Like any ‘farang’ staying in Thailand long-term, the time will eventually come when you have to go to Thai Immigration and extend your visa. I recently had to go to get an extension for my 60 day visa and it was as joyful as the title of this blog suggests (are you picking up on the sarcasm yet?)
There are four immigration offices in Bangkok but only one of them is for people who don’t have a work visa, which is the category I fall into. Despite reading a couple of websites on the subject I didn’t know this rather important fact and my first visit to a Thai immigration office ended abruptly when I was told that I was in the wrong building. It turned out that the building I had to go to was far away…in fact it was very far away. The office I needed to go to is technically in Bangkok…but…
The immigration office I needed was called ‘Government Complex’ (yeah, sounds like a laugh a minute place, doesn’t it?!) which is situated in an area called Lak Si which for those of you that haven’t heard of it, it’s near…erm…
After looking up where the ‘Complex’ was I realised that no trains went anywhere near it so I would have to get the BTS to the end of the line, a place called Mo Chit (for those of you that like place names that sound funny say ‘Mo Chit’ out loud and you’ll find it sounds rather like you have a lot of ‘number 2’s’). Once you get off the train at Mo Chit (yes, it really does sound like you’re saying ‘shit’) you then have to get a taxi for roughly 25 minutes, traffic depending, to the complex.
So, off I set, with my filled out immigration form, my passport, a new passport photo, and 1,900 baht. Oh, and I had a spring in my step and feeling of sheer excitement and exhilaration of the day ahead (surely the sarcasm is coming through to you now?!)
The actual journey to the complex was relatively straight forward and five minutes after arriving at Mo Chit (snigger) I was in a taxi and on my way. I’d read online that some of the drivers like to con people out of a bit of extra money when going to the immigration complex but my driver was all smiles with the friendly manner I’ve been lucky enough to experience here and the drive went as smoothly as a porcelain floor smothered in lip balm – yes, THAT smooth!
As we turned the corner for the complex my eyes were met with a huge new building which, despite having never been to ‘THE COMPLEX’ before, I knew was the place we were headed.
As you can see, it’s rather big and doesn’t really look like what I expected. To me it looks like mixture of an ancient Mayan temple and a shopping centre on the outskirts of Manchester. You can also, clearly see that this isn’t a photograph taken by me, this one is way too professional…
After a quick bag check at the entrance I found my way to the queue for the immigration office. I say ‘queue’ (which, according to spellcheck I got right first time – shocking!), but it was more like a huge group of people spread out in front of a door…there wasn’t going to be any politeness in this queue, (I just thought I’d write ‘queue’ again as I seem to be on a roll with my spelling!)
Once the doors opened the crush began, with roughly 80 people all trying to fit through a tiny door all at the same time…I was already flustered and starting to sweat (a perfectly British form of behaviour in such situations). Once inside I was directed to a desk where a stern looking female immigration officer in a very official uniform gave my passport the once over which is when things started to get really interesting. After looking back and forth at my passport and myself a few times, I could tell by the look on her face that not all was as it should be, “It’s too late”, she said, almost apologetically. “What?” I replied, feeling confused but with a tiny little pang of pure dread. “Your passport…it’s too late”, she replied as she pointed to the stamp on my passport that immigration had given me when I’d entered the country 58 days previously.
I took my passport and showed the immigration officer the stamp I had got in London allowing me to stay for 60 days. Her response was to say something in Thai, give me a ticket with a number on it and point me in the direction of another queue and another desk.
That’s when it started…I began to have an out-of-body experience, but not in a nice spiritual or drug induced way but rather in a cold-sweat-pouring-down-my-face-as-different-awful-scenarios-bounced-around-my-head-way. It’s the same kind of feeling you get when you realise that you’re going to finish your popcorn before the films even started or when you sometimes break wind and a little bit of poo comes out…we’ve all been there…
The number on my ticket was 146 and as I sat down the number on the screen said 54…this was going to be a long, worrying wait.
The numbers ticked slowly by and each one that came and went could be taking me closer to my doom. I wasn’t sure of the penalties of over staying your visa but I’d heard words such as ‘fines’, ‘deportation’ ‘banned’ and even the ever comforting word, ‘jail’.
The scenarios continued to bang back and forth in my brain which kind of felt like it was swelling in my skull and trying to escape through my ears. ‘What will I do?’ I wondered. I would apologise profusely, maybe I should plead ignorance, play dumb…like, really dumb. Maybe I should bribe them…I’m sure that will end well. Bribing immigration officers in Thailand probably ends well for anyone that tries it.
Then my number flashed up on the screen and I stepped inside the office to be met by another female immigration officer but this one wasn’t stern looking, she was in fact the complete opposite. We were both all smiles as I walked towards her (my technique was to be super nice and friendly but not so nice that she thought I was mental), and as I sat down I said ‘Sawasdi’ with as warm a smile as I could muster.
The immigration officer began flicking through my passport and, just like the first officer, stopped abruptly at my stamp and almost did a physical double take.
“Your visa has expired”, she said without even looking at me.
I heard myself saying ‘no’ about six times in quick succession and whilst bowing in my seat I politely grabbed my passport and showed her my 60 day visa, which I don’t know if I mentioned but was on a different page to my entry stamp (helpful!). The immigration officer began to flick back and forth between the two pages a few times before slowly letting out a long ‘Awwwwwwwwww’ which I translated as the English way of saying ‘Ohhhh, shit, I see now. What an almighty cock-up on our behalf, you must have been so worried, we are very sorry’.
Was I in the clear? Is this an admission that I am not an illegal immigrant trying to smash the system?
Yes. Yes it was.
“They put the wrong date on the stamp when you entered”, she said, “I can fix this for you”.
I felt the relief flooding through me like luke warm spoon through melted margarine (look, I never said I was good at analogies).
(The photos on this blog have been exceptional haven’t they? I will do better in the next blog, I promise).
The immigration officer disappeared for a few minutes and on her return basically scribbled out the entry stamp with a pen and wrote the new date next to it…I kind of hope that’s ok when I try to leave the country later this month. I fear the scribble may lead to one more sweaty conversation before I leave the country.
I then gave her 2,000 baht for the 1,900 fee and she gave me the 100 baht change after having stapled it to my numbered queuing ticket…
I don’t know why she did that but I chuckled to myself as I was so happy and relived to have survived my first immigration visit.
As I round this post up though, my mind begins to wander (and wonder) what will come next. I plan on staying here for a very long time but as with most countries, it’s getting harder and harder for people to live where the flipping heck they want…that sounds like a blog for another and possibly more serious time.
Thanks for reading.