New Crackdown on “Too Many” Tourist Visa Applications

View from Vientiane across the Mekhong river to Thailand

Staying in Thailand for an extended period of time, or perhaps even living here more or less permanently, has never been easy for Farangs aged under 50 years old who neither legally work in Thailand or are legally married to a Thai citizen.
Granted, you could treat yourself to a so-called Thailand “elite card”? Fees start at something like 500,000 Baht for a five-year multiple-entry visa. Or if you find that too dear then how about learning some Thai and applying for a good old ED (education) visa? But that’s not as hassle-free and cheap as it used to be either anymore since new rules took effect in 2014.
So most long-term tourists under 50 would stick to back-to-back tourist visa (SETV), go on a visa run to Laos or elsewhere in the region every couple of months and so try to bypass a system of rules that have been getting increasingly tight.

The most basic unwritten visa run rule “professional” border hoppers had to follow was to not use the same Thai consulate all the time but switch from, say, Vientiane to Penang to Savannakhet and so on, and to never use the same Thai consulate more than two consecutive times.
While there has never been an official limit to how many back-to-back tourist visa were stickers acceptable in your passport (individual consulates may have applied their own sets of rules and limitations though) three back-to-back visa applications from, say, the Lao capital may in some cases have resulted in a red warning stamp in your passport and refusal of further applications.
Granted, there had also been an official requirement for years for tourist visa applicants to provide an outbound air ticket, confirmed hotel reservations, and proof of sufficient financial means to cover their expenses in the country. In practice, none of that was ever really required though, at least not in Vientiane or Savannakhet.
In any case, provided you applied a certain degree of creativity and were willing to travel in the region, there was always a kind of workaround.
Now things appear to have changed drastically.

While the rules appear not to have changed on paper (in fact, there are no official rules that restrict that the number of back-to-back tourist visas a foreigner can apply for), there have been several reports over the last couple of months where tourist visa applications were plainly rejected, further paperwork was required, or where tourists even with existing visas were rejected entry at border checkpoints.
Why this crackdown happens? Simply because Thai embassy officials and immigration police suspect that tourist visa holders that effectively “live” in the country for an extended period of time are, in fact, not tourists but may be working in the country illegally.
It’s also noteworthy that this most recent crackdown kicked off at about the same time that consulates started issuing free tourist visas in order to boost tourist arrivals, resulting for some in less income and extra workload.
In the following we’ve posted excerpts from a number of threads we’ve found on the Thaivisa.com forum over the last couple of months.

15 December 2016

Just a note to inform others
Tried to submit application today for my 6th SETV (3rd from Savannakhet)
Got to the window – after much longer queuing time than previous  – passports being scrutinised more.
He appeared to count my SETVs then asked what am I doing in Thailand.
I told him, I don’t work, I’m on an extended holiday
Ok, show me bank statement and ‘holiday plan’
As I had nothing prepared, and no data signal (to show a bank balance) I left to consider my next move
P.S Two Russian girls got the same treatment ahead of me

An administrator suggested then that the total number of six SETV in the applicant’s passport (i.e. three from Savannakhet, two from Phnom Penh and one from Penang, which had been the most recent one) was the reason why the application was rejected and that it may be “time for a new passport.”

17 February 2017

Not so friendly anymore [at the Thai consulate in Vientiane]. I got denied for no reason as a legitimate tourist. (…) Should i take a bus/train to Savannaket, what do they require?

The poster had three tourist visas in his passport but none from Vientiane. The same administrator suggests that “Savannakhet is wanting tickets out of the country and financial proof [at least 20,000 Baht in the bank] now.”
Another user confirms this:

happend to me too in Savanakhet, my passport was empty, just one tourist visa from Monaco, but they want money to show on Thai bank

20 February 2017

What is going on with people being rejected for a SETV in Vientiane despite having just 1 or 2 previous ones from somewhere else in their passport and no warning or remark stamp? And are they being rejected when they request the SETV or at the time they come to pick up their passport?

Another user wonders:

For example if you have one SETV in the passport. A person with one SETV in their passport said they were rejected recently. So 1 could be the new limit? Seems weird.

The administrator cautions:

That was in Savannakhet and was rejected for not having tickets out of the country and financial proof.
The only odd rejection I am aware of in Vientiane had a to many visas stamp from Penang after getting 3 tourist visas there.

But the same user chips in again:

A person in another thread said he was rejected for a tourist visa in Vientiane and had only 1 previous SETV in his passport from a Thai embassy not in Asia.

Most recently, 12 March 2017

Just realized I have 3 SETV from PP, first one January 2015.
Worth even trying for another one?

Another user suggests:

I would not try it in Phnom Penh, as they have been rather consistent of late, in limiting these to 3 per-passport.  But you could go to Vietnam, Laos, or Penang, Malaysia – as nearby options.

In the end, the situation remains confusing to say the least. Fact is that a growing number of foreigners, mostly with a long history of visa stickers in their passports, had their tourist visa applications rejected recently.

So in the first place, stricter requirements for tourist visa applications appear to be in place at a number of Thai consulates in the SEA region, e.g., in Savannakhet/Laos and Penang/Malaysia. Applicants there now may (or may not) have to submit proof of finances (20,000+ Baht), produce an air ticket out of Thailand as well as hotel bookings or a rental contract.
This should be doable in most cases and guarantee three or so back-to-back tourist visa.

But what should quasi expats (we mean tourist visa holders that effectively live in Thailand for a full year and longer) do after they’ve done “too many” border runs and accumulated more than a handful or so tourist visa stickers in their passports?
At the moment it is hard to predict how stringent and sustained this most recent crackdown on “professional” tourist visa applicants may be. Granted, you could try your luck at a “less popular” consulate in the Asia-Pacific region. But some say that the good old days where you could effectively live in Thailand on the basis of tourist visas and 30-day visa runs to the Cambodian border are definitely over now.
This may or may not be true.
In the worst-case scenario, foreigners affected by this most recent crackdown should be prepared to apply for a fresh passport (with no tourist visa stickers or other stamps in it) or simply spend some time out of the country again, be it in their home country or, perhaps, in Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines etc.
The list of destinations in the Southeast Asian region for the “temporarily unwanted in Thailand” may be longer than the most recent crackdown persists?

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