musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘work permit’

Motorcycle Taxis Save the Day!

I got an unexpected phone call at my bookshop last week. It was from a Thai man calling to let me know that he had received a CD for me in the mail. “I have your CD,” he said, “but it was sent to me by mistake.” Apparently he had ordered some vinyl albums from Amazon and when he opened the package he found a smaller package containing a CD tucked inside. Upon further examination he realized that the CD was addressed to someone else … which would be me!

Luckily, this guy was honest and also made a very sincere effort to track me down. The address had the name of my bookshop on it, so he found the telephone number for the shop and called me. He said that he could send the CD to me, but wouldn’t have time to go the post office until the following week. I got his contact information and told him that I’d see if I could make arrangements to pick up the CD myself so that he wouldn’t have to pay for the postage.

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Later that night, I called up one of my motorcycle taxi driver friends, Bay, and asked if he could pick up the CD for me. The guy’s office was way out on Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, not exactly in my neck of the woods, so I gave Bay the guy’s phone number and address. I told Bay that there was no hurry, but I’d make it worth his while if he could pick it up for me as soon as possible.

The following afternoon Bay dropped by my store, holding up the package with a big smile. “Got it!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know how to go there,” he admitted, “but my father gave me directions. It was no problem.” No problem or not, I tipped him some extra money and thanked him again.

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Later that week, I was informed by the company that handles my visa and work permit paperwork that my new annual work permit could not yet be issued because the medical certificate that I submitted was out of date. Huh? I double checked the requirements on the form I had been given and it clearly stated that the medical certificate must be issued within six months. The one I had submitted was from September, less than 3 months old, so that should have been fine. But it wasn’t. Apparently, they work permit office has adopted a new policy of allowing only medical certificates that are 30 days old or less. Urrrgghhh!!!

So that meant getting another medical certificate. I could either go back to Bangkok Hospital, where I got me previous one, or go to a local clinic and get the some certificate for a fraction of the price. Which is what I did. I called up a clinic that I’ve used before and requested a new medical certificate saying that I was healthy, did not have Ebola, or any other life threatening diseases.

I needed to go see the doctor and pick it up but the clinic was a bit out of the way, so I used one of those trusty motorcycle taxi guys again. As luck would have it, it was Bay’s father, also a driver at the same taxi stand, who took me to the clinic on Monday morning. He waited outside while I went in and got my medical certificate, and then drove me the rest of the way to my bookshop. I tipped him extra, handing him 120 baht, but he shook me off, saying that was too much, and handed a 20 baht note back to me. Wow! That’s a great example of how honest most of these guys are, and also how dependable they are.

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Really, the motorcycle taxi drivers and messengers are saviors here in Bangkok, not only for helping to get you swiftly from place to place amidst the traffic gridlock, but for making deliveries and running errands of all sorts. I ordered a pizza last night that was delivered by motorcycle, and my work permit was returned to me — finally! — also by motorcycle messenger yesterday. Long may they run!

 

 

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Immigration Shuffle

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?

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