Thailand, with its amazing beaches, friendly atmosphere and fine weather is just the kind of country where people want to stay on… and on. There are thousands of foreign residents who originally came on holiday to Thailand and decided to put down their tent pegs here and call it home. Almost all of us who live here know people who stopped over on their way to somewhere else and somehow never left. Thailand swept them off their feet and they’ve stayed.
It’s not possible in most countries to simply arrive, declare yourself a resident and set up a life for yourself. OK, if you’re a European, you can settle in more or less any other European country, but there’s still the risk that you might end up as an illegal immigrant. In other countries, you’ll need a lot of money, as well as legal help and a guarantor.
But Thailand, along with a few other countries, takes a different stance. It’s an extremely welcoming place and it’s relatively easy to set up here. You may retire here, start a business or work for someone else. But something that every person entering the kingdom has to do, whether staying for a day or a lifetime, is to be in synch with current immigration policies. When you present your passport to the authorities at the point of entry, everything has to be OK’d by them before your stay is rubber-stamped.
So how does it work? – What are the options if you’d like to stay on without being a tourist? Here’s a brief guide, along with some dos and don’ts and a few caveats. It’s by no means complete, nor is it intended to replace legal advice. And last but not least, immigration procedures and requirements can change at any time.
Firstly, never give your passport to someone to take across the border on your behalf; it’s strictly illegal and could land you in a lot of trouble. You have to cross by yourself. And make sure that before you come to Thailand, your passport has enough space for all those stamps. A full passport or one that’s nearly so is impossible to stamp. Obvious, really. And make sure that it’s not been defaced in any way or that your child’s not been at it with crayons.
Another point is also equally obvious. If you want to stay any length of time, you’ll be going through a bureaucratic procedure and it’s not one that you want to get acquainted with at the last moment; leave yourself plenty of time and allow yourself to work everything out in a calm and unflustered manner. If feasible do so before you come to Thailand.
Accountants and lawyers are a good place to seek advice – you’ll see their signs everywhere on Samui. They’ll be able to inform you of the best ways to proceed. And they’re up to date on any changes that have been made to the laws. You can also find a lot of help on the web, particularly at mfa.go.th, the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s also a good idea to check out sites such as thaivisa.com. This is now a fully-fledged news service, but as the name suggests, it’s there for people wanting to get information on visas. It also has a helpful forum of foreign residents who respond to individual queries.
Something that is very important, especially in the eyes of immigration officials, is that a number of foreign ‘tourists’ aren’t tourists at all. They enter and leave the country multiple times claiming to be on holiday, when really, they’re working here without a work permit. It’s not known how many people are doing this, but it’s a twilight situation that the authorities are keen to clear up.
If you’re married to a Thai national, then it’s fairly straightforward to get a spouse visa. To qualify, you cannot have a criminal history, and you need to demonstrate that you are solvent and have enough to support yourself for your stay. Needless to say, you’ll need to furnish the authorities with needed paperwork such as the marriage certificate and to satisfy any queries they may have.
If you’re solvent and over 50 years, you may apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa Category “O-A” (Long Stay). However, under this aegis, it’s absolutely prohibited to do work of any kind. Ideal if you’re retired, it allows you to stay in the country for a year at a time. Then you’ll need to renew it again. You’ll need to submit the application in the country where you’re resident or where you’re a national. You’ll have to prove that you have no criminal record and are free of various diseases and are not a drug addict. You’ll also need to prove you have sufficient funds to live in Thailand. This will be strictly checked and needs to be completely unambiguous.
If you’d like to work in Thailand, you’ll need a non-immigrant B visa. This allows you to get a work permit and to work for a company. You can of course set up your own company, which is easier to do than in many countries. You’ll definitely need the help of a lawyer or accountant to do this. There are different requirements according to whether you wish to work for someone else or for yourself, and so on.
Last but not least, perhaps the easiest way is to obtain an educational visa; as in many countries, this allows you to stay as long as you are studying. Many schools now offer courses and combine these with helping you to get your visa. It’s prohibited to work under this aegis.
When you enter the country, it’s the immigration check-point that decides how long you’ll be able to stay. Often you’ll need to go briefly out of the country every 90 days and on returning, you’ll receive a further 90 days. This is often called a border bounce and may strike some as a strange bureaucratic procedure: you simply leave Thailand for a few minutes before coming back in. In some cases you may simply need to go to the immigration office on Samui. And by the way, the office has recently changed location. You’ll now find it in Maenam Soi 1, about 400 metres from the ring-road. It’s clearly sign-posted.
No matter where you wish to reside in the world, some kind of paperwork is required, but here in Thailand it’s really not too onerous although at first glance it may seem a bit difficult. Many people think that getting a visa is as simple as opening up a savings account in a local bank and as instantaneous. Patience is required but help is always at hand, both from residents who know the procedure and experts who are aware of even the tiniest of details. And once you have your visa, you can relax and begin to enjoy a brand-new life.