By Barry Kenyon

Anything and everything about Thailand
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Pattaya now nearly empty of visa amnesty foreigners

By Barry Kenyon

September 12, 2020

There is growing evidence that Pattaya simply does not house thousands, or even hundreds, of non-Thais quivering in their shoes about what might happen to them after September 26. This is the date the Thai government has fixed for the end of the six months’ visa amnesty for those whose visa expired later than March 25 and have been trapped in Thailand because of travel difficulties. Most long-term expats already had one year visas or extensions of stay and have been renewing in the normal way at immigration as their permits have expired.

Immigration authorities have already announced that two categories of foreigners will be allowed a further 30 days extension on payment of the 1,900 baht fee if they can produce a letter from their embassy (confirming return would be impossible or difficult) or confirmation from a hospital that they are too sick to travel. These exemptions date from September 27 and can be repeated with the same documentation, if necessary, the following month and even thereafter.

Other amnesty beneficiaries have been able to obtain a new 90 days non-immigrant “O” visa at an immigration bureau which will enable continued stay almost until the new year. These include those with Thai spouses and/or dependents who have been able to produce documents to persuade immigration authorities of their individual case, Elite visa applicants, some categories of registered volunteers, holders of the hi-tech (sunrise industries) visa and some foreigners in the field of education. However, some non-qualified foreigners may have been able to obtain a new 90 days permit from local visa agents on payment of a lump sum, according to reports. Nothing new there.

Some commentators have remarked on the large number of foreigners in the Pattaya area who appear to come from neighboring countries (Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar). But these are virtually always labourers working in the construction, fishing and retail industries who come under different regulations and are not subject to a September 26 deadline. They are registered with the Foreign Worker Employment Agency, represented in Chonburi by the Chang Pattaya Service Company. A spokesman told Pattaya Mail, “At the moment there is actually a shortage of these workers because those wishing to return to Thailand are subject to the unpopular 14-days quarantine.” Absolutely nothing to do with the visa amnesty.

Other commentators have suggested that there are countless foreign students in Pattaya who were unable to return to their home countries because of travel difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic. But university spokespeople don’t seem to agree. One, at Thammasat University, commented in a phone interview, “We don’t know who these trapped people might be.” Staff and students currently abroad are returning to Thailand provided they obtain a certificate of entry from their local Thai embassy which requires substantial paperwork and comprehensive medical insurance worth at least US$100,000.

The only other category of foreigners would be general tourists whose visa expired after March 25 and who benefited from two free extensions, one to July 31 and the later one to September 26. But how many of those are still here? Pattaya Mail asked several foreigners eating at cafes in Pattaya’s Soi Buakhao area which is popular with modest-income expats. We were told that most of the visa amnesty beneficiaries had already left for Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe (the principal destinations) as they did not believe the amnesty would be extended for a third time beyond September 26. However, it’s fair to point out this was not a scientific inquiry.

If these findings are correct, the principal groups now left in Pattaya and hoping for a further extension are a diminishing number of foreigners who can’t afford the airfare home and an unknown number of aliens whose visa expired before March 26 and are thus already on substantial overstay. As has been the case for many years, overstayers are subject to arrest, fines and finally deportation once a friend or an embassy has funded the flight home. Neither of these groups is likely to have the financial resources to help Pattaya recover from its tourist doldrums. They are not big spenders.

There will certainly be those who give a huge sigh of relief if the Thai government relents and extends the amnesty again. Certainly in Pattaya, however, that theoretical total number may be much smaller than often claimed.If there are thousands of tourists hoping to live in Thailand visa-free forever, they are certainly keeping a low profile. Very low indeed.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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I'm somewhat scratching my head as to why Thailand does not want to continue granting visa amnesties considering the current financial situation. Foreigners in Thailand are spending money in Thailand, whether large or small amounts it is still money being spent in Thailand. Forcing them to go forth from Thailand means their money goes forth with them.

