During a meeting at the India-Thai Chamber of Commerce on Thursday night, Immigration officials from Division 1 at Chaengwattana, made it very clear that a TM30 form has to be filed each and every time a foreigner (non-immigrant) goes away for more than twenty-four hours to another province in Thailand. This is in addition to when the foreigner returns home from abroad. The only exception are foreigners who hold permanent residence. Although this is an old law, not all Immigration offices around Thailand are enforcing it. But, this is the first time I have heard that Chaengwattana have an intention to enforce it now.
An example that they gave us was if you live in Bangkok but have a condo that you own in Pattaya. If you go away for the weekend, you must file a TM30 yourself as the owner to say that your new address is in Pattaya. When you return to Bangkok on Sunday night, your landlord then has to file TM30 again to inform immigration of your “new” address. In another example, if you go to another province for the weekend and stay at a hotel, they will file a TM30 for you. However, either you or your landlord have to file another TM30 when your return “home”.
We asked them multiple times about this and they said that yes, the movement of the foreigner has to be reported every time with no exceptions. However, in the past, Immigration officials have told me off the record that if you go and stay at your friend’s house for the weekend and then come back home there is no need to file a TM30. This is because no-one knows you left your home. Unless like me, the staff at your local Immigration office follow you on social media and they see you have been away! But, joking aside, it is a big pain if we travel a lot and our local Immigration office are enforcing this law. I’m lucky that so far Samut Prakan are only enforcing TM30 when you fly back to Thailand.
As you can see in the examples above, they don’t consider our “home” as a permanent residence because most of us are non-immigrants. In their eyes, every time we stay at a friend’s house or even a hotel, they consider that as our new “home”. So, when we go back to the place that we consider to be our home, a TM30 needs to be filed again. However, they did say that if we had a minimum contract of three years, they would then consider that as our permanent address and that we don’t need to file a TM30 again for the length of that contract. In this case, three years. But as this doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the law, it will be up to the consideration of Immigration officials at each office.
One of the most common questions from foreigners is that why are there so many forms to do with our address? After all, when we first arrive we fill in the TM6 form (arrival card) with our address. Then every 90-days we fill in the TM47 form with our address. On top of that, there is the TM28 form which is for when we change address and the TM30 form for the homeowner to report foreigners in their residence. A simple answer to this from Immigration is that not every foreigner fills in the TM6 thoroughly or even correctly. The same goes for the TM47 form. But now that they are being strict with landlords filing TM30, they can crosscheck with your TM 47 form to see if you are staying at the place that you stated. And don’t think they won’t come to your condo to check. They do and foreigners have been fined already for either living at the wrong address or for not filing a TM28/TM30.
So, we next come to the question as to why they are doing this to us. Do they really hate all foreigners? The quick answer from them last night was that they are certain that everyone in the audience are the good guys. But, unfortunately, there are a small minority of foreigners who have the intent to cause harm to Thailand. So, in order to keep the city safe, they have to strictly enforce the law as it is written. “The law is written with the intention to control the bad guys,” said one of the Immigration officials last night. “If you are one of the good guys, then don’t worry. We are not that stupid. Trust me.” Unfortunately, this is not actually what is happening. Their methods have resulted in us good guys being collateral damage in this war against the bad guys. Some have commented that it is like Immigration swatting a mosquito with a sledgehammer. For some reason, they don’t seem to care what damage this is causing.
There has been a lot of talk that this TM30 saga will affect tourism. Yes and no. Most tourists don’t need to concern themselves with TM30 as the hotels that they stay at will file the TM30 online. The only time that they might face a problem is if they need to go to Immigration to do something like extend their stay. These days everything is online and when you visit Immigration they can see on screen your complete history including all the places that you have stayed around Thailand. Tourists might have a problem if they stayed at a friend’s house, at an AirBnB residence, or basically one of the many guesthouses and hotels that are operating illegally. None of those owners are likely to have filed a TM30. Mainly because they don’t want the tax man to know that they are making some money on the side. What this means is that Immigration will refuse to do anything until someone pays the fine. Nine times out of ten, this will probably be the foreigner. And the fine is between 800 Baht and 2,000 Baht.
According to Immigration, there are three “simple” methods for people to inform Immigration about foreigners in their residence. And to be clear here, homeowners include your Thai wives or husbands, your Thai friends, or even your foreign friends. The only exception is if you own your own condo and then you can file a report about yourself. So, back to the three methods:
(1) Report to the officials at your local Immigration Police office
(2) Send the form and supporting documents to your local Immigration office by registered mail
(3) Register and submit the documents online
The last method is what Immigration want landlords to do as they say it is quick and simple. But, in reality it is far from that. The first problem is that after you register, and that is presuming you can get it to work, it can take several weeks if not longer to get a username and password. Some people have told me that they have been waiting for eight weeks now. Immigration say that this is because they have to verify each and every application. But they are also having problems with the system. Obviously, they should have had all of this in place before they started enforcing the law. Not after.
If you think all of this is causing a headache just for foreigners then think again. Thai landlords are also angry about the enforcing of the TM30 form. Many of them have multiple properties and they are not happy about having to keep filing the TM30 form. Yes, there is an online version, but as we all know, the system is very unreliable and most have to go to Immigration themselves. The problem is, many expats are businessmen who take frequent trips abroad. The landlord has to go to Immigration every time that foreigner returns to Thailand. The same goes for trips to other provinces in Thailand if their local Immigration office is enforcing this too. It has got to the point now that we are starting to see signs going up in apartment blocks saying “no foreigners” as it is just too much of a hassle for landlords to deal with.
So, what can we do to make our life easier. Immigration say that they are working on the problem and are producing apps for your smartphone that will make reporting quick and easy. The first one already out is “Section38” which is for reporting TM30. Search for it on the playstore or the apps store. I’m told that there will soon be apps for TM47 and even TM6. With the first app, Immigration suggests that you get your landlord to register online or by using this app. Then, once it is set up, they said ask the landlord for the username and password so that you can then report yourself each time by using this app. However, I am not sure if landlords would be happy about passing on passwords. At the moment, not many of them of them are being cooperative. Some don’t even live in the county, let alone the same province. But, it is a step in the right direction.
Immigration officials last night said that they are well aware of the problems it is causing and that they are working to make it better. One official even said several times “we are not stupid”. I really think that the efforts by the expat group in northeast Thailand to put together a petition, and the subsequent editorial and front page story in the Bangkok Post, the many letters to the editor in the Bangkok Post, and the editorial cartoons by Stephff, have all made a difference. They have sat up and they are listening. But, we shouldn’t stop here. We still need both clarity of the law and consistency of its enforcement. As we all know, provincial Immigration offices are not all interpreting the law in the same way as head office in Bangkok. Yes, we are willing to obey the laws of the Kingdom on Thailand. But please make it fair for everyone.
As usual, please post your comments and firsthand experiences in the comments below. I will be attending at least one more Chamber of Commerce meeting next week. This time with the Australians. And then I have been invited to talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand about TM30.