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Overstaying your visa...

minor fine or major nightmare?

February 24, 2006

One of the many inconsistencies in the application of law in Thailand has to do with exceeding one's permitted length of stay. While in actuality the penalties for overstaying are severe, in most cases the reality is not. A minor fine is paid at the border, a form is filled out, names are signed, passport stamps are applied and off you go. No big deal, 200 baht a day to a maximum of 20,000 (set to increase to 500 baht a day effective March 15) which if only for a couple of days is cheaper and easier than getting a visa extension. Even the immigration checkpoints are set up to handle overstays as a simple bureaucratic procedure supplemented with the exchange of (usually) relatively small amounts of cash.

But while for most people that is the reality, the law in fact states that if one is found anywhere in Thailand beyond the length of time allowed in their passport they are to be shipped off to the Immigration Detention Centre, a facility Amnesty International has been criticizing for years, and held there until that time arrangements can be made by you and for you (they won't lift a finger to help) to get yourself flown out of the country. If it takes a few months, then at IDC you'll rot. And does this ever happen to people? You bet it does and more often than you may realize.

Because while immigration will settle this at the border, you've obviously stated your intentions to leave the country anyway, being found anywhere else but the border (or airport) and you're not a tourist on the way out, but an illegal immigrant hanging around and that's how you'll be treated no matter how many extenuating circumstances you can think up in your defense. It's not pleasant.

The decision is whether the risk of incarceration for up to a few months in an absolute hellhole is worth avoiding the time and expense of moseying down to Soi Suanphlu and keeping yourself legal. I think it's an easy decision but apparently quite a few out there don't agree.

Try this line of thinking...

Motorcycle helmets:
The likelihood of having a fatal accident in the absence of a helmet is still quite low. People ride for years without even a minor spill. So why then do we wear helmets? For some, because the law says so but for many of us, because while the chances of having an accident, especially a fatal one, are quite low, having that helmet does substantially reduce the likelihood of having a severe or mortal head injury should you be so unlucky as to have a wreck.

Health insurance:
The likelihood of having a major accident or illness are quite low, and most of the time, we carry health insurance and perhaps wonder what are we ever getting for our money. But one day you have a bad accident or are diagnosed with a major illness and suddenly that policy you've been paying into for ten years is looking pretty useful. You carry it because the possible, albeit remote, consequences of not having it are severe indeed.

Carrying ID in Thailand:
Thai law says that foreigners are supposed to carry their passports around with them at all times. I never carry mine and know few people who do. If I did comply with this law, I would probably have lost at least one by now and probably had at least one or two more deteriorate beyond usability necessitating replacement. Having to get a new passport every year or two is expensive, time-consuming, and simply a hassle. And if you're caught in Thailand without your passport? At worst you're looking at an hour or two at the police station and a small fine to sort it all out, which in comparison to the time and money involved in passport replacement makes this a no-brainer. Hence, I never carry my passport with me.

Overstaying your visa
Most of the time it's a minor fine paid at the border. No fuss attached. For an unlucky few, it's one's worst nightmare come true that's would have been easily avoided by not overstaying in the first place.

I always wear a helmet.
I carry health insurance.
I never carry my passport.
And I never overstay my visa.

So here's my advice of the month:
DON"T OVERSTAY. Not even by one day. While the chances are in your favor that nothing more than a small fine at the border will be your punishment, the penalties if caught anywhere else are too severe.

Additional stories and information on visa overstays in Thailand:
A Thaivisa piece (added Oct 2007)
Thaivisa.com overstay info
Thaivisa.com Forum Search Results on Overstay
Lonely Planet Thorntree Discussion (old - horror story)
Lonely Planet Thorntree Discussion - Dumb Advice
Lonely Planet Thorntree Discussion - Deportation



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