for 14-days. This makes it really difficult for most travelers to spend an adequate amount of time in the country, and forces many to get their visa extended.
The classic visa extension in South East Asia is called a “border run”: this basically means that you go to the closest land border, exit the country and reenter the country on the same day in order to obtain a new visa. While this is pretty straight forward, we decided that we didn’t feel like putting ourselves through the 12+ hour of transport to the border and back and having to bride officials again to get into Cambodia (on top of purchasing a visa there). Total cost of a do-it-yourself border run would have been around B1400 each.
Another option for the border runs is to do it part of a group, or through an agency that organizes everything for you. You still need to go through the same hoops, and you still waste a whole day, but someone waits in line for you while you hang out at the casino in the no-man’s-land in between Thailand and Cambodia. Total cost: B1900 each.
We chose option C: to apply for a visa extension in person at the immigration office in Bangkok. We chose this option for a few reasons: 1) it was much closer, 2) it would save a lot of time, and time is money, 3) the cost was about the same. Total cost anticipated: B2000 each including subway rides.
Option C turned out to be way more complicated than anticipated and left us feeling “bent over” (to use Travis’ well-put summary of the whole experience). Why? Read on.
Day 1. January 31, 2011.
First, we looked online and in our trusty guidebook for the location of the immigration office. Everything pointed to a building really close to the Sukhothai, where we were staying, so we were excited to learn that we could walk to the office. 8 blocks later, we find the office packed to the gills with people waiting for the immigration office to open after the mandatory lunch break.
Travis goes on a search to check that we are waiting in the right spot, and comes back with a sour look. A man wearing what looked to be an immigration officer’s uniform informed him that we were in the wrong place – by 35 KM. Not willing to trust him just yet (there are many such scams in Bangkok), we decide to wait until our number is called at the window. It turns out that he was correct, and that the office we are at now only handles labour visas for Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. We are kindly handed a sheet with directions to the “new” office. I use quotation marks here because the change of office occurred in September 2009 – one would think that this would have made it onto the internet, or on the government’s website!
Our plans foiled, we return to the hotel. We decide against going to the new office right away for two reasons: 1) it is already late in the day and 2) our visa expires on the 2nd of February, and we are afraid that the extension would take effect today rather than the 3rd. Instead we ask the concierge to confirm that the immigration office will be opened on the 3rd, as it falls on Chinese New Year. The kind lady (who turns out lived in Vancouver two blocks from our house), gets yelled at by the person on the phone, stating that they are Thai, not Chinese, and of course they’re open. Poor girl!
Day 2. February 3, 2011.
We wake up early to head to the Bangkok Government Center. After a subway ride and a crazy, life-flashing-before-your-eyes cab ride, we arrive at the office. The building is enormous, so much so that it is intimidating. We find our way to the immigration office, fill out the paperwork and get a number. The nice immigration officer tells us to go to Cambodia if we want anything more than a 7-day visa. Too late to back out now, and hoping that we might change someone’s mind (after all, all of our research indicated that you could get a 10-day extension), we press on.
Eventually our numbers are called. Travis goes first, and comes back looking defeated. The officer was right, you could only get 7-days. To top it off, we are being charged B500 for overstaying our visa by not even 1 full day. As I step into the office for my examination, I notice sings on the wall stating that only 7-day visa extensions are being issued. Explaining that our passports were being held by the Indian embassy does nothing to sway the officer’s mind. She is stern, straight-to-the-point. No arguing with her, even with a smile. I fork over my money, my application, my photocopies, my passport and go back to the waiting room.
Finally, 10 minutes before noon (and everyone goes to lunch at noon), I get my passport back. After signing 3 forms, I also get a receipt and a copy of the report filed to the Royal Thai Police for overstaying my visa. At least my application wasn’t rejected, or was it? My passport now bears a stamp stating:
Application for extension of stay is not approved. Applicant must leave the Kingdom no later than 10 FEB 2011.
Well, that’s confusing. But at least I got 7 days. Total cost of option C: B2580.
In the end, we paid more for fewer days. We felt disappointed with the whole deal, and didn’t really save any time in the end. Looking back, I wish that we would have done the classic, do-it-yourself border run instead. It’s by far the cheapest, and you get 14 days out of the deal. And for those who might want to try something different and have a few extra days, you can do a border run into Myanmar. You can only go as far as the market, and you can’t stay the night, but at least you can say you’ve been there and you’ll have the passport stamp to prove it!
If you still want to get an extension at the immigration office in Bangkok, here is what you will need:
– Your passport
– 1 photocopy of your photo page & of the visa stamp in your passport & of your departure card
– 1 photo
– A good book
The (new) office is located at:
Chaengwattana Road, Soi 7
The easiest way to reach it is to take the MRT or the BST to Mochit / Chatuchak station and take a taxi from there.