Just four days before Christmas, Jake and I came up with a plan where I would fly to New York to spend Christmas with my family, while he would go off on a motorbike adventure down to and around Bangkok. I bought my plane tickets on Sunday, and on Monday morning I went to get my re-entry permit.
No matter what Thai visa you have, once you leave the country (without first getting a re-entry permit) you forfeit your visa, regardless of how much time you have left. I have a non-immigrant B visa valid until the end of February (and will be extended for a year once my work permit is processed). If I had left the country without first getting a re-entry permit, my non-Immigrant B visa would have ended. If I had then arrived back in Thailand without a valid visa, I would have received a 30 day visa exempt stamp, since citizens of G7 countries get 30 days entry to Thailand without a visa. However, I wouldn’t have been allowed to legally work with the 30 day visa-exempt tourist stamp, and I would have had only 30 days to stay in Thailand!
Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you can never leave the country without forfeiting your visa. You simply need to get a re-entry permit before leaving.
To get a re-entry permit in Chiang Mai, go to Immigration at Promenada Mall.
Address: 192-193 Moo 2, Tumbon Tasala, Amphur Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50000. Immigration is located on the Ground floor in Building A.
The office is open Monday-Friday, excluding Thai holidays, from 8:30am-4:30pm. However, if you are arriving in the morning, arrive as early as possible and bring something to do while you wait, just in case.
Before opening hours, four lines are set up with long rows of chairs outside of the office—the first line is for extending your visa for an additional 30 days, the next two lines are for 90 day check-ins for various visa types (retirement, medical, non-immigrant, etc.), and the fourth line is for re-entry permits. There is also a cute little coffee shop where you can grab some breakfast and a coffee.
The 90 day check-ins were already lined up all the way down the walkway when I arrived at 7am. Luckily for me since I was supposed to be proctoring exams at school all morning, there was just one family in front of me in the re-entry permit line.
There is a small office next door to the main Immigration office that opens at 8am to do photocopies and passport photos. The nice man in front of me saved my spot in line so I could go make my copies at 8am without losing my place. At about 8:05 the doors to the photo/copy office opened, and people began to rush in forming two lines. I already had an extra passport photo, but I made a copy of my passport pages (front page and visa page) for 5 baht.
I was able to get everything together before 8:30am, but it’s probably better to come prepared with everything you need.
To get a re-entry permit you need the following:
- A completed re-entry permit application (completed in blue or black ink)
- Your passport and a valid visa
- Photocopy of the front page and visa page of your passport
- One 4cm x 6cm passport photo
- 1000 baht (cash only) for a single re-entry, or 3800 baht for multiple re-entry.
Note: If you will leave the country 4 times or more during your current visa, then it pays to get a multiple re-entry permit. Otherwise, get a single re-entry permit each time you will leave. However, you should also account for the time and money you spend going back and forth to Immigration before every trip with a single re-entry permit. I will likely leave and re-enter Thailand 2-3 times during my current visa, so I went with the single re-entry permit for now.
Right on time at 8:30, a few Immigration Officers (IO) set up just outside of the main doors in order to begin giving out numbers to those lined up and waiting. When it was my turn at the table, the IO quickly reviewed my application, checked my passport, asked me to add my phone number to the bottom of the application and sign each page, and then handed me the number 5 and told me to go inside. The inside of the Immigration office looks like a DMV, or any other typical government office. I took a seat and waited for my number to be called.
Just like the four lines outside, there are four desks inside of the office that correspond to each of the 4 visa processes they do at this location. The re-entry permit desk started calling numbers at about 9am, and within a few minutes my number was called. The IO reviewed my paperwork, asked for the 1000 baht re-entry permit fee, stamped the permit into my passport, and handed me a receipt. I was on my way by about 9:10am.
Please note that with anything visa related, experiences vary tremendously from day-to-day. In forums, Facebook groups, and blogs you will hear how easy certain visa processes are on one day, and how terrible it goes another day. It very much depends on the day, in addition to what you are trying to do (for example, if you are doing a 90-day check-in or a visa extension, rather than the less common re-entry permit). If you are going in the morning when it tends to be very busy, it is probably better to be there as early as possible.
In my experience, by 7am the lines for 90 day check-ins were already extremely long, and they give out only a limited number of appointment spots each day. Sometimes people have to come back to Immigration a few days in a row if they don’t get there early enough and all of the numbers are given out to those ahead of them in line. Other times, people arrive in the middle of the afternoon and walk in and out without a problem.
Re-entry permits never seem to take more than a few hours, but it’s better to be safe than to mess with your visa!
When you arrive back in Thailand after your trip, you will complete an arrival card as you normally do. When the arrival card asks for your visa number, be sure to put in your re-entry permit number, not the original visa number. You can now enter Thailand using the same visa!