Thai immigration: Where do things stand?
A topic on the mind of many expats in Thailand, aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, is the current state of immigration rules for the Kingdom. There are a number of foreign nationals still attempting to gain admission to Thailand. Meanwhile, those who have been able to gain access to Thailand, and who have business activities in the region, are trying to assess travel options moving forward.
Therefore, a brief synopsis of the state of play is in order:
The Thai visa exemption stamp (sometimes referred to colloquially as the 30 day visa stamp) is again a possibility for those seeking admission to Thailand. The exemption period is, as of the time of this writing, currently being extended to a total of 45 days for those arriving in Thailand from certain countries.
Thai Tourist Visas
Presently, there appear (and appear is the operative word as the practicalities of consular processing protocols at Thai Embassies and Consulates overseas vary) to be multiple options for prospective tourists, with more alternatives possibly on the ways. The standard SETV (Single Entry Tourist Visa, sometimes also referred to as TR) is not widely available throughout the world and there are a number of foreign nationals using this to enter Thailand as of the time of this writing. Concurrently, the Thai government has taken recent steps to allow broad application for the newly promulgated STV (or Special Tourist Visa). Unlike the SETV, which only provides 60 days of lawful status with the option to extend by 30 days, the STV provides the bearer with the option of extending their status to a maximum duration of a possible 270 days (or 9 months).
Non-Immigrant B, O, and O-A Visas
The Thai government began allowing admission to Thailand for those business visa holders with work authorisation as early as July 2020. At the time, and presently, those wishing to enter Thailand for business purposes are likely required to have work authorisation either in the form of an issued Thai work permit or a WP3 work preauthorisation letter.
Shortly after Immigration authorities permitted the returning of B visa holders, O visa holders who were immediate family of Thai nationals were permitted access to Thailand. Finally, in the late summer, those with Thai retirement visas could enter or return to Thailand. There was initially some confusion regarding whether those holding a Thai O retirement visa (as opposed to the Thai O-A retirement visa) would be permitted admission to Thailand. After some delay, this matter seems to have been resolved and those with a Thai retirement visa, of either O or O-A designation, were deemed admissible to Thailand.
As of the time of this writing, the posture of all of the above visa categories remains unchanged and those seeking admission under the above categories may seek admission to Thailand.
Those seeking Education visas to Thailand are currently admissible, but the criteria for ED visa issuance is apparently truncated compared to times past. Where once it may have been possible to obtain an ED visa for language study in Thailand, it now appears that only those enrolled at the University level are currently eligible for an ED visa.
A Note on Conversion of Status
An issue that has been raised by a number of prospective travellers and expat returnees is: can I change my visa status once I'm in Thailand? The short answer: that course of action does not have a foregone conclusion. Therefore, one traveling to Thailand in retirement status may find it difficult to convert their status to B visa status in-country. The difficulty arises from the legal presumptions inherent to the Thai non-immigrant visa categories. Those traveling to Thailand in tourist or non-immigrant visa status are presumed to be temporary guests of the Kingdom for the specific purpose stipulated in their visa. This presumption therefore posits that those wishing to change their status depart the Kingdom, obtain a new visa pursuant to the terms of their prospective re-entry, and return to Thailand under this new status. Obviously, this paradigm was shaped by the travel circumstances which existed in a world prior to the local and global response to COVID-19. Notwithstanding the fundamental logistical difficulties which have come about due to current travel restrictions, Thai Immigration policy remains as it has always been and the presumption that those entering on a specific visa status should either maintain that status or depart the country in order to change status remains. Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to convert one's visa status from one category of non-immigrant visa to another or from a tourist visa to a non-immigrant visa, but this can only come about as a direct consequence of a favourable use of an Immigration officer's discretion and the reasons for such a conversion should be compelling. For this reason, it is very sound advice for those seeking entry to Thailand to seek the visa that they wish to maintain for the foreseeable future from the outset rather than attempting to use one visa category merely as a temporary expedient to gain access to the Kingdom.
With respect to Special Tourist Visas it has been explicitly noted that holders of these visas are affirmatively barred from seeking a change of status in Thailand.
Certificates of Entry and Quarantine
Regardless of the visa category a foreign national is using, including a visa exemption, certificates of entry are still required in order to eligible to board a flight and be admitted to Thailand. Quarantine is also mandatory for all individuals, including Thai nationals, being admitted from abroad. Presently, foreigners are required to undergo quarantine in an Alternative State Quarantine facility for a period of 14 days.
Author: Benjamin W. Hart, Managing Director, Integrity Legal (Thailand) Co. Ltd.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and www.legal.co.th
Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, email@example.com. Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.