As long as they can support themselves, I don't understand the logic (or lack thereof) behind refusing to grant further amnesty. Another item for my "I Don't Get It" list.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Yes, the leadership in Thailand seems to make some totally irrational decisions. Not that this is unique to Thailand, since some other countries we know also have incompetent leadership.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Also, the tourist industry is trying to put as much pressure as they can on the powers-that-be to reopen Thailand to international tourism, and so far they are getting nowhere. In the meantime Thailand is pushing domestic tourism and now also coming up with ideas they hope will attract expat tourism.

But foreigners already in Thailand under the visa amnesty would also be likely to go places and do things that would add money to the tourist industry coffers, wouldn't they? Somehow I doubt they prefer to spend their days cooped up in a hotel room.

Since they are already here and spending money, if there is a rational point to forcing them to leave while the tourist industry - and now peripheral businesses too - are in so much trouble, I'd like to know what it is.

And yet the baht still remains strong against the US dollar and other currencies. I don't understand why.

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Gaybutton wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 6:47 pm
And yet the baht still remains strong against the US dollar and other currencies. I don't understand why.
It is rather the Dollar is weak. Baht is losing with respect to euro, Swiss frank and Japanese yen.

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Christmas in Pattaya this year is looking slightly more optimistic

By Barry Kenyon

September 30, 2020

Nobody is suggesting that the holly and mistletoe-laden cash registers of Pattaya will be ringing as merrily this December as they did in 2019. Of course not. Everyone who gives a hoot has seen ad nauseam those press photos of deserted beaches and empty deck chairs. Not to mention all those for rent and for sale notices on umpteen bars, restaurants and also massage parlors – even those offering a full soapy experience in a bubble bath tub. No thanks.

But there are signs, here and there, that Christmas this year may not be quite as forlorn as the pessimists have predicted. Let’s start with the government and allied agencies. Both the Tourist Council of Thailand and at least one government minister have prophesied that at least 50,000 tourists will visit Thailand in the last quarter of 2020. A drop in the ocean, but a start. Meanwhile, Dr Theravet Hemachuda, head of the infectious diseases centre of the Red Cross, has supported the idea of reducing compulsory quarantine from two weeks to seven days in line. It might not happen. But it might.

The new government initiative the Special Tourist Visa (STV) starts next week with a charter plane of 150 Chinese from the city of Guangzhou. They are heading for Phuket but it’s apparently not the Phuket “model” we used to hear so much about. A similar size group from Scandinavia is expected mid-month en route to Ko Samui. If these experiments are successful without the wrath of a second Covid-19 outbreak – and yes it’s a big if – then expect to see more flights to Bangkok or even U-tapao in November. That should benefit Pattaya. A little anyway. City Hall here has been lobbying the government hard for a share in this potential tourist pie.

Meanwhile, some Thai embassies on their websites are now more confident about the future. The Helsinki one actually states that those Finns with an 0/A non-immigrant 12-months retirement visa, or wish to apply for one, can then request the all-important embassy-issued certificate of entry to fly to Thailand. This is the first time a Thai embassy has been specific about retirees potentially being able to enter Thailand. Or at least they can make the application.

The Thai embassy in London in its recently updated website now states specifically the airlines operating repatriation or semi-commercial flights. Previously only Thai Airways was singled out, but now the list also includes Eva, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Singapore Airlines. In a phone conversation, a Thai embassy official said that the embassy was awaiting further instructions about the Thai government’s recent announcement that “some” non-immigrant visa holders would qualify for entry as long as they could show the equivalent of 500,000 baht in home bank accounts for the last six months. Wait and see on this one. It could be quite a loophole.

Another noticeable softening has been in the references to the compulsory medical insurance worth at least US$100,000 on embassy websites. Initially it was stressed that such insurance must be issued by a Thai company and must cover all potential costs and not just those related to Covid-19 infection. It now appears, from information on the Thai embassy Washington DC website and several others, that equivalent non-Thai-issued insurance is acceptable provided it covers all claims arising if the policy holder catches the dread disease. Clarification has not yet been forthcoming, but there is a huge difference between insurance which is Covid-19 specific and that which is comprehensive but includes that infection.

