Thailand's Narrowing Visa Doorway.
The Visa is a-changing...
I like to compare the visa requirements for Thailand as a baron taking charge of his domain. They come and go and the type of requirements change with their passing.
In the ignorantly glorious years of the 1980s, 1990s and even 2000 getting visas to stay in Thailand perpetually was a way of life for quite a lot of hte expat population. Thaksin's arrival in the big seat was a game-changer. No longer could you get Mr J's stamps in your passport in a shed on Koh Tao. Neither could you send off your passport with a courier to the Malaysian border for a thousand baht. A new era, whether we liked it or not, had descended. Yet the dawn of the Visa Runner had fully blossumed.
It was common before 2001 to visa run to the border of Thailand, but there were plenty of other easy options that didn't require leaving the country every 30, 60 or 90 days etc.
Still, farangs were not discouraged. Every time it was required off they went, some didn't even bother going at all, prefering to just pay the miniscule 'fine' after a few years. Indeed the maximum fine for not leaving the country was *only* 20,000 baht. That was the 2001 'baron'.
You could get tourist visa's quite easily from neighboring countries and then just mosey on back to keep the perpetual lifestyle in the tropics going. I can recall at the time some freedom-minded farang were stating that this was the future, global citizens just making their own rules to live the dream and even that this was the new paradigm in the east. That they could be a part of greater things as Thailand's GDP went higher. A few of us at Shield even considered Thaksin's clampdowns and visa 'baron' to hopefully short-lived. That things would somehow go back to 'the good old days'.
This was countered by the 'establishment' farang who were getting more and more active and vocal in seeing Thaksin's Thailand as a prism for them to get behind. 'Thailand needs stronger laws, clampdowns. It needs to be more like a western country.' Such types, while occasionally correct obviously needed to remove the mote from their own eye and remember that they are a farang in the east too.
Our insider contact mentioned about five years ago that the visa 'baron' Thaksin had brought about was slowly tightening the screw even more. On applications from many Thai Consulates and embassies self-signed forms stating you had enough funds on your visa application were becoming the norm. A few years later (about 2010-2011) some consulates that were giving out non-immigrant O visa's, no questions asked, now become much more restrictive.
In the UK a certain consulate was very generous in this field, a 'baron' all of their own you might say. The word was that the Thai Consul or someone high up there was an old Thai Army officer (a colonel some said). He had kept to the pre-2001 policy and even single farang were getting 15 month 'friends and family' visa's given out like candy. He passed-on circa 2010 and his replacement was a by-the-book 'baron' and wasted no time in slamming shut that door. From then on, across the world, Thailand's visa requirements are essentially 'tourist', 'marriage' or 'business' for the most part. With 'tourist' being the only 'easy visa' left for the farang to ride with.
It is an unfortunate side-effect that the undesirable farang have been staying in Thailand to spoil the applecart. This is another big reason for the visa-changes continually changing the landscape. You see when criminals make lots of money in The West, they were often packing their bags to head east. Even with the existing laws AND the the visa-overstay fine increase those tenacious farang were hanging in there, still making trips all over the place to get new tourist visas to remain in Thailand.
By 2011-2012 the 30 day extensions for stay in Thailand were shrunk to 15 days. The 'baron' was firmly up for no BS. While this was later reversed, another policy soon changed it's place.
In 2014 the latest coup took place and on of the very first announcements made by a general was an overhaul of Thailand's visa policy. Now the border guards were given instructions to BLOCK farang from returning into Thailand from neighboring countries IF they had too many extension stamps. They even stated they wanted to see hotel bookings prior to being allowed back in etc etc.
The visa doorway is now a narrow corridor folks. It's been a wild ride in some ways but the story seems to be Thailand wants to shift to a 1st world non-immigration policy. It has a progressively stricter 'baron' policy and it's not looking to change anytime soon. Indeed there are some who say this could be a slow shift to an absolute non-immigration policy akin to Bhutan, albeit more watered down.
This may sounds strange but Thailand, whether people like it or not, is a more prosperous and wealthy country from what it was in the 1990s, even taking into account the '97 crash. Therefore it can afford to reduce some of it's tourism accordingly. A Thai laborer / worker in Bangkok has seen their wages increase threefold from 5,000 baht a month in the 1990s to 15,000 to 20,000 baht in 2014. Accommodation is becoming more mid-to-up market and the very face of Bangkok is leaning more towards mid-to-high-end tourists, many of whom are from Eurasia and China nowadays. It is a telling truth that a majority of visa-runners are farang, the new-wave tourists enter Thailand, spend money, then leave. Which is what Thailand's powers wants to happen, even though long-stay tourists will spend more over a longer period. The general's statement indirectly referenced this, saying that tourist visa's are not for long-term living in Thailand.
The howls and protests online are awesome to behold from the farangs wronged, the gleeful 'I told you so' types and the 'I'm alright jack, I've got my marriage / retirement visa' gimps echo across cyberspace. It's a shame to say it but Thailand doesn't need farang's that much anymore, these changes in policy reflect it. For those who rode the waves of fortune well they did ok by it, for those that did not it was a learning experience at best.
Cambodia, Laos, Philippines and even Vietnam are taking the 'refugee' farang in, rebalancing the new trend of Asia. It remains to be seen if their 'barons' will follow Thailand's fashion.
This section is compiled by the OTRT crew.