I overstayed my Thailand tourist visa by more than 9 months. I've gone back and forth between having work permits and the visa that goes with them and abusing the overstay policy. For some
time, the policy has been that if you overstay, when you finally exit Thailand you must pay a fine of 500 baht per day, up to a maximum of 20,000 baht. This created a loophole where people like me would hit the 20,000 baht mark and just stay indefinitely
until the next time we decided to leave the country. I've heard that some do this for years at a time. According to the law, there was always the threat of detention or prison for long overstays but it was never enforced unless you were caught
inside Thailand during an overstay and couldn't afford to pay another sort of fine to the "proper authorities".
Usually I don't overstay but a couple times I went over by 5 days and then said "What the heck, I'll let this ride and just pay 20,000 baht some day in the future". I make no excuses for it and I know that overstaying in Thailand or any other country is wrong and a stupid thing to do but I'll just say that I've always been more concerned about following the rules in Thailand than the law…
Any way, when I saw the recent news that they might start throwing people like me in jail when we go to the border to pay our fines and exit the country, I was obviously quite concerned. Reality hit and I realized that I had been playing a stupid game with no real upside and a very big possible downside.
I'm making good money as a writer, which would be jeopardized by an unforeseen visit to the slammer. I was trying to decide between working for another couple months while saving my cash to use for a large, one time "get out of jail free card" and coming clean now. I contacted some of the visa run companies and they said that the supposedly new policy (enforcing the jail time provision of the old law) was not in effect. However, the news was just hours old, so that might be the very reason that they had not seen it enforced yet.
Many online have complained that there was not a grace period. The immigration laws have been getting tighter in Thailand for quite some time and if this isn't really happening yet, it's only a matter of time. I also thought that the very ambiguity of the release of the information might be some sort of unofficial grace period in itself. So I figured the best thing to do was to come clean now, face the consequences and get this monkey off my back.
I took a visa run service to the border and was told by the guide who takes care of us visa runners that I should be ok and that the new policy was being used as a method to trip up foreign criminals in Thailand. However, when I told the guide of my idea to tell the Thai officials the truth if asked why I overstayed so long (I had knowingly abused the system but found out about the policy change and wanted to come clean and present myself to them ASAP), I was told that it was a BAD idea and that I needed to make up a sob story.
When I've done visa runs before, I usually sleep on the way over there. I didn't sleep a wink this time. I got my sob story ready, got to the border on a very busy day (early Saturday morning) and got in the overstay line with the 5 other overstayers. The visa run guide advised others to get in front of me because my case might "take a long time". Most got through without a hitch and my nervousness was starting to subside. Then the Asian guy in front of me seemed to be having some "issues". A second, serious looking Thai immigration officer came to discuss his case with the officer at the desk and it seemed something serious was up. I don't know if the guy got through or not.
When I stepped up and presented my passport, the immigration officer opened it, found the date and cheerfully said, "You overstay long time."
With puppy dog eyes, I answered, "Yes, I'm sorry."
She answered, "20,000 baht."
I was never in my life so happy to hand over a large sum of cash. That was it. I signed some paperwork, she had another immigration officer sign some paperwork and sent me on my way. Coming back into Thailand was not an issue.
So far as I can tell, the rumored new policy is not being enforced at Poi Pet… yet. The visa run guide said I might have been lucky because it was such a busy day.
I almost don't want to put this information out because it might lead to complacency in others and make them think that everything is as it was (and it does appear to be). However, there can be no doubt that immigration policies and laws have been trending stricter and that the 20,000 baht loophole (really just an unenforced law, not a loophole) will probably be one of the next things looked at by the Thai authorities. Another thing I think that they might do in the future is retroactively remove the 20,000 baht limit, which if you think about the ramifications would be even harsher than the rumored new policy.
Although there are more hoops to jump through than in the past, it is still incredibly easy for any Westerner to reside in Thailand indefinitely. If this new policy is to become a reality, I believe that we may be in the grace period NOW and that people like me need to get our visas sorted and start playing by the rules immediately or we may end up at the immigration detention center or even prison.
Excellent submission and thanks so much for taking the time to put it together. With so much speculation about what is going on, and what might happen, it's good to know what is actually happening.
I would URGE anyone on an overstay to get it sorted out pronto. It is just asking for trouble living in a country indefinitely on an expired visa. Also, you never know if / how it might cause problems in the future. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Thailand might one day say that anyone who has overstayed is ineligible for visas or visa extensions. Anything is possible!