It should be noted too that domestic tourism has already been a bright spot for Pattaya in the last few months. Encouraged by government-inspired discounts and special offers, thousands of Thai tourists are hitting the city especially on weekends and holidays. Added to that is the cash injection provided by Pattaya’s long-stay expats, thought to number up to 10,000, and the more numerous visa amnesty beneficiaries who can now stay until the end of November and likely longer if they so wish. The economic impact of this unexpected move by the immigration authority and the Thai Cabinet isn’t yet clear. Some estimates say there are 20,000-plus amnesty tourists still in the Pattaya area. Maybe.

Obviously mass tourism to Thailand is not just round the corner. It will remain elusive as long as the coronavirus stokes fears of a new outbreak here and the government’s CCSA (Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration) requires potential visitors to jump through so many bureaucratic and expensive hoops as reported frequently by Thai and social media. But Pattaya’s future as a leisure resort isn’t looking gloomier after the events of the last week. Just a bit brighter.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Ambiguity still surrounds the Special Tourist Visa for long-stay visitors

By Barry Kenyon

October 3, 2020

The Ministry of the Interior and the Tourist Authority of Thailand have now both confirmed the Special Tourist Visa (STV) will go ahead this month. It allows foreigners with voluminous documentation to apply for a three-months special visa which can be extended twice for further three months (90+90+90) for a maximum of 270 days.

The purpose of the STV is to pilot a limited tourist return to Thailand whilst maintaining effective Covid-19 control and prevention measures. This is why the privileged visitors will need to undergo quarantine in approved hotels or hospital surroundings. They must also provide medical insurance, although the former requirement for all returnees to Thailand has been modified for the STV. Instead of a minimum level of US$100,00 or three million baht, STV visitors will need cover for at least 400,000 baht (inpatient) and 40,000 baht (outpatient). This coincides with the amounts, announced in 2019, for all O/A non-immigrant visa holders to prove both on entry and when applying for extensions at Thai immigration. Whether or not the new lower amounts for other categories of visitors is unknown.

The most recent statement from government sources does clarify that the STV cannot be changed at Thai immigration offices for other types. In other words, the STV cannot be used to facilitate one-year extensions of stay (marriage or retirement), work permits or becoming a student. The only way an STV visa can notionally be extended beyond 270 days is unfitness to travel demonstrated by hospital documentation. However, the issue won’t be relevant until the summer of 2021. Much might have changed by then.

It is still unclear how often, if at all, STV vacationers will be able to leave Thailand and then return within the visa limits. The tourism ministry earlier stated that the idea was specifically to benefit the Thai economy, so the assumption is that frequent departures for sight-seeing elsewhere may cause a problem. On the other hand, neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos or Malaysia are not currently admitting tourists. The problem in practical terms may not be a big issue, especially as all border posts are still closed to foreigners.

The latest information is that the STV may be applied for only at Thai embassies and consulates worldwide. Earlier indications were that applications should be routed through a Bangkok-based longstay travel company. Whether this company would still be involved in arranging charter flights is not specified. It had been reported that the first group of charter flight STV visitors would arrive in Phuket mid-month from Guangzhou, although this pilot has not been confirmed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand which is responsible for monitoring all flights. It is still not totally clear if individuals could enter Thailand by non-charter routes such as private jets, repatriation flights or even by scheduled commercial flights when available.

Finally, applicants will need to know which countries are deemed safe enough to send STV tourists and which are regarded as high-risk Covid-19 overseas locations. The expectation that China and ASEAN countries will be preferred over UK, mainland Europe and the United States. Equally, Scandinavia was identified as a good STV source as well as China in earlier promotional material. Safe and unsafe countries are likely to be a moving target in the months ahead.

