Thursday, March 7, 2013

Overstaying Your 30 Day Thai Visa Waiver

To enter Thailand (legally, of course), you can get in without getting an actual visa if you have the right passport (US and Israel work along with 46 other countries). You'd be covered under Thailand's Visa Waiver Program (i.e., you don't need a visa) and can stay in the country for up to 30 days.

We arrived on February 5, 2013.  By my math, 30 days later would be March 7, 2013 (the date of our departure flight out of Thailand).  Except... they counted February 5 as Day 1. So therefore, Day 30 was March 6.

My father asked the immigration officer as soon as he stamped the March 6 deadline into his passport, but he said it was fine and nodded his head in agreement, even shooing us along. Either he thought we'd be fine or the language barrier came into play and he thought my father was asking about getting rub & tugs in Bangkok's red light district.

So for the past month, we've been ignoring this issue and enjoying the Thai hospitality and sunshine all over their country. But now as it was time to leave Thailand, my father started to wonder exactly what would happen at the airport immigration checkpoint since he would have an overstay by 1 day. So he did what any parent does when his kid is sick. No, not ask an official expert. He looked it up online.

By the letter of the law, every day you stay beyond your visa waiver deadline incurs a fee of 500 THB ($17 USD) per person per day. It also potentially puts you on the black list for future entries. But everyone online said they really only cared about the big (20-30+ day violators) and that overstaying by only 1 day is overlooked (no penalty fee). Despite all the informal assurances by "experts" on FlyerTalk and message boards, we weren't so lucky.

Krabi Airport - March 7th
We got to airport extra early (at 1PM) for our 4:50PM flight to Bangkok because the Sheraton Krabi didn't give us the requested late checkout. But that was OK, because there was a Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge for business class / Star Alliance Gold members. So after checking our bags, we went over to the lounge which was on the outside of Security/Immigration.

Side note: We could go through Immigration at the Krabi Airport on a domestic flight to Bangkok because we were connecting to an international departure (so we didn't have to exit the airport in Bangkok and go through security/Immigration again over there). This point is important because now we had to go through Departure Immigration in Krabi.

So around 4PM, we decided to head to security which didn't have any line. Getting through the metal detector and x-ray machine were a breeze since they allowed me to stay seated in my stroller instead of having to put my wheels through the x-ray. But then around the corner, there were 2 long lines waiting for Immigration checks.

It was getting close to boarding time (4:25PM) and we were still about 6 people back. A Thai Airways employee identified our purple boarding passes and asked all Thai Airways passengers on the 4:50PM flight to come to the front of the line and cut in front of everyone. Sure, why not?

Bad Online Advice #1.  When my mother handed the Immigration agent her passport, he flipped through it and said "Overstay!" like he had caught an international drug dealer. We tried to say it was only 1 day, but he didn't care. Then he started punching away at his computer and walked back to a small table with paper documents on it. He repeated this about 4 or 5 times as the rest of the line started to roll their eyes and shake their heads in disgust at us/him.

Well, it was taking a quite a while. My father knew this Immigration agent was going to be a stickler for the rules, and he was prepared to pay the 1 day penalty for my mother and him (young children don't have to pay). But my father didn't have any Thai Bhat left. (He read online about a trick to use all your leftover foreign currency to pay down your hotel bill and then the credit card to pay the remaining balance, Bad Online Advice #2).

And the third and final fatal online advice he got: they said that as of December 2012, you could use a credit card to pay the overstay penalty fee. But that was probably for Bangkok Airport. In Krabi, cash was king. The Thai Airways flight attendent almost threw a fit when my father said he only had credit cards. With no ATM in sight, my mother was getting nervous that we'd miss our flight.

But luckily, my father he had some US dollars in his wallet and threw out two crisp Jefferson's ($40USD = 1,200 THB). The Immigration officer said "OK" and put the money into his pocket (shady!).

He then made my parents sign some forms written in Thai (probably relinquishing all rights to their only child), and we were finally on their way to Bangkok.


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