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Shades of Grey


My wife and I recently spent two months in Thailand to visit friends and family. We obtained the usual 30 day visitor’s visa at Suvarnabhumi Airport with a view to applying for an extension in-country at the local immigration office. My wife is a Thai national who also holds a British passport under her married name. Her Thai passport and ID card are both in her maiden name.

On arriving at the immigration office in central Thailand we were greeted by a smiling official who was happy to extend our tourist visas at a cost of 1,900 Thai baht each. Once all the paperwork had been completed I was granted a 30 day extension. Because my wife is a Thai national her British passport was stamped with a 1-year extension. The helpful immigration officer then explained to my wife that in future she need not obtain a visa to enter Thailand. The process he suggested she adopt is as follows:

  1. Purchase her return flight to Thailand under her married name.
  2. Present her British passport at the airline check-in desk, to Immigration Control and at the boarding gate when leaving the UK.
  3. Present her Thai passport to Immigration Control on entering Thailand.
  4. Present her British passport at the airline check-in desk and at the boarding gate, but her Thai passport to Immigration Control when departing Thailand.
  5. Present her British passport to Immigration Control on arrival in the UK.

The airline is required to confirm the passenger is entitled to travel to their documented destination and that the name on the passport matches the name on their airline ticket. Immigration checks are in place to confirm the passenger’s identity that they are free to enter or leave the country and are not in breach of any visa requirements. On leaving the UK and staying in Thailand for more than 30 days, the UK airline check-in desk may question the lack of a Thai visa. This happened to us. My explanation that the requisite visa will be obtained in-country was not challenged by the UK authorities.

The Thai immigration officer then told us that it is illegal for a Thai national to hold dual citizenship. It is clear that his statement flies in the face of logic given he had just stamped my wife’s British passport with a one year visa extension in accordance with the documented procedure for dealing with such applications by Thai nationals with foreign passports. I think he was trying to warn us against showing both passports to a Thai immigration official at a border crossing, port or airport as he believes there is a risk my wife’s Thai passport could be confiscated. I have heard that did sometimes happen many years ago, but not that it is current practice. I resolved to check the Internet for a definitive answer. Unsurprisingly, my internet search was inconclusive, returning contradictory information. From what I can deduce it is unclear exactly what status dual citizenship has in Thai law, although there is at least some recognition. Perhaps the best advice is that in Thailand the law is whatever the government official you are dealing with says it is!

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When staying in her home province, my wife insists on riding one of the ubiquitous small motorbikes responsible for so many lives being cut short within the Kingdom. In 2013, the World Health Organisation ranks Thailand in second place of countries with the most per capita road deaths, with a fatality rate of 36.2 per 100,000 people. The number of fatalities on UK roads that year was 2.9 per 100,000 people. On reading the small print of my annual travel insurance policy I noticed that medical insurance for motorcycle usage was restricted to full licence holders’ riding machines not exceeding 125cc. Given the very limited medical facilities available within her family’s central Thai province, should my wife be involved in an accident there is a very real possibility she would need to be transferred to Bangkok or possibly even evacuated back to the UK for treatment. On this understanding, I encouraged her to take the Thai motorcycle test.

As I believe is the case with many Thais, my wife has been riding motorcycles for many years without taking her test, but so far it has never been an issue. Although the police are now on the lookout for drunk / drugged drivers, their main focus seems to be on extracting tea money from young riders without helmets. I have seen motorbikes laden with very unsafe and unsecure loads, four or five riders – including infants, dogs and once even a chicken – all apparently invisible to the men in tight brown shirts.

The Thai motorcycle test consists of a multi-choice theory test followed by an off-road riding test. The second part of the test involves riding around some cones, traversing a long narrow plank of wood set in the ground and then circumnavigating several marked out junctions stopping where required to do so at the solid white lines. There are no traffic lights, roundabouts or crucially any other traffic to contend with. After that you are good to go, although there is a follow-up theory test to take two years later. I was somewhat puzzled by the plank of wood, but was told that it is a historical requirement from when it was commonplace for motorcyclists to cross streams by this means. The technique required to avoid falling off is to remain focused on the far end of the plank whilst riding at a steady 10mph.

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My wife successfully passed her theory test, but subsequently failed the off-road riding test several times. She just could not master the plank of wood. Although she had access to a nearby practice off-road riding area for some inexplicable reason this did not include the plank of wood element. After failing her most recent test, she arrived late at a meal we had arranged with some friends. Everyone was sympathetic, with one lady explaining she had a contact who would be able to help. Nobody present raised any concerns around ethics, safety or legality. For a small consideration, it was simply a question of one Thai helping another to make a problem go away. A further motorcycle test was therefore arranged, this time with a positive outcome guaranteed. Ironically, my wife subsequently passed the test ‘she could not fail’ on merit. If we had known she would finally defeat the dreaded plank of wood through her own best effort we could have saved the cost of a bottle of perfume and a bottle of whisky!

One day I arrived early at a restaurant we often use. We were the only customers. As soon as we sat down the staff turned on some awful music at high volume. I politely asked that the music be turned off so we could talk before eating. The waitress said that as soon as any customers arrive they have to turn on the music. I explained to her that we were the only customers in the restaurant and didn’t want to listen to the music. She said as soon as any customers arrive they have to turn on the music. It was all perfectly logical to her – stupid Farang not understand. TWA – Thailand Wins Again!

The author can be reached at: [email protected]