Non-Immigrant “O” Stands For “Ordeal”
A lot has been written about various Thai visa situations but, after quite a bit of research, I could find precious little about getting a visa based on a marriage to a Thai. So, having recently had just such an experience, I thought I might submit it for the edification of any Stickman readers who care.
Since I no longer work in Thailand but still want to live here, and I am not yet of retirement age, I went after the elusive Non-immigrant “O” visa, based on my marriage to a Thai. Before I left my home in Phuket I did many hours of internet research to make sure I met all the requirements for documents and copies. Apparently I did too much research because, instead of a nice, straightforward checklist of what to do, I found a morass of contradictory information, with the various government and private websites disagreeing on exactly what the process entailed.
However, in the end, I met with success and, for the benefit of others in the same boat, I’ll lay it all out here with Stickman’s kind permission.
Call me ignorant (I’m used to it), but it took me forever just to figure out that I had to actually leave Thailand to get the visa. I’ve done it before with a Non-B visa for work so I should have expected it, but it just seems ridiculous that I have to exit the country in order to deal with the government. To make sure, I went to the Phuket Immigration Police and they confirmed that I had to leave the country and I could apply at any Thai consulate overseas. Then I would return to Thailand on a 90-day visa, which I could subsequently appeal for extension to one year at an immigration office in country.
Living in Phuket, the logical choice would have been to hop the cheap Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, or take a bus to Penang. However I’ve been both places and neither of them really charms me, so I opted for a trip to Phnom Penh, a city that I really dig. There’s something magical and atmospheric about that place and, when I hop on a motodop and cruise around the old French colony, an inexplicable warm, excited feeling trickles through my veins. I can’t really explain it because I don’t quite understand it myself. The Khmers are really sweet people and the love of fun which they share with the Thais is injected with a keen sense of irony. While I have no male friends in Thailand, I always appreciate a drink with a Khmer dude and I usually come away a bit smarter for it.
In preparation for my trip, I checked out the Phnom Penh embassy website, downloaded the application forms, and noted the office hours and holidays. The site said nothing about the documents I might need, so I hit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs site looking for more details. However, while the MoFA site does go on at length about “O” visas for retirees, I do not meet the requirement of being over 50, and nothing is said about marriage visas for younger men.
Finally I tracked down a really useful forum run by the Nongkhai Immigration Police. Searching it I found an informative PDF file that listed what documents I would need when I applied for my one-year extension appeal. I took that as the basis for what I eventually brought with me on my visa run: passport, wife’s ID card (hoping she doesn’t get picked up by the cops while I’m gone), her family registration book, our marriage certificate, an official paper showing I am not a bigamist, a picture of our wedding, passport photos, my Thai bankbook, a letter of guarantee from the bank that said I had more than 400,000 baht (or 800,000 – depending who you ask), and four copies of each of the above.
I had most of these documents already in my possession. The Thai bank’s letter of guarantee was a bit of a hassle, however. My bank’s online banking site displays the words “letter of guarantee” listed tantalisingly amongst their links but clicking on it, I discovered it was not a link at all. Although they were in the same font and the same place as the links to the bank’s various online services, they were just words that lead to nowhere, probably put there to torment me by that red, winged monkey-demon that hangs out above the bank’s doors.
So it was off on a personal visit to the bank. Since it was a Saturday I headed to the only open branch in Phuket Town. After getting hopelessly lost there as I always do, I stumbled into the bank, where my request for a letter of guarantee was greeted by blank stares and vacant smiles. As my wife and I explained what we wanted in English, Thai, Japanese, Swahili and the official language of Nunavut, the staff fell back on Thailand’s second most popular reaction to reasonable questions: hostility. This was predictably followed by an empty promise that a mysteriously absent manager would solve all our problems on Monday.
I didn’t show up on Monday because I was busy at another branch of the very same bank getting the letter from someone who knew how to do his job, in less than 15 minutes.
Great, I was on my merry way. I gave the Thai Embassy in Cambodia a call but I was unable to get anyone to stay on the phone to tell me definitively what I needed to do. So I phoned the embassy in Singapore, got a decent English-speaker on the phone and promptly found my first discrepancy. The Nongkhai Immigration site had said I must show up together at the embassy with my wife, but the rather curt Singapore official said it wasn’t necessary for her to come. That was a relief for my wife, who is terrified of flying. They also said all I needed was my passport, wife’s ID, and marriage certificate. I packed everything else anyway and hopped Air Asia to Bangkok, then PG to Phnom Penh, landing myself at Flamingos Hotel just in time for late-night fun and games on Street 51.
There, I kicked some ass at Howies’ pool table for a couple hours before turning in. I’m just a mediocre player in Thailand, but those PP girls can’t play like their Bangkok sisters. To find a decent game during my drunken wanderings I took to asking for the bar’s top player like I was some kind of pool cowboy.
