In a series of moves meant to discourage rampant border-running, the Thai immigration authority enacted new rules, and begun enforcing already extant rules, in 2014 regarding visa on arrival exemption stamps and visa extensions. It has long been a practice of foreigners who wish to extend their legal stay in the Kingdom to cross one of Thailand’s borders and then re-enter the country in order to get their passport stamped. Doing so means gaining a new visa on arrival or using one of the entries on a multi-entry tourist visa, thus resetting the clock on the in-country time limit. Many expatriates extend their stay indefinitely using this method, and the immigration authority has, it seems, finally taken notice and decided to do something about it.
While moving across borders to gain a re-entry stamp and the accompanying stay extension is not technically illegal, doing so to stay in Thailand as a resident or to work without the proper papers is and the Thai government is now taking steps to ensure that visas are being used for the purpose that they are issued. In other words, tourist visas and 30 day VOAs are for tourists. The new measures seem, according to government spokespeople and various news sources, to be aimed mainly at deterring criminal activity and illegal / undocumented workers in tourist areas.
The specific changes announced by the Thai government are as follows:
Instead of a 30 day stamp, re-entering the Kingdom via a land border will now net a 15 day stamp. The exception to this is for Malaysian passport holders entering from Malaysia. They will still receive a 30 day stamp.
As of May 2014, land re-entry VOAs will be limited to a total of one 15 day stamp. Visitors will be advised to fly out of the country and re-enter by air after receiving a proper visa from a consulate or embassy outside of Thailand.
The re-entry permit application process has been streamlined. The new process involves dropping off the application, supporting documents and passport at once. When the permit is ready you can pick up your passport. The entire process can take less than an hour.
Applying for a VOA extension no longer requires leaving the country. Report to the immigration office, fill out the paperwork and pay ฿1900 and receive another 30 – 60 days at the officer’s discretion.
The application of the rules is of course up to the discretion of the individual border officers and their supervisors. Enforcement is aimed at curbing the system’s abusers, and so genuine tourists just looking to stay in country a bit longer might not have any problem with a border hop. But, to be safe and respectful and ensure you don’t hit any snags, it is best to go to the Royal Thai embassy in one of the neighboring countries and get a genuine tourist visa.
Why risk deportation and fines when a couple of thousand baht and a three day trip to Vientienne or Phnom Pen will allow you to stay in the Kingdom another two months?