I’m currently undergoing the annual trauma known as Visa Renewal. Being an “alien” resident here in Thailand I must renew my non-immigrant visa every year, as well as doing the same with my work permit. The copious volume of documents, forms, receipts, rubber stamps, and signatures that are needed to accomplish these renewals borders on the ridiculous. To facilitate this mind-numbing — and finger-tiring — process, and to make sure that I haven’t missed any details or forgot to sign or stamp every photocopied page, I use the services of a local company that specializes in dealing with visa and immigration issues. This service isn’t cheap, but the company does a good job, making the visa renewal virtually painless.
Nevertheless, at least once during this process I have to visit the immigration office in Chaeng Wattana, an administrative district located in the northern suburbs of Bangkok, far away from any mass transit lines. Getting there requires a journey that takes both a chunk of time and money. One option is taking the skytrain or the subway to the Chatuchak area, and then continuing the journey by a regular taxi or a motorcycle taxi. I opted for a subway and motorcycle combo, by far the fastest way to get there.
I arrived at Immigration a full 30 minutes before opening time, but there was already a long line of people waiting. I sent a text message to Patt, the young woman who is my rep at the company, to let her know that I had arrived. She showed up with two other women from the office about 10 minutes later. I soon learned that these two women were recent hires and were experiencing the Immigration Department for the very first time. Patt was basically training them.
Once the doors opened, we took a number and waited our turn. During this time, Patt and I chatted. Or I should say: she talked and I listened. Clearly, this woman loved to talk. At one point she stopped for a breath of air and asked: “Do I talk too much?” I smiled and assured her that her babbling was just fine with me. It wasn’t a question of talking “too much”, I said. She was, I told her, very “skillful” at speaking. Poot geng mahk!
Once our number was called and she realized where we were going, Patt squealed with delight. “She is my friend,” she told me, pointing to an official sitting at the desk in front of us. Sure enough, once we were seated, Patt and the immigration lady exchanged greetings and launched into an animated conversation about life, food, and product distribution. It turns out that both women have dabbled in selling Amway, Herbalife, and similar direct sales schemes. At one point, the immigration lady also kidded Patt about talking too much, but tried to explain the subtle difference between poot mahk and poot yer. I just sat there and marveled at how casual and chatty this whole “official” business was being conducted. Within a few minutes, we marched over to another desk and chatted with another friendly woman who perused our stock of documents, adding her own stamp and signature, and then we returned to the first desk, got yet another stamp and signature from that official. More smiles and wais and jokes, and everything was done. Thank you and see again. Take care, ka! Just another reason to love living in Thailand.
But, in actuality, my one-year extension was still not official. As in previous years, after this in-person immigration visit you aren’t given the full year extension at this point, but only a 30-day extension where you, “the applicant,” are “under review.” Once those 30 days are up, you can return (or someone from the office, such as chatty Patt can go for you) to Immigration, and at that point you’ll get the full year. They always do it this way and I’ve understood the logic of the silly “under review” period. In any case, I should have the “real” visa completed by next week.
If that wasn’t enough bureaucratic nonsense, I got an e-mail from Patt last week informing me that my 90-day “check-in” visit was due this month. This “90-day” rule is a very annoying regulation that all foreign workers much comply with. Even though you have a proper visa and work permit you are still required to “check in” with the Immigration Department every 90 days while you are in the country. There is no fee, just more paperwork and the compulsory visit to the remote hinterlands of Chaeng Wattana. But you can circumvent this requirement if you have gone an overseas trip during the 90-day period. In other words, if I decide to visit Cambodia before the 90-day check-in comes due, I don’t have to make that visit. The 90-day clock is re-set from the moment I enter Thailand again.
So this announcement from Patt about the need for another 90-day check-in visit totally puzzled me. I had just visited the Immigration Department the previous week, and received the new extension, so why the need for a 90-day visit during the one-month review process? I wrote Patt and told her that I thought there was some mistake; I shouldn’t need to go back so soon. Her supervisor, a woman named Kat (Patt and Kat; the perfect name for a new singing duo!), wrote back to assure me that the 90-day visit was still required. By this point, I had passed the point of being annoyed and I was now approaching furious. “What sort of idiocy is this?” I asked. My old visa had expired and the fact that I had started the visa process all over again should also mean that the 90-day check-in requirement should start from the first day of my new visa, not the date of my last entry to Thailand on the old visa. I exchanged a few more e-mails with Kat and Patt (and also their boss) before I finally relented and accepted the fact that I would need to make this totally pointless visit to Immigration. Hmm … what was that I said about loving Thailand?