The Thailand Visa Exempt Stamp
When I first arrived in Thailand at Bangkok airport a few years ago my passport was stamped, giving me leave to stay for thirty days.
I thought I had a visa but learned a little later that what I actually had was a 'Visa Exempt' stamp. This was something issued to the citizens of many countries, cost nothing, and really made life so much easier for the two week tourist from the States or Western Europe.
I did not exactly fit into that category but it was no hardship for me because I could renew it as many times as I liked simply by leaving Thailand and coming back in again. I left several times popping into Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. As I was, in effect, travelling to other places I really never gave it a second thought but somehow Thailand sort of became my base and second 'home'.
Not that I had a home anyway. I had no bricks and mortar anywhere and all I owned in the world I carried in the backpack on my back.
Visa Exempt Stamp
The first changes to procedures I encountered when someone somewhere in authority decided to change the rules.
The new ruling was that you could only have 3 'Visa Exempt' stamps in your passport before you had to leave the country altogether. You were allowed back in but only if you had an actual 'Tourist Visa' or some other Visa in your passport. To obtain this you had to go to a Thailand Embassy in a foreign country with photographs, money and completed forms. This time it cost!
An Actual Visa
Not To Worry
Really though it was no big deal because you could stay in the country for three months. No big deal for some...but not me. I generally felt the need to move on after a month in any case except I could not go out and come back in again on the Visa they issued. So I would have to visit an Embassy again and pay for a visa...or stay out of Thailand for a few months and return on a Visa Exempt.
Changes in December 2008
Right out of the blue we had a new rule change in December 2008.
Now it is no longer possible to renew your Visa Exempt stamp for thirty days...they only give you 15! So that means that every two weeks you have to make a trip over the border to a neighbouring country for an hour and then return. It is possible to get a thirty day stamp ...but only if you fly in.
So Who Benefits?
So who benefits from this crazy new rule. The companies which organise the 'Visa Runs' to the border have doubled their money in one fell swoop (I am a bit suspicious about that one). The Cambodian, Laos and Myanmar excise are benefiting because they actually charge for visas.
An Unexpected Bonus
There was one unexpected bonus to the change in the law and that is that the 90 days in 180 has been scrapped. You can now remain in the country for as long as you like.
Sadly you will now be required to do a visa run to the border every 15 days and not too many people will be prepared to do that, It is costly in time, money and patience.