If experience is any guide, the detail will be inked in, and the ambiguities sorted, only when Thai embassies round the world are permitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote the STV and explain its rules and regulations to potential customers. Stay relaxed and check again in a couple of weeks.

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Retirees wanting to return to Thailand – can they or can’t they?

By Barry Kenyon

October 6, 2020

As Thai authorities over the summer months have widened the categories of foreigners able to enter Thailand, one group has bitterly complained of neglect. They are the holders of one-year visas or extensions of stay based specifically on retirement. Many have lived here for years and may well own condominium units and spend their pensions liberally to the benefit of the Thai treasury. But they were outside Thailand in March when the travel shutdown commenced.

Some of the retirees have already managed to get back into the country by successfully claiming membership of an approved category such as having a Thai spouse or young dependants to fund and support. A few have opted out of retirement restrictions altogether by changing their status to the Elite visa which has been an approved grouping for several weeks now. But that requires a non-returnable 500,000 baht as the cash fee for a five year stint.

The Thai government has now announced that the holders of the one year O/A visa (based on retirement) and the O/X ten year visa can now apply for that all-important certificate of entry from the Thai embassy in their home country. First-timers can also apply for these visas assuming they have the cash or income required by the regulations and can provide all the necessary details such as medical insurance from approved companies, Cocid-19 tests, booking of quarantine hotel and all the rest. The days when you needed just a passport and an air ticket to be a world traveller disappeared when the pesky virus arrived. Everyone without exception now needs a wad of paperwork and embassy permission to get into the Land of Smiles.

That leaves us with those retirees currently abroad with an annual “O” category extension of stay issued by Thai immigration. Can they return? The answer is currently a resounding “no”. The Thai embassies in Zurich and Washington DC are explicit on this point, whilst others (including London) specify that retirement options are limited to “O/A” and “O/X” choices.

If you have an “O” of this type and are currently abroad, your options may be to wait for a change of heart or to re-apply for a one-year “O/A” visa, or even to seek a three-months “O” visa from the local Thai embassy which, according to several of them, is available to foreigners over the age of 62 for “temporary” retirement purposes. Presumably this three months visa could then be morphed later at Thai immigration into a 12-months retirement extension of stay as in the past.

The reason why you cannot reenter Thailand with an “O” annual extension of stay, but can with an “O/A” or “O/X”, is likely that the latter two are issued by Thai embassies and consulates abroad whilst the annual “O” is handed out by Thai immigration. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs controls the embassies but absolutely not the Thai immigration police. Absolutely separate entities.

The differences go deeper. Once a foreigner enters Thailand with an “O/A” or “O/X”, he or she must provide evidence of medical insurance every year and not only at initial entry. But those who have obtained their one year extension of stay “O” through the immigration bureau (not through an embassy) do not currently need any medical insurance when they apply for a further one year extension of stay at renewal time. There has long been a debate in Thailand about whether all expats should be required to have ongoing medical insurance or whether they should be allowed to self-insure if they so wish. You have not heard the last of this thorny question.

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Thailand’s Special Tourist Visa (STV) gets curiouser and curiouser

By Barry Kenyon

October 7, 2020

The website of the Thailand Longstay Company, set up in 2001 in partnership with government agencies, is surprisingly announcing that the STV is available to tourists wanting to stay as short as a month in Thailand. And that includes the compulsory two weeks quarantine which, incidentally, is usually 16 days as the first and final are commonly regarded as zero for counting purposes.

Another question mark hovers above the insurance requirements. TLC states that applicants must have a minimum of US$100,000 (3 million plus baht) cover for coronavirus-related medical costs and a separate lump sum insurance of at least 400,000 baht for other inpatient treatment. Or do they? The Thai embassy based at Bern in Switzerland, almost unique in posting information about the STV at present, suggests on its website that only the insurance of US$100,000 is required.

The Thai authorities have been clear that the STV will be granted only to individuals living in areas with a good track record of combatting the disease and being virtually free of community-transmitted infection. There does not appear to be a definitive list of the countries, although government ministers have spoken of China and Scandinavia as the early birds. Recent press reports speak of possible delays before any charter planes actually land and confusion at the civil aviation ministry.

