28 July 2020
It started out as a simple, short vacation, a few days in Bangkok, a week at Pattaya, and perhaps a quick trip to the Dawna Mountain Range. You packed light, just a carryon and backpack. Sure, rumors swirled about some mysterious virus in Wuhan, China, but that was thousands of kilometers away, no way it could impact your trip, right?
Next thing you know, you were stuck in Bangkok as Thailand closed its borders and flights back home were cancelled. And your visa was only days from expiring. Could you face jail or a backlist? Fortunately, for many travelers, the answer was “no” with the Thai government automatically extending tourist visas.
Now, there’s more good news for visitors still stuck in Thailand due to the COVID-19 pandemic: the government has extended its visa grace period until September 26th. Your visa may have expired months or weeks ago, but so long as you leave Thailand by September 26th or get an extension approved, you’re in the clear! (Assuming that you qualified for previous grace periods and extensions.)
As the COVID-19 pandemic brought global travel and tourism to a halt, the Thai government allowed people to overstay their visas. In a best-case scenario, many people returning home faced strict quarantines and expensive airfare. Others simply found that there were no tickets home, and a few countries even prevented residents from returning.
Fortunately, Thailand stepped up to the plate and essentially suspended visa deadlines, first until July 31st, and now until September 26th. This means if you had a tourist visa that lasted until say May 1st, but then overstayed and are still present in the country as of say July 23rd, you’re not at risk of being blacklisted or facing legal repercussions (assuming you qualified for the grace periods).
While Thailand has been pretty relaxed and generous with letting tourists and others overstay their visa, they’re implementing new rules, and most importantly, have set a hard deadline: September 26th. Mark that date down your calendar, then circle it, and set up a reminder on your smartphone. It’s an important date to remember.
Individuals, including tourists, who overstay past this deadline and who don’t arrange to have their visa extended risk being blacklisted and may face legal repercussions. Even if you don’t end up in jail or fighting a court case, you could be banned from entering Thailand for years to come, and no one wants that.
Of course, it’s possible that the Thai government will extend the deadline once again. After all, that’s exactly what happened as July 31st approached. Still, given how long Thai authorities have already afforded tourists and others, and with the COVID-19 pandemic largely under control in many parts of the world, another automatic grace period extension is less likely.
You can apply for a 30-day extension, but unlike the grace period, it’s not automatic. Instead, you’ll have to apply and get approved. The government is urging people who plan to apply to do so sooner rather than later. Don’t be surprised if Immigration Bureau offices are crowded, especially as the September 26th deadline approaches. Early on, the Immigration Bureau asked tourists and others to come in for an official approval, but crowds and long lines forced the government to scrap the policy.
Obtaining approval for the 30-day extension may be tricky. As of now, the government wants documented proof that you can’t return to your home country. For example, you might not be able to obtain airfare because there are no incoming flights to your home country. Without such proof, the government may deny your extension application.
Either way, make sure you stay on top of the dates as you don’t want to end up blacklisted. Many people who come to Thailand end up returning again and again. Doesn’t matter if you’re a foodie looking for delicacies, a yogi looking for enlightenment, or someone just looking to have some fun with an Absolute Angel, Thailand has something for everyone.
Make sure you check in with your national embassy’s website for Thailand and also the Thai Immigration Bureau’s website. And we’ll be staying on top of immigration policies and visa issues here, so feel free to check back with us!