I travel all over Asia often. Used to welcoming and friendly immigration officers at most airports in the region, it is always horrible to leave or return to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and be faced with the surly and decidedly unwelcoming immigration officers.
More noticeable as Thailand is known throughout the world as ‘The Land of Smiles’, this bunch wouldn’t smile if told the world’s funniest joke.
In fact, two years ago, after many complaints from tourists, the Immigration Bureau sent their staff on a training course. Named the Sawasdee Project (‘Sawasdee’ being the Thai friendly greeting), it obviously didn’t help much. To this end, getting through immigration and passport control at Suvarnabhumi Airport easily can be a trial.
Here is how to do it so it is less painful for you and the immigration officer.
When Leaving Thailand, Arrive at Suvarnabhumi Early – I have gone through immigration at Suvarnabhumi Airport at various times of the day. No matter what time you attempt to get through, you will be faced with long lines and, at the end of the line, a stony faced immigration officer who looks like he/she really wants you to get the hell out of their country and as quickly as possible, please.
Make sure you arrive in plenty of time before your flight leaves, as you can guarantee an initial 15 minute check-in at your airline desk, followed by up to 2 hours going through Thai immigration.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is also impossibly huge, you often have to trek half a mile down to the entrance to immigration, then have to trek the half mile back again to get to your gate.
Both Leaving and Arriving, Have Your Paperwork Ready – Getting through Suvarnabhumi immigration or passport control, make sure you have all your paperwork in your hand, ready to be handed over to the immigration officer.
Upon arriving in Thailand, you will need your passport, airline ticket and proof you will be flying out of Thailand again within 30 or 60 days, depending on what visa you have.
The immigration officer often doesn’t ask for the proof of departure by plane, but sometimes they do. Make sure you have one because, if not, it is up to the officer’s discretion to refuse you entry to the country.
When leaving Thailand, you will need your passport, the TM6 form (the white exit card stapled into your passport when you arrived), and your plane ticket. If you don’t have one of these, please don’t stand in a line and hold up everyone else behind you.
Instead, find an immigration officer that is not busy and ask them what to do.
Don’t Attempt to Talk to the Immigration Officer Unless Necessary – As I said, most are singularly the most unfriendly people you will find in Thailand. Don’t attempt to engage them in conversation or ask questions not absolutely vital. You are not likely to get much of an answer, and they will probably spend even longer processing you.
Stand on the Feet on the Floor and Look at the Camera – Thai immigration takes their feet outline on the floor and their camera directed at your head seriously. Make sure you are standing in the feet when it’s your turn at the counter and look directly at the camera.
If not, they will usually repeatedly request you to reposition yourself, which wastes time.
If You Have an Overstay, Be Prepared to Pay – If you are leaving Thailand, you’ve made a mistake and your visa has expired, be prepared to pay a fine and have your money at hand.
Immigration will charge you 500 baht per day of overstay, and you will be expected to have cash to pay for it. If you don’t, you could end up in Immigration jail waiting for someone to send you the money. And that’s not fun.
Expect Long Delays on Arrival in Thailand – With just about the slowest immigration staff I have ever come across, it takes forever to get through passport control at Suvarnabhumi. The last time I arrived, there were more than 25 lines with 60-80 people in each line. It was almost 40 minutes before I got through to my luggage. I was amazed it was still there.
Not quite as unpleasant as immigration and passport control in America, Suvarnabhumi Airport is getting there. Follow these small tips and you should have less problems getting through immigration at Suvarnabhumi.
And remember, the rest of Thailand isn’t like this. Grin and bear it. Get into the country and then meet the ‘real Thai people’. People who are happy you are here and will make you feel welcome. Because Suvarnabhumi Airport’s immigration department certainly won’t.