The hottest topic for expats over the last few months is the controversial TM30 form. This is basically a form for landlords and homeowners to report the presence of foreign nationals to Immigration police within 24 hours of their arrival. This form has been around since 1979, but up to this point it has only applied to hotels. Then, about 4-5 months ago, the Immigration office at Chaengwattana, started to insist that foreigners needed the TM30 slip in their passport if they wanted their stay in Thailand to be extended. No form, no extension.
A senior Thai Immigration official suggested that expat tourists should “travel less” around Thailand if they didn’t want to keep filing TM30 forms.
The bombshell then came last week at the India-Thai Chamber of Commerce meeting that I attended (see my blog post here). Senior Immigration officials from Chaengwattana were now saying that a TM30 form had to be filed each and every time a foreigner went away for a weekend trip inside Thailand. They’ve been doing like this at Chiang Rai Immigration for a while now, but not all provincial Immigration offices are as strict.
This blog post is basically a wrap-up of everything I have learned so far after attending two chamber of commerce meetings, asking questions to senior Immigration officers, and speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. (The video of the latter event is embedded at the bottom of this blog.) I have been tweeting about the need to do a TM30 form for about four years now. However, not all Immigration offices around Thailand were enforcing the law. Also, some weren’t very strict as they got the foreigners to fill in the form themselves without a need of a copy of the landlord’s ID card and house registration. Now it is a lot more strict and it is the landlord’s duty to fill in the form.
The recent surge in publicity came about after a group of expats in Isaan put together a petition in July about the TM30 (see my blog post here). Then, on 31st July the Bangkok Post ran an editorial called ‘TM30 a shot in the foot’. This was then followed on 5th August by a front page story in the Bangkok Post called ‘Furore over TM30 forms’. In addition, the Bangkok Post ran three editorial cartoons by Stephff and printed numerous letters to the editor by disgruntled expats. Following this, the business community started to get concerned about the consequences. After all, many of their members do frequent business trips to say India, Singapore and Hong Kong and their landlords were getting fed up with having to file two or three TM30 forms every single week.
I was invited recently to attend two Chamber of Commerce meetings organized by India and Australia. These two events were attended by senior Immigration officials and below I have highlighted some of the main points for you:
- The TM30 form is the obligation of the landlord or homeowner to fill out, not the tenant. However, as many of us know, Immigration won’t do anything for us, including extending our stay in Thailand, until someone pays the fine. They don’t really care who and I guess nine times out of ten, it is the foreigner that pays.
- The fine for not filing the TM30 form is between 800 Baht and 2,000 Baht for landlords and 4,000 Baht and 8,000 Baht for hotels. In addition, in the event of a foreigner being caught, there is a fine of 1,600 Baht for not registering his/her address.
- People with permanent residence do not need to file a TM30 with Immigration police.
- People who have a visa with a BOI company are not being asked for a TM30 form before their stay is extended. However, their company should still file a TM30 on their behalf.
- Most tourists do not need to file a TM30 as their hotels do it for them. However, a problem may arise if they stay at a friend’s house or in an airbnb.
- Sometimes they say you must report to a local police station. They really mean Immigration Police office.
- People with a Yellow house registration or a pink “ID card” are not exempt. Though, interestingly, several people did suggest they would be happy to have an ID card that showed our address and visa status if we then didn’t have to carry our passports all the time and file TM30.
UPDATE: I had quite a few people ask me what happens if they stayed at a friend’s house or an Airbnb that didn’t register them, do they need to file a TM30 on their return? If you ask an Immigration office, as I did, they will say, “the law is the law and you must register”. However, speaking off the record, they told me that if you stayed at your friend’s house, or family came to stay at yours, no need to register if no-one knows. They are not tracking your cellphone signal. Not yet anyway.
Someone else asked me, can they just pay the fine every year for not filing the TM30? The quick answer is NO! You still have to file the TM30 (either on behalf of your landlord or by yourself if you own the condo) and then pay the fine BEFORE they extend your stay. The only exception is if your visa is with a BOI company as they don’t ask to see the TM30 before they extend.
There are three ways for landlords or homeowners to file a TM30 form:
- Visit the local Immigration office
- Send forms and documents by registered post
- Register online (here) or with their new app Section38 (Google Play and app store)
NOTES: If you or your landlord are already late in filing the TM30, then you can only submit the form and documents by visiting the Immigration office as there is a fine to pay. Option two will take three weeks to process. Immigration officials say they prefer you to use option three as it is the quickest and easiest. Though, as many of us know, the website often has error problems and it is taking 2-6 weeks to get a username and password back.
The documents that need to be submitted:
- Filled out TM30 form and list of tenants in the house/apartment
- Copy of the house registration (blue book) of the owner
- Copy of ID card (or passport if the owner is a foreigner)
- Lease agreement
- Copy of photo page in the tenant’s passport and the visa
- Copy of the TM6 departure card of the tenant
NOTES: Foreigners can submit the form and documents themselves at their local Immigration if the landlord signed a power of attorney or if the foreigner owns the condo. Foreigners can also send all of these documents themselves by registered mail. Foreigners can only register online if they own the condo unit or if they have a long term lease such as three years or more. However, Immigration officials told me that once your landlord has registered your apartment online, you can ask him for his username and password. Then from then onwards, you can report yourself. Yes, I know. In the meantime, with the long delays and confusion about reporting the TM30, we are starting to see signs going up at apartment blocks that say “no foreigners”. It is just becoming too hard for some landlords.
