The announcement by the head of the Royal Thai Police that some expats can now extend their stay by uploading documents online has caused substantial head scratching by the target groups. At the moment, foreigners already in Thailand who want to stay longer than their initial visa or stamp allows must queue up at immigration bureaux nationwide with their documentation and photos at the ready.
The new optional scheme described by police general Damrongsak Kittipraphet is currently a pilot available only in Bangkok with a promise for national implementation later on. The software has not been devised by Thai immigration but by VFS Global, the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specializing in governments and embassies worldwide. All Thai immigration extensions of stay are currently 1,900 baht (around US$50), but use of the latest scheme will cost an additional 500 or 1,500 or even 5,000 baht fee online to process the application between 1 and 7 days. Cash cows haven’t gone away.
However, the pilot scheme requires the applicant in person actually to pick up their new e-visa sticker at Bangkok immigration headquarters at Chaeng Watthana Road by showing their online receipt and their passport. So the scheme is not wholly electronic, only the initial registration, submission of documents and fee payment. The official publicity suggests that queuing at immigration will be thus reduced from about one hour to three minutes, although the generalization is certainly suspect. The website’s supplementary notes point out unsurprisingly that foreigners on overstay cannot avail themselves of the scheme.
There is some ambiguity which visas can actually be extended under the pilot. Visitors who have a 30 days visa on arrival, a 60 days tourist visa or a 45 days visa exempt are clearly included as are foreigners with a Thai spouse or dependants and wannabe students too. Those seeking an annual extension of stay based on retirement are specifically excluded, perhaps because the documentation required for them varies a great deal according to the immigration office responsible. Some work permit holders are specified, especially teachers and those employed by government agencies. The published details are at thaiextension.vfsevisa.com
Optimists believe the pilot is a first step in the move to create a completely-integrated system online. They point out that Thai embassies worldwide have now mostly adopted an online system which cancels the need for most potential travellers to Thailand to attend the diplomatic mission in person or even to submit their passport for scrutiny. Pessimists see the scheme just announced as a bureaucratic jumble based on confusing software which doesn’t work properly in any case. The history of electronics in Thai immigration procedures is mixed. The online appointments system at offices nationwide collapsed during the Covid pandemic and has not been resuscitated nationwide. On the other hand, the online facility for expats to report their address on a three monthly basis is relatively successful in most areas. All we can say for sure is that Thailand’s historic immigration bureaucracies are well-fortified and unlikely to crumble any time soon. If ever.