An additional confusion is the actual role of local embassies and the TLC. The website of the TLC says it can do all the legwork for a 10,000 baht fee, including the immigration police check, and will liaise with the appropriate consulate at late stage to issue the visa. But the website of the Bern embassy details all the regulations without mentioning the TLC. The actual visa fee is 2,000 baht, obviously exclusive of air fares, health insurance, quarantine and later accommodation and assorted health certificates.

So the potential market for STV is very unclear. Perhaps that is inevitable as much visa policy has been devised on the hoof in recent months. Some believe that the underlying theme is to pilot a mass tourism scheme from the gigantic Chinese market. If so, the huge bureaucracy and high costs suggest a very limited appeal. Even if many more charter flights are agreed in principle, it is far from clear where the bottoms on seats are coming from.

This has led some to speculate that the immediate market may not be tourists packed on charter flights at all, but the super-rich on their private jets kept well away from the glare of publicity, airline schedules and airport problems. These are the guys and gals who can spend their quarantine in six-star luxury comfort, using their platinum cards to avoid touching bank notes. Their spending power is hugely higher than the tourist travelling economy class on a charter flight with a limited budget. The private jet hire and sales companies all agree there are thousands of parked luxury aircraft just waiting to whisk you away to just about anywhere. Spokespersons for Aircharter and XO Aviation confirm interest in Thailand is huge. And there is no shortage of billionaires these days.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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More opportunities ahead to work in Thailand without a work permit

By Barry Kenyon

October 13, 2020

Traditionally, Thai immigration authorities have been very strict about the need to have a Department of Labour permit to work in Thailand. Whether you were a private businessman setting up your own company or a person with a firm job offer from a Thai company or school, the list of required documents was exhaustive. Even voluntary work could land you in trouble because being unpaid did not necessarily let you off the hook.

Two years ago, an amendment to the alien labour laws allowed foreigners to attend seminars, participate in trade shows and even give lectures for a limited period without needing an official work permit. These short-term business people are able at the present time to apply to their local Thai embassy for a certificate of eligibility to fly to Thailand provided they request a non-immigrant visa, provide health insurance to the tune of US$100,000 and pay for compulsory quarantine.

Another change in 2018 was the establishment of the four-year Smart visa to attract highly-skilled executives, investors and entrepreneurs in targeted hi-tech industries. This is the first visa in Thai immigration history not to require a work permit. It also carries other perks such as no requirement to report for 90 days and permission for foreign spouses and close relatives also to work without hassle. Earlier this year, the government further announced that the specialist work-related area need not be hi-tech but could include other disciplines such as tourism.

Since the beginning of this month, there have been two further promised slackenings of the traditional rules. Foreign owners of Thai properties – usually condominium units – are able to apply to the local embassy to enter Thailand although they must also have Thai cash or bonds here to the value of at least 3 million baht, not to mention the equivalent of 500,000 baht in a foreign bank for the previous six months. Successful applicants will be given a non-immigrant “B” visa to manage their affairs without needing a work permit.

The latest move, announced this week, is to allow current and future Elite card holders automatically to have a work permit or exemption provided they paid at least one million baht for their long-term 10-20 years Elite permit. That would exclude the five year Elite holders as they paid only 500,000 baht. But they would be expected to invest in government bonds or in the Thai stock market or risk losing the work permit. This arrangement has yet to obtain official government approval but is expected to be in place by the new year.

A further move on the Privilege Card front is to encourage property developers to include the Elite visa as a free bonus in the sale of any property for at least 10 million baht. These announcements demonstrate clearly that the aim of the government in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is to encourage those foreigners able to engage in wealth-creation activities, using Elite visas and automatic work permits as the attraction. The Tourist Authority of Thailand estimates that the sale of just 1,000 Elite cards under the new flexible program will inject 20 billion baht into the national economy.

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