Leaving a country before your visa reaches its expiration date should be a no-brainer. With one technical error on your part, you’ll be neck deep in fines, with a potential long-term ban from re-entering the country. If you’re caught by the police, things will be much worse than that. It’s no worries if you overstay a single day, but you don’t want to do what I’ve done and overstay for half a month or more. This is particularly interesting for visitors to Thailand, concerning the new immigration laws taking effect since last March. This article is a narrative of my experience at immigration upon discovering that I’ve overstayed my visa in Thailand, as well as some helpful information on what you can do if you find that you’ve made the same mistake.
To avoid repackaging what someone else has already presented in detail, here is an up-to-date overview of the Immigration Office in Chiang Mai.
If you’re leaving around 7:00 AM from Kad Suan Kaew, you can get a songthaew to the Promenada mall for 130 to 150 baht per passenger, because there’s not much traffic on the road at this hour. If you go later, you’ll pay more than 200 baht per person from Kad Suan Kaew. Immigration is on the ground floor in the middle of the Promenada mall. There’s a food court with a small canteen-style station and a coffee shop that both open by 7:30 AM. The photocopy shop opens at 8:30 AM, and Immigration opens its doors by 8:00 AM. At that time you can access any forms you need, if you haven’t printed them out and completed it at home. I highly recommend that you do the paperwork and produce photocopies beforehand so that you don’t have to step in and out of line and risk losing your place.
When you arrive, don’t fret at the amount of people that have showed up earlier than you. Unless you’re camping out, you will not be the first person there. Many of the people are there to notify Immigration that they have been in the country for 90 days and these folks have a row of their own. Check the signs at the front of each row to find your line (Tourist visa extensions).
So picture this: Friday, April 8th, around 8:00 in the morning. I was early, on time, had everything that I needed. Hardly anyone was in my line, it would be smooth sailing. I had my passport, I got all the copies that were required. I had a photo with the right dimensions and a backup, just in case. My head was clear, I even had time for a small breakfast. I even wrote my address in Thai. Completely prepared, I made my way to the first counter.
“Passport copies? Visa copies?”
I handed them over.
“Yes, yes. Passport?”
I gave that up as well, presenting the visa page as well as the departure card.
He began mumbling. “Mmm… overstay.”
He began to flip back and forth between the pages in my passport, then pointed to a purple stamp I’d never noticed. I noted that the stamp was not on the same page as my current visa. It was two pages away, on the page opposite another, expired Thai visa.
I told him he was looking at the wrong visa.
“No, no. Overstay.” He wrote something on my passport photocopy. It was unintelligible and looked sinister. He began counting loudly in Thai while scratching a tally. I imagined those same tallies on the back of a prison cell and began to feel nervous.
I pressed on, “But it says right here on the visa…”
He pointed again to the purple stamp. “March twenty-two.”
“Oh, no. This is a mistake. Here it says ‘April twentieth’.”
“Please step into the office and take a seat. Look at our TV, it will tell you more.”
“The TV will tell me more.”
“Yes, please go sit down and wait.”
I sat down, spotted the TV, and read what it had to say. It displayed a powerpoint on constant replay. I picked out one dreadful sentence.
…tourist visas are issued for up to 60 days.
That entire time, I’d mistaken the latest date that I can enter with the expiration date. The latest that I could enter the Kingdom with the visa was April 20th, but because I entered the Kingdom on January 23rd, the visa expired March 22nd. That was 17 days ago. For three months I never noticed this purple stamp on the next page which stated the fact. It sounds foolish, and it was.
I walked up to the counter, which you’re generally not supposed to do unless you’re called upon. They hate it, so don’t do it if you have a petty question.
The same man who greeted me at the reception counter was also the man at the front counter of immigration. He appeared to be the supervisor. Because he wears so many hats, I’ve come to think of him as the Immigration man. He fiddled with the TV, then showed me the tally marks on my passport photocopy again. “You have overstayed. See?”
I blinked absently for a moment, until I could compose myself.
“Okay I’ve overstayed three weeks. What do I do?”
I’d brought attention to myself. People were smiling.
“Please sit over there.” He pointed to an empty desk with two chairs in front of it.
I sat at the desk. Nobody was on the other side for a good ten minutes. I waited, feeling mortified but already coming to terms with what this meant. I’d be fined, then I’d probably not be let back into the Kingdom. I’ll have to give away a lot of stuff, maybe I can get a partial refund of my rent. In the background, names were being called out in Thai and English. I heard the thump-thump of documents being stamped. This sound seemed to amplify with time, like palpitations. “I’ll have to cancel those plans.” thump-thump. “I’ll have to say goodbye to that person.” Thump-thump.
It was the Immigration man who sat behind the desk to tell me what my options were.
“Immigration takes this very seriously now. 500 baht per day if you overstay. But don’t worry, this happens all the time. You’re the first today of the Vientiane group. I have two more people with overstays who are on their way here now.” He smiled and laughed halfheartedly. I wanted to laugh, but didn’t. Immigration man is calm and selective about what questions he answers and how he answers them. That’s crucial for a job like his, and I recognised that he was being tactful with me.
“I had no idea until now that I was overstaying.”
