Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lost in Translation

Today I went to the Thai Immigration office in Nonthaburi so that they could stamp my visa approval and I could get a multiple re-entry permit.  Absent a re-entry permit, a visa is voided once you leave the country. A multiple re-entry permit costs about $125, and lets me leave and re-enter the country as many times as I want for the duration of my visa.

I had to provide a photo for the re-entry permit.  The photo is hardly flattering, and Tim described it as looking like a prisoner.  The immigration office is very nice, and as the office is small, we've seen her a few times.  She said something about the photo which Tim translated as "She said that the photo looks better than the real person."  I just started laughing because (1) that's a heck of a thing to say to someone and (2) I can only imagine how bad I looked if the photo looked better.  Tim and the officer chatted some more, and apparently she said that I looked better than my photo.  That's their story anyway.

The only downside to this trip was that they put the ninety day reporting stamp in my book.  Foreigners who stay here ninety consecutive days without leaving are supposed to present themselves to the immigration office to confirm their address.  Even if you have a one year visa, you are supposed to present yourself in the ninety day period.  If you leave the country, even for a short time, the clock is reset.  I've known that the law existed, but no-one every mentioned it to me, and I was not about to ask.  I've renewed my visa a number of times and left and re-entered the country quite a few times, and no-one every mentioned it.

Its been the law the entire time, but I get the impression that its not heavily enforced.  There is a 2,000 baht fine if you fail to comply.  The officer told Tim that if an immigration official checked and you had not complied, then they could levy the fine.  I'm not sure if they check this at the airport or when you go to renew your visa.

I have to say this law is a pain in in the ass.  Theoretically, this could add three more trips to the immigration office each year.   I already have to go twice to get my visa renewed; five times is just ridiculous.  The piece of paper is going to end up in a cabinet somewhere.  I'm really not sure what they hope to accomplish.  If they required me to notify them of a change of my address, I would understand it.  If they had a way to do it online, it would not be so burdensome.    They are not going to do anything with the information.  They don't even link the immigration records of my visa with the airport immigration computer system.

My initial reaction was frustration, but then Tim reminded me that I actually will probably not be effected; at least for a while.  We are going to China this week and the clock will reset when I return.  I'll travel internationally during the kids spring break and the summer which will each reset the ninety day clock.  That will make me compliant through the beginning of October, and if I take a trip around that time, I'll be good until my next visa renewal.

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