How to Avoid Problem’s With Thailand’s Immigration: Do Everything the Legal Way

Bangkok's Chang Wattana immigration department


One of the favorite things for foreigners in Thailand to complain about is Thai immigration. In online forums as well as real life, westerners talk about how difficult Thai immigration makes things for foreigners and how, if you’re not careful, you could end up in trouble or even in jail. I’ve lived in Thailand for a decade and, during that time, I’ve never once had a problem with Thai immigration. I renew my visas on time, I’ve never had difficulty getting or renewing my work permit and, entering and leaving Thailand has always been easy for me. If you want to avoid having problems with immigration in Thailand, it’s not that difficult. Just do everything the legal way and make sure you don’t do the following things.

Never Have an Overstay on Your Visa – Thailand is strict about the number of days it allows foreigners to stay in the country. With the different visas available, you’ll be allowed to stay 15, 30, 60 or 90 days or, if you have a work permit or a non-immigrant visa, staying in Thailand for a year or longer is possible. But, when your visa expires, if you don’t have the requirements necessary to renew it then you must leave Thailand and enter back in again with a new visa.

Some westerners will stay in the country after their visa expires and then are on what is called “overstay”. An overstay of a day or two isn’t that serious (although if caught by the police, you can be arrested and jailed). But, an overstay of a few weeks, months or, in some cases, years is serious. Leave Thailand when your visa expires and you’ll avoid problems with Thai immigration. Plus, it’s so easy to come back into the country on a new visa – legally – it’s not worth chancing being arrested.

Never Work Illegally – If you have the correct qualifications (eg: for a teacher, a BA degree and a TEFL certificate) you can get a job and a work permit in Thailand. Unfortunately, many foreigners in Thailand work illegally and hope they don’t get caught. Working illegally, without a work permit, means if the police or Thai immigration catch you, you could be jailed and then deported from the country. If you like living in Thailand, as I do, why would you chance not being able to live here again?

Simply get a job where the company or school will get you a work permit and don’t work until you get one. (Thai immigration usually allows you to work once the paperwork has been submitted for the work permit but, before this, you are working illegally if you don’t have one or haven’t submitted the paperwork).

Don’t Use a Fake University Degree – Avoid problems with Thai immigration by not working with a fake university degree. Up until recently, there were a fair few westerners working with fake university degrees in Thailand. Getting a fake degree used to be as easy as going to Khao San Road in Bangkok and paying two hundred baht (about $5) for a university degree with your name on it. The Thai authorities didn’t check the degree’s authenticity when you got a job so, consequently, there are some westerners in Thailand who’ve been here for years working with their fake degrees.

In the last few years, things have changed. Now, the Thai labor department is checking university degrees by contacting the university you supposedly graduated from. If you’re caught working with a fake degree, it’s arrest, imprisonment and a court date followed by a large fine and possibly deportation. If you don’t have a university degree, don’t tell the Thai authorities you do. There are ways of getting a legal work permit without a degree so why chance being arrested and deported, when being honest will likely get you further?

Do Your 90 Day Reporting – Every foreigner in Thailand on a long-term visa or work permit must report to Thai immigration every 90 days to let them know you’re still staying at the same address or you’ve moved. If you’re late doing this, there’s a daily fine that goes into effect and, after a while, not reporting can get you in trouble with Thai immigration.

It’s easy to pop up to the immigration department every three months to do it or, if you don’t want to go yourself, you can send your maid, your friend, your girlfriend, a motorcycle taxi driver – anyone. As long as your whereabouts gets reported, Thai immigration is happy enough. Plus, if you live outside Bangkok, you can even send your 90 day address report through the mail.

Doing these four things are the main reasons foreigners get into trouble with Thai immigration. If you don’t do any of these, you follow the rules and don’t cause trouble, Thailand is more than happy to have you stay here as long as you want. But, break the law and you might be surprised how fast you end up being kicked out of the country and told never to come back.