Expats in Thailand worried about long term stay prospects under junta

Published:  22 Sep at 6 PM
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For decades, Thailand has been a favourite expat destination for Westerners due to its relaxed immigration rules, great weather and exotic culture, but the dream may be about to end.

Traditionally, immigration laws were interpreted loosely, allowing long-term stays on short-term tourist visas for those not married to Thais or ineligible for retirement visas. Since the military took over the running of the country last May, long-forgotten rules have been brought out, dusted down and applied with rigorous intent by immigration police.

The crackdown has already forced a number of the estimated 50,000 plus expats in the kingdom to leave, and others have been denied entry or re-entry. The law regarding education visas, formerly considered a way to stay for at least a year, is being reviewed, with many Thai language schools likely to close as a result.

Another crackdown has enforced a laxly interpreted law stating that foreigners must carry their passport with them at all times. Tourists as well as expat residents, concerned that their passports may be at risk during visits to the beaches and nightclubs, are hoping that carrying photographic copies of their passports’ main pages will be enough.

The country is still under martial law although, for resident foreigners as well as tourists, the effects are minimal and the chaos caused in Bangkok by last year’s six months of protests is now over. All public gatherings of over five persons are now prohibited, and media censorship is the norm in an attempt to prevent more dissent.

Expats on retirement visas, married to Thais or working legally in Thailand, haven’t seen much in the way of lifestyle changes, but there’s unease as to what might be enforced by the military in the near future. Financial requirements for a marriage or retirement visa are comparatively high, and an increase could cause serious problems for those on frozen UK state pensions and with little in the way of capital.
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