Even if you do everything right when you visit the immigration office to extend your visa you’ll still spend a frustrating half day waiting for that all important stamp in your passport signalling that you’ve been granted an additional 30 days stay in country, but if you don’t know what to expect and arrive unprepared, you’re not likely to see that stamp.
We spent a particularly boring four hours getting the job done and whilst the process ran smoothly, we noticed a few rule changes that left lots of people leaving in a huff, presumably to go and get the documents that they were missing.
This guide is correct as of February 2015 and if you follow the instructions you too should receive your visa extension without any problems.
How to stay in Thailand legally for 90 days
There are many ways to manipulate the visa system including overland visa runs and applying for incorrect visas, however we intend to do everything properly and avoid seeing the inside of a Thai jail (we’ve watched the Bridget Jones sequel, yo!).
We wanted to spend the maximum time period of 90 days in Thailand and so we bought a 60 day visa back in London and then applied for a 30 day visa extension in Chiang Mai.
Where to go
Visa extensions are handled at the Immigration Office which can be found just outside of town and right on top of the airport. The full address is:
Chiang Mai Provincial Immigration Office
Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District
Chiang Mai 50200
The office is really easy to find.
Any songthaew will take you there from town for around 60 baht or if you have a scooter there is parking available to the left of the building.
When to go
The office opening hours are 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday – Friday though there are often closures for holidays or religious festivals so it’s worth planning in advance to make sure the office will be open when you visit.
We had heard that despite the office not opening until 8:30, to guarantee being seen it was imperative that we arrive no later than 7 am. We rocked up at 7:15 am to find the office already open and jam packed with anxious travellers who were even more keen than us.
I heard one guy say he’d arrived at 4:30 am and another boasted that he’d turned up straight after a club kicked him out (though I wouldn’t recommend doing this!). So when is the right time to arrive?
Personally, I think anything before 7 AM is overkill. Though the office was full and I estimate that there were a good 40 people there before us, not everyone wanted the same service as us and so we were actually number 15 and 16 in the queue which I think is good enough. The queue grew very quickly and only around an hour later I saw a lady waiving around a ticket that had number 86 on it! Chances are she would not have been seen that day.
Documents you need to bring
If you don’t have everything you need you’ll be sent away. Considering that you’ll have been waiting a good 3 hours before anyone even checks your documentation, you’ll have wasted a lot of time and sanity if you arrive unprepared.
Make sure you bring:
- Your passport.
The office will need to check your current visa and if approved, stamp your new visa onto your passport and so you must bring the original document with you.
- Your application form.
We visited the office a week before we made our application to collect forms and to scope out the joint. If you only want to make the one trip you can download the application form here. Make sure you select TM7.
Ensure that every part of the form is completed and be sure to include your full address in Thailand including postcode. Applications have been refused if this detail is missing and it might not be easy to find it when you’re at the office.
Though these instructions aren’t on the form, you must also write your e-mail address and telephone number on the bottom.
You will need to bring a photocopy of the main page of your passport, the page containing your current Thai visa, the page containing your immigration stamp and a copy of your departure card. Each piece of paper must then be signed by you. It’s best to deal with this before arrival but there is a photocopy machine behind the immigration building if you need it.
- A passport photo.
Why? I’m not really sure. The immigration officer dealing with your case will take another picture of you during your interview and so this seems unnecessary but you won’t get far without it.
The cost of extending your visa is 1,900 baht. You must pay this in cash in local currency. Change is given but only once your application has been approved.
For comfort it’s also wise to bring a book or something to keep you occupied. There is nothing to do but wait and the time will go much slower if you have nothing to keep you busy. You can buy snacks and drinks at the coffee shop next door.
Upon arrival go immediately to the far right counter to collect your queue number. Don’t hang around because numbers go quickly and missing your turn could mean that you are then not seen until the next day.
Once you have your number you can grab a seat either in the office, outside in the sun or next door at the coffee shop to wait it out. This part is painfully slow and the numbers tick by veeerrrry slowly. It took 3 hours to get to my number 15 and then a further 25 minutes to get to Glen’s number 16.
When your number is called you must present yourself at the correct desk. This in itself is tricky because there are actually 7 desks and none of them seem different than the others. When we visited tourist visa extensions were handled at desk 1 which is the desk closest to the main door.
When you get to speak to the immigration officer be very polite and make sure you are presentable. You are more likely to have success if you come across well and so arriving drunk or being rude is not going to help. First you hand over all of your documentation which the officer will scrutinise. He may ask a few questions about your intended length of stay, your reason for stay, next country you plan to visit etc. You should be able to easily answer the questions and so just be calm and confident.
The officer will stamp your TM7 form and ask you to sign it and you will then be sent back to the waiting room. Not long after you will be called back to the desk to have your photograph taken.
Then more waiting ensues. Eventually (within around 45 minutes) you should hear your name and nationality called over the tannoy at which point you should go to the information desk. There you will be reunited with your passport (including new 30 day stamp), a receipt and any change you are owed.
Points to note
- You can apply to extend your visa up to 45 days in advance. Don’t leave it to the last minute. If you face delays due to long queue times or office closures you are going to be slapped with an overstay fine which is 500 baht per day and seeing as you are in the country illegally, you could be arrested or deported.
- Since the military coup in 2014 there has been a crackdown on tourists manipulating the visa system. Because of this if you travel to Thailand regularly or use visa runs to stay indefinitely, you may experience issues with immigration. Working illegally in country is also in the spotlight so if you don’t have a work visa, do not work.
- The famous backpacker one-upmanship exists freely in this office and there is no way to escape the tales of the brave and adventurous whilst you wait. If you want to join in the douche party, go ahead, otherwise for sanity’s sake, bring headphones.
If there’s anything you would like further information on please ask. Or perhaps you have some tips to add? Please let us know and we’ll be happy to update the post.