“I understand. What I can do is issue an extension on your visa from the expiry date, and then you’ll have to pay the 1900 baht fee, as well as an 8500 baht fine for the overstay, and you will be allowed as many days as are left from March 22nd.”
I asked if there was any way around the fine, and he said there was not. “Immigration takes this very seriously now.” I could tell that any tricks to getting out of this were off the table. Then he offered me an alternative, “You can either finish this here and pay the fine, or do it outside and answer to the police.”
I knew what he was implying. With immigration, I’d at least be treated according to the law and the case would be over.
I agreed to pay the fine. What else could I do? I had just enough, too. Luckily, there are multiple ATMs in Promenada as well as banks that will withdraw money from a foreign bank account without a fee. I lost almost $250 today, all because I had not been more conscious of small but enormously important details, and much too late.
Because I had to sit for another hour in the office, I decided to meditate, and felt much better because of it. People from the 90-day line were causing a scene. One of them was a balding Chinese man, roughly in his fifties. He was stomping around and flinging his hands in people’s faces theatrically. Another actor was an aged man with a North American accent. “Who’s your supervisor?”
“There is no supervisor.”
“Well, that’s the problem!”
I was concentrating on a quote I’d read recently in I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj Resumo, which translates roughly as “Part of the future is real…the part that is unpredictable.” Finally I am called up to the counter to sign a police report.
“You see,” the Immigration man says in a low tone, while quickly flipping through an enormous binder full of police reports, a foreign face stapled to each one. There were hundreds, and I imagined there were thousands more archived elsewhere. “Many people have this same problem.”
I treaded lightly, “I could say more about this, but I will not.”
“I know,” he said. “Please sit down now, we will call you to collect your passport.”
A Thai man appeared next to me with two Burmese passports. I overheard his conversation with the Immigration man. “Ah, Myanmar. Overstay seventeen days.”
Within twenty minutes, my documents and passport were returned. Next to my visa extension was a stamped summary of the overstay. It looked shameful. I asked the Immigration man if this would effect my ability to be issued a new visa to enter the Kingdom once I leave.
“I really don’t know. Once you’re out of my office, I don’t know what will happen to you.”
So that’s how it unfolded. If I hadn’t gone to immigration today, I would have been in a very bad pinch, because next week is a holiday and today is Friday. My only option would have been to leave Thailand before the mistaken date of April 20. I would have discovered that I was overstaying at the border, where police passport checks would be more common.
I sorted things out properly and should be able to re-enter the Kingdom. This was an important lesson in being discriminatory of things that don’t matter and of things that do. It is crucial to keep your head in a situation like this and keep track of your own records.
After the damage was done, I began to investigate. An interview with a visa specialist at a reputable language school here in Chiang Mai cleared most everything up. Here’s what she had to say.
If you pay the fine and settle with immigration, it shouldn’t affect your ability to acquire a new visa. This applies to anyone who overstays for less than 90 days. I cannot speak for those who overstay longer than that. Click here for more information on the rules surrounding overstay, and check out the Immigration Bureau’s official page.
To apply for a 60-day tourist visa, you have to go to a Thai consulate. Thai consulates are located in Vientiane, Laos (closest and cheapest if you live in Chiang Mai), Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The application fee in Vientiane is 2000 baht and a 1-day entry into Laos is 500 baht. Check this out for much more information on this subject.
The tourist visa lasts from the date of entry until the expiration date given on the stamp upon entry. You have until the time listed on your visa sticker to enter the Kingdom, and from this date you will have 60 days.
Every newly issued tourist visa can be extended once for 30 days (depending on your country) at the immigration offices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. So if you do five 60-day tourist visa runs from Chiang Mai to Vientiane and back, you’ll be able to get the extension on each one. Visa extensions work like rollover plans, in that they are an addition to whatever time you still have left on your current visa, so go and get the extension whenever you have the chance rather than waiting until you’re crunched for time. This will give you a full 90 days in Thailand (again, all of this depends on your nationality).
You have to pay 500 baht per day that you overstay, but not exceeding 20,000 baht, before you are allowed to leave the Kingdom. Prosecution by the police often leads to jail time, even if you’ve only overstayed a single day.
Have your passport checked ahead of time by someone who knows what they’re looking at. Even if you’re positive that you know your entry and exit date, your permissions and limitations, still have it confirmed by someone. It’s better to practice precaution and save face now rather than lose it (not to mention a whole lot of cash) later on. I realise that I made a silly mistake, and that mistake cost me around $200 USD. Lesson learned. But it seems that I’m not the only one that spaces out occasionally, so please consider my suggestion.
Make sure that you keep up with public holidays. Thailand has a whole bunch of holidays and government offices will be closed for each one of them, so plan accordingly.
Summary: Tourist visas that are issued outside of the country will be valid for a maximum of 60 days, and if you discover that you’ve overstayed and turn yourself in at an immigration office (do not report yourself to the police) they may allow you to apply the extension overtop of your overstay period. You’ll still pay the fine — 500 baht per day — as well as the extension fee, and you’ll have to sign the police report. You’ll also get a mark on your passport, which may cause problems with immigration in the future if you attempt to return to the Kingdom. This was a 3-hour process, there are ATMs and banks upstairs if you don’t have the money to pay the fine.
To my friends and family, I’ll keep you updated with what they tell me at the border.
All the best to you,