Our mad dash to get a Thai visa in London

We are currently in London on a whirl wind stop between the Dominican Republic and Lapland and first on the agenda following a long flight and no sleep is to present ourselves at the Thai Embassy in London’s West End to apply for visas.

We look like the walking dead. We have been awake for over 24 hours and a screaming, possibly possessed baby kept us awake for the whole of our long haul flight home so we are slightly agitated. We are also freezing cold after arriving in England with just light clothing and being greeted by 3 degree weather. Our winter coats don’t quite fit into out backpacks so we are making do – but who in their right mind is going to give us a visa??

We know we need to bring two passport pictures with us and so the first hurdle involves trying to find a photo booth which seem all but extinct in London. It’s our lucky day – we find one in Gatwick Airport on the way to the train station. It accepts payment by card and the £5 price is actually less than we thought it would be – let’s get snapping!

We both have pretty good tans going on and we know we’re tired but we’re young and adaptable – the tan will hide a multitude of sins.

Holy shit – it that us?? I don’t even recognise myself in the passport pics. But they’ll have to do – the embassy opens at 9.am and we’ve heard there is always a long queue outside. We only have 2 days to get this sorted so there’s no time to waste and it’s already 7.05 a.m.

We take an expensive train from Gatwick to Victoria Station and decide to walk the 25 minutes to the embassy to avoid all the rush hour commuters and try to wake ourselves up a little and it’s actually a really nice walk. Whilst we’ve been gone London has transformed into a festive spectacle and already I’m starting to get excited about being home for Christmas.

We arrive at the embassy at 8:13a.m sharp and find that everyone else arrived much earlier. Why is this? Immediately I’m panicking that this isn’t going to be as straight forward as originally thought – what do these people know that we don’t?

An orderly queue begins to grow around us along with the odd rude person that hangs around by the steps waiting to bust straight past us when the door opens but we’re English and we hate to be rude so we say nothing.

We get talking to a slight weirdo who tells us he is returning to Thailand for the 3rd time this year and passes tips to Glen about how cheap it is to buy company from pretty women. He seems oblivious to my discomfort and I think Glen is half considering dumping me right now to travel with this dude instead. Still he’s entertaining and the time standing in the freezing cold passes quickly. Thanks, local weirdo.

The doors open promptly at 9.am and as expected lots of latecomers rush past us to grab the first blood test style tickets. We end up being number 24 when I think we should be chilling somewhere around number 6 but I’m too tired to care. We need to complete the application form anyway and so we grab a couple and take a seat. I have a couple of pens in my daysack but at this point we’ve lost dexterity in our fingers from the cold and local weirdo grabs the seat next to ours and wants to continue the party. Crap.

It seems the number system is out – we’ve been here for mere seconds and number 18 is being called. We haven’t even started writing our forms and this guy won’t shut up. Mad scribbling with numb fingers commences with the odd polite smile thrown occasionally at our new friend to pretend we’re still listening to his creepy stories.

We finish scribbling on our way up to the desk after our number is called within 5 minutes of the door opening. Wow this is quick but we’re not prepared!!!!!

Get to the desk and a rather brusque Thai woman looks pissed off at us already. “READY?” she barks at us. She can sense that we are newbs and have no idea what we’re doing and she is loving the power she has over us. I feign nonchalance and reach for our passports from my daysack only to find that the moisturiser I kept in there for the flight has leaked all over them. NO!! WHY???

I discreetly wipe the passports on my leg to dislodge the worst of the gunk before handing them over to the lady who now actively looks like she will make it her life mission to personally keep us out of Thailand. I’m fumbling for passport pics to throw at her and she makes short work of chopping them up and then she gets to the point –“£50 two visa. Give money”. As soon as we hand over the fee we’re sent packing and told to come back tomorrow between 11:00 and 12:30 to collect the visas. I risk a quick question – “are the forms completed correctly”? We were in a mad rush and I don’t want to risk this going wrong but stoic embassy worker just waves us away whilst calling the next number.

We stop for a minute outside to repack everything we flung about in the chaos and are met again by local weirdo. His visa request has been declined. Is he on some watch list?? We excuse ourselves and head to my mum’s house where we’ll be staying for a few days to thaw out and finally sleep.

We return the next day feeling like new people. We are warm, well rested, fed and giddy with the excitement of getting our visa sorted – maybe we can do this travelling thing after all.

First impression is not good – two policeman are manhandling what looks like a respectable guy for being abusive to embassy staff. Glen remarks that there is no need to behave like that whilst I counter that if my visa is declined they will have to arrest me too. I mention this as I pass but the cops are too busy with the other hot head to care.

Once in the door we join a different queue to yesterday. This time no number is needed – just join the line and wait.

Within less than a minute a much friendlier woman has handed over our passports complete with two shiny Thai visas inside yippee!! Stand down, police. There is nothing to see here.

We head off for a celebratory rabies jab (yes, we have left everything to the last minute) and are ready to get excited for our trip!

With hind sight there were things we could do to make this easier and so if you are going to Thailand take note of the below:

  • A tourist visa is only required if you plan to stay in the country for more than 30 days. You may therefore not need to apply at all. The visa we bought allows us to stay in country for 60 days and we plan to extend it for another 30 days whilst we’re in Thailand so that we can stay the full 90 days.
  • If you have time and can afford to be without your passport for a few days try using Visa HQ. They do all the hard work for you once you have completed a form online and posted your passports to them and so you can avoid the multiple trips to the embassy and wait for the visa to come to you.
  • Complete the application form before you arrive. You can download a copy of the Thai visa application form from the embassy website. You can actually send this off to the embassy with your passport, cash and pics by post if you don’t want to apply in person and would rather not use Visa HQ.
  • Arrive early. The queue moved quickly but the waiting room was packed both days.
  • Check opening times before arrival – there was a sign on the door giving a list of planned closing dates – it’s closed today so we seriously lucked out picking up the visa yesterday.
  • You don’t need to collect the passport in person, as long as your nominated pal has the receipt they will release your passport to whoever turns up. This is handy if you don’t want to expense of going back into the city for a second day but you have a friend that works there.

This was the first time we visited an embassy to apply for a visa. It could have gone much worse! In the end, we got what we came for!

So what crazy shenanigans have you seen at an embassy before? Exciting or plain terrifying?

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