Many western teachers come to Thailand to teach English and are completely out of their depth. A fair percentage of Thai school administrators have the morals of a snake and go to the most disgusting lengths possible to mess with their foreign teachers. Unwary teachers, new in Thailand, get into a mess, often because they’ve followed instructions from the Thai school, not realizing even under Thai law, they don’t have to. One such instance is a western teacher in Thailand giving his new school his passport, so they can process his work permit, then being told the school is going to keep the passport until his contract ends. Is this legal? Can a Thai school do this?
No. Categorically, no, no, no.
To get a work permit in Thailand, you must give your passport and all the other necessary paperwork to the school administrators, so they can be taken to immigration to be processed. In most cases, you will get your work permit within 4 weeks and, at that time, your passport should be returned to you. If it is not, you must go to the school administrators and ask for it. Don’t take “No” for an answer.
A passport, from any country, is legally the property of your government. It is also a document you are supposed to carry with you at all times while in Thailand (a copy often suffices, but you do need to have ready access to your passport).
While some schools will try to tell you they’re going to keep your passport, (they believe this will stop you from quitting the job when you find out what a hellhole the school really is), they are not allowed to do this. By law.
If the school is not forthcoming, ask politely for your passport to be returned. Keep, politely, asking for your passport to be returned. If it isn’t returned, say nothing. Just walk to the closest Thai police station and give one of the police officers 1,000 baht for “helping” you. In all likelihood, he will come back to the school and demand the administrators return your passport. In nine times out of ten cases, this will work. (In the 10th case, the Thai administrator will be so spiteful, they will lie and say they have already returned it or some such nonesense. In that case, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see your passport again).
Of course, you will also have to resign from your job but, if the school won’t return your passport, believe me, you’ll have a lot more problems from them down the road. Resigning is just about the best thing you can do. Teaching jobs are ten a penny in Thailand. You’ll find a better one tomorrow.
If you cannot get your passport returned, you must immediately go to your embassy, explain the situation and tell them your passport was stolen. Stolen, not lost. They will issue you a new passport (usually takes a week or two) but you will have to pay a fee. You are then responsible for getting any visas you had stamped in your original passport into your new one.
While all this sounds like a hassle and crazy, it’s Thailand, so it’s not. We’ve lost track of the number of teachers we know who’ve had problems getting their passports returned from an unscrupulous school. So making sure yours follows the rules is necessary.