The next morning I headed to the consulate gates, where I waited with the patience of a puppy full of pee. Finally at the window, I foisted reams of paper on the surly-looking official. It took her less than 30 seconds to look at a single page of my application and utter the mantra of public servants worldwide: “mai dai”. When I asked her why I couldn’t apply for my visa there, she said, “You from Phuket, you go Malaysia!”
Why? “Because we are very busy. If everyone comes here we can’t handle the work. It’s a new rule.”
With my heart already halfway to my socks, I ran several possible responses through my head. I decided against saying, “But your website says nothing of this (while waving a printed copy),” or “What! Am I supposed to arrange my overseas travel plans according to your whims?” or the classic line from the b-grade comedy, Doctor Detroit, “I’m going to rip off your head and s**t down your neck!”
Instead I did what any proud, flag-waving American would do and begged. After a good three minutes of world-class grovelling, she gave me a blank application and told me to rewrite it with an address nearer to Cambodia. She was asking me to provide false information. Back to the end of the line, but I wasn’t perturbed really. I’ve been here long enough to expect a hitch or two in just about everything.
At the window again, I submitted all the papers. She selected only one copy each of my passport, the marriage certificate, my wife’s ID, and her family book. She stacked it together, stapled a few things………and then thrust it back at me. “We are too busy today. You come back tomorrow and you pick up your passport next week.”
At this point it was obvious I had forgotten the most important document, a $10 or $20 bribe folded into my passport. She was probably just pulling this stuff out of her ass to make some shopping money. Well, corruption pisses me off and I refuse to participate, not only because it costs money, but because I am convinced that corruption is what keeps a country in the “Third World”. The rich stay rich, the poor have no hope and international investors know they can never compete with locals and they stay out of the game. Contributing to the whole bribery/corruption process encourages the assholes and perpetuates the problem. It gives me no end of trouble, but I refuse to give them a satang.
I shoved the papers back at her and said I could under no circumstances wait another three to four days, telling her quite truthfully that my wife could not handle being alone that long. She said, “She is a Thai in Thailand, she’ll be OK.” Putting all the gravity I could into my voice I said, “No, she will not. You don’t know my wife.” My sweetie is a fiery, tough girl who would throw herself on a charging buffalo to protect me (and quite likely wrestle it to the ground), but if I’m not around she’s terrified of just about everything from gangsters and ghosts right down to geckos.
After it became obvious I wasn’t moving away from the window anytime soon, the embassy wench took the papers and the $50 visa fee and gave me a card that said my passport would be ready in two days on Friday afternoon.
I retired to the hotel and spent the next couple days enjoying the sights and experiences of Phnom Penh. I bought jewellery for the wife at the central market and a pair of sunglasses for myself. The saleswoman showed me a neat trick to make sure the lenses are glass and not plastic – hold a cigarette lighter up to the lens. I’ll enjoy trying that next time a Bangkok seller tells me some sunglasses are genuine Versace’s.
Down at the riverfront I took evening strolls and enjoyed how easy it was to brush off beggars and scam artists and how lightly they took rejection. Dancing at the Butterfly (the new in-spot since Heart of Darkness was closed down for a while due to a gun and a dead guy), I got a kick out of the local kids’ style. With a helluva lot less money they far outstrip the Thais in the fashion department. They have that cool, downplayed French fashion sense while the Thais are still wearing all kinds of gaudy designer crap to show how much money they can spend.
Friday came around and I was back at the consulate gate. At the window an expressionless embassy peon took my receipt, found my passport and slid it to me. Checking it as I left I found I’d gotten the Non-immigrant “O”. I also found a red stamp at the bottom of the visa which read, somewhat in English, “Permitted to apply visa at Phnom Penh for only this time.” I’m not totally sure what this signifies, but since the visa is single-entry, I think it means that for the next three months until I get my multiple-entry visa extension, I cannot go to Cambodia. Where would that leave me if I had a business in Phnom Penh? I’d have to choose between being with my wife or losing my business.
I’m not saying I’m surprised by any of this, but anyone who attempts to duplicate this whole process should best be warned, it’s more complicated than it looks. If I’ve learned anything from the experience of the past week, it is not to depend on internet information. Always phone first and talk to the actual person you will be dealing with at the consulate. Ha! Good luck on that.
While visa information is available on several official websites put up by the Thai Immigration Police and the various Thai embassies around the world, we all know that websites do not age gracefully. The cogs of bureaucracy turn slowly and, if some vital rule is changed, it takes aeons for some particular cog to decide it’s his job to announce the new rule to the world and have his cousin the amateur web developer slap it up online in English.
I am far from being an authority (on anything at all) but if anyone has questions about my particular experience, feel free to email me at [email protected]
If only I had time…