Over the last few weeks, the Thai newspapers have been writing stories about a crackdown on foreigners overstaying their visas. This is in advance of what they call “D-Day” on 20th March 2016, which is when foreigners could face a ban of re-entering Thailand. One Thai headline I saw put it this way: “If a foreigner is caught overstaying by one day, they will be banned from re-entering for five years”. Is this crackdown against normal foreign tourists? No. They say they are targeting foreign criminals who are operating in Thailand without proper paperwork. The recent renewed search for foreigners overstaying their visas is due to the capture of the suspect in the grisly murder of a Spaniard. Immigration police say that the suspect had overstayed his visa. There have been other examples recently.
My opinion is that when visiting any foreign country, it is advisable to carry some form of photo ID at all times. This is especially true for Thailand as we are under military rule. Like citizens of some other countries, Thais have to carry their ID cards at all times. So, it would make sense that foreigners should also do the same. In fact, many embassies urge their citizens to carry their passport while in Thailand. Obviously, this is not always practical, so Immigration police have come out to say that it is acceptable to carry a photocopy of your passport. However, your passport should be nearby. This means that if you go away somewhere overnight, for example to Pattaya for the weekend, you should take your passport too.
I have traveled all around Thailand and I have always used my Thai driver’s license as a photo ID. This has been accepted on domestic flights, hotels and even at banks. A couple of times I have been stopped at police and army checkpoints and they accepted my driver’s license as a form of ID. However, if they are specifically looking for overstayers, they will insist on seeing your passport. That is why I always carry a photocopy of my passport and visa page just in case. To make it more convenient, I shrank this down to credit card size and laminated it. As a back up, I also have a digital copy of my passport and work permit on my smartphone. Friends have told me that they have used this successfully at checkpoints.
I am sure there are many people like myself who have said they have never been stopped and asked for a passport. But, times are changing. Just yesterday, there were two newspaper reports of foreigners being detained for not carrying passports. First one is from Chiang Mai Citylife. In their story (see here), they said armed police officers raided an entertainment complex and rounded up all the foreigners who weren’t carrying their passports. The second story comes from Khao Sod (see here). In this case it was a raid at a nightclub in Pattaya. About 30 foreigners were detained for not carrying their passport and were taken to the police station. In both cases they were released once they could produce their passport. This clearly illustrates that you shouldn’t go too far from where you are keeping your passport safe.
If you are in Thailand at the moment and you have overstayed your visa, my only advice is do the right thing now and get yourself legal. By surrendering yourself at an Immigration checkpoint, you will only face a 500 Baht per day fine with a maximum fine of 20,000 Baht. From 20th March 2016, if you are caught overstaying by even one day, you will face a ban from re-entering Thailand of five years. If you have overstayed by more than one year, you will face a ban of ten years. See full list on the Samut Prakan Immigration website. On the front page of this official website, you will also see a note that says you are allowed to “carry a copy of your passport”. But it is very important that your passport is kept nearby. In addition to a crackdown on overstayers, they will also be more strict with homeowners and hotels who don’t register the arrival of foreigners within 24 hours. That includes your Thai wife if you are married. More details on the SP website linked above.