One Day of Hell (At Thai Immigration)
Originally posted on November 11, 2014
I have a retirement visa for Thailand. This requires 800,000 baht deposited into a bank account for at least three months before applying for the visa or extension. Then once a year you take some forms, a picture, and a letter from your bank proving the amount in your account down to the immigration office. Then the fun begins.
Here is how it goes at Chiang Mai Immigration.
- You can book a time online to be interviewed by immigration but it must be not before 100 days in advance. The visa companies have booked most of the spots by the time you get online so I have not yet been able to book a time. That means I have to show up at immigration and get in (a real) line
- Woke up at 4:30 am on immigration day (can be up to 45 days in advance of the visa expiring) and got all the forms, pictures, letters, and passports ready. Got to the immigration office just before 5:30 am. By that time there were a dozen or so people already in line. They had found some plastic chairs and each person was sitting in a zig zagging line. The office opens at 8:30 am.
- The line continued to grow and by 8:00 am there were 40 or 50 people in line. The plastic chairs had run out long ago. This is when they hand out a card with a number on it. At first I thought this was a card telling what place in the queue you were. But noooo! We were led into the smallish waiting room and told to wait.
- And wait.
- At 8:30 they began calling out numbers. When mine was called I went up to the counter. There they gave you another number. This was the queue number. I was number 10. Not bad I thought. Little did I know.
- At around 9:00 am they began calling out our numbers. There are a number of different sets of numbers because people are there for different kinds of visas. In our line one number was called about every 15 – 20 minutes. That means that in about two and a half hours I would be done. Little did I know.
- At about 10:45 am my number got called. You go up to an immigration officer. The one I had had seen me many times. She was quite friendly and efficient. I have much respect and sympathy for the immigration officers. I titled this post “One Day in hell”. They are here six days a week, all year. And every day for them is hell.
- In about 20 minutes, after going out and making copies of pages in my passport which I had missed (happens every time), we were done. At 11:00 am I paid my 1,900 baht and was told to go back to the waiting room and wait.
- And wait.
- At noon an immigration officer stood at the counter and told us all “We are closing for lunch. Come back after 1:00 pm.” No explanation. No “Sorry to inconvenience you.” Just come back after lunch.
- Since I hadn’t eaten for about 18 hours at this point my brain went postal and for one of the very few times in Thailand I got angry and demanded an explanation – in a rather loud and annoyed voice (which never works very well in Thailand). We were told that the colonel was at a meeting and wasn’t here to sign the receipts for the visa fees. And he was the only one who could sign. I turned to the 50 or so of us still waiting (including one guy I had talked to earlier who had been on line since 4:00 am) and explained the situation. So we went to lunch.
- At 1:30 I returned and went up to the woman I had been abrupt to and apologized telling her I had been in a hypoglycemic fit at the time and I was sorry for getting angry. Really, it wasn’t her fault.
- At 2:00 pm I was given back my passport and my “Day of Hell” was over – at least until next year. All together, from waking at 4:30 am to getting my visa at 2:00 pm it really wasn’t one complete day of hell, simply nine and a half hours. Piece of cake.
- As I left there were at least another hundred visa applicants still waiting in the waiting room. I hope by now they have their visas.
Lately I have been using a service that helps with the visa process. For a fee (which seems to be rising) they will take all your documents and, as I sit and have a coffee and read an eBook, they walk the visa process through for you and an hour or so later, voila, your visa is at hand. Since the hours that I used to spend doing the visa walk are hours that I will never get back, and since these hours are becoming limited the older I get, I feel that the processing fee is well worth the money.