Unofficial expats in the Land of Smiles rush to get legitimate stays

Published:  23 Jul at 6 PM
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Expat life on the sun, sea and sand Thai island of Phuket just got complicated for expats without long-stay or tourist visas.

For a decade or more, immigration authorities have turned a blind eye to visa runs across Thailand’s border by expats unable to get annual visas. Many foreign travellers arrive in Phuket on visa-exempt entries and decide to stay longer, with back-to-back border runs their only option.

However, Thailand’s new military government threw a large rock into the established Phuket expat pond with its recent decision to enforce previously loosely-interpreted rules. The change may be bad news for free-living expats on the island, but it’s the best news for Thai companies offering trips to the Thai consulate in Penang, Malaysia, for the purpose of getting a legal tourist visa.

One owner of a bus company providing this newly-oversubscribed service told a local expat newsletter that she had to charter a full-size tour bus to deal with the huge increase in demand for the Penang trips. Although some Thai border immigration posts are already refusing in-out visa-exempt entries ahead of the stated 12 August crackdown, the company is still using its fleet of minibuses to transport those chancing their luck on an in-out border run.

According to the owner, certain nationalities are specifically mentioned on the Thai Immigration Bureau’s published watchlist. She declined to give the nationalities, but other expat publications have identified Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian and South Koreans as being targeted ,although no reasons have been given.

Thai immigration authorities are insisting that genuine tourists with either 30 or 15 day visa-exempt entries or tourist visas obtained outside the country will have no problems, and a recent announcement stated that a further 30 day extension would be granted. Local SMEs serving the tourism trade on the island, however, feel they may be facing uncertain futures, at least in the short term.
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