UPDATE: Here is a potential problem for people who fly back into Thailand but don’t always go straight to their home. For example, they might stay at a hotel for a few nights. I’ve already heard from several people who did this and then went straight to their local Immigration office when they got home. However, as the hotel hadn’t filed a TM30 form and they had already been in Thailand for 2-3 days, they were fined for being late. Immigration didn’t believe that they were staying at a hotel as there was no record. Another person was nearly fined because he took a night train back home. They only let him off when he showed them the receipt for the ticket. So, be careful.
There are a number of issues here which I will address below as bullet points:
- At the chamber of commerce meetings, Immigration officials denied that there is a problem with the online process. They insisted the process is quick and easy and shouldn’t take longer than seven days. They didn’t understand our problem.
- When pressed on the issues at the FCCT, they finally admitted that there may be issues and they promised they are working on it. Of course, they should have got all of this sorted first before they started to enforce the law.
- Some foreigners thought the online application was automatic and became frustrated when they hadn’t heard anything back after a month.
- Immigration officials say the delay is due to the fact that everything has to be manually checked. The problem arises when the wrong documents are uploaded or it is incomplete.
A lot of people have been asking me why they are enforcing the TM30 form now. The simple answer from Immigration is “for national security and peace and order of our society”. They insist that it is better to enforce the law than “leave our city in danger”. You may remember a slogan from a few years ago, “Good guys in, Bad guys out”. This is basically what they are doing now. However, it is a bit like hitting a mosquito with a sledgehammer. The good guys like us become collateral damage. Another reason they are cracking down now is because of incidents like the Erawan bombing which was allegedly carried out by a foreign national. Immigration claim that twenty people wouldn’t have been killed if his landlord had registered that foreigner. Of course, terrorists and those with ill-intent are not going to stay at a place that registers their passport. I think this is more to do with their embarrassment that they knew who they were after, but had no idea where they were staying. Same goes for when Interpol or other foreign police forces ask Thai police for help in arresting someone that is hiding out in Thailand. Immigration are able to confirm that person is indeed in Thailand, but embarrassingly, they don’t always know where they are staying. Hence, in my opinion, the enforcement of the TM30 form. Which is why they are not going to abolish it. Though hopefully, they will make it easier for us to comply.
The second question I get asked a lot is why have a TM30 form when there are other forms that we already fill in with our address. For example, the TM6 card which we will in when we arrive in Thailand. The TM47 form which we have to fill in every 90 days with our address even if we haven’t changed it. The TM28 form that we have to fill in if we change address. And of course, the TM30 form that our landlords have to fill in with our address. The quick answer from Immigration is that hardly anyone enters the correct address on the TM6 form. And even the TM47 form can be filled in incorrectly. So, that leaves the TM30 form that has more ways to verify that it is correct. Which begs the question, do we really need to have the TM47 form any more? Another point that I want to mention is the difference between the TM28 which is for us and the TM30 which is for the property owner. I asked an Immigration official about this at the AustCham meeting and he said we only need to file a TM28 if we change our permanent address. We don’t have to do it every time that we return from another province. However, the law says we should be doing this every time. Immigration officials say they are enforcing TM30 as the law is the law. However, the police shouldn’t really be selective with the law. Why enforce TM30 but ignore TM28? It doesn’t make sense.
There has been a lot of talk about the TM30 form affecting tourism. I know quite a few people said they would leave Thailand. Not necessarily just because of the TM30 form. But because this is just one more hoop for them to jump through. However, the question is, does this really affect tourism? In my opinion it does not. This is because the bulk of foreign tourists don’t know anything about the TM30 form. This is done for them in the background by hotel managers. When you check-in at a hotel, you hand over your passport and fill out a form. These details are then sent online to the local Immigration. The average tourist only stays in Thailand for 1-2 weeks. At the airport, Immigration doesn’t care about TM30. However, if that foreign tourists wants to extend their stay, they will have to visit an Immigration office. A problem will arise if that tourist stayed at a friend’s house, an airbnb apartment, or one of the many unregistered hotels and guesthouses. It is unlikely that any of them would have filed a TM30 as they don’t want any attention drawn to themselves. Probably because they are not paying any taxes. So, when the Immigration officer enters their name and passport number into the system, they might not see any TM30 forms for that person. Which means they won’t do anything until the landlord of those places paid the fine. No fine, no extension.
Although international tourism won’t be affected, I believe that domestic tourism will be affected. Now, I don’t know about you, but I travel a lot to other provinces with an intent to promote tourist destinations in Thailand. If my local Immigration office starts to enforce the rule that a TM30 has to be filed every time a foreigner returns from a trip to another province, then I probably wouldn’t travel domestically as much. Other expats have said the same including foreigners with Thai families. When a senior Immigration officer was asked about this problem of having to keep filing a TM30 every time we returned from a weekend trip, he replied “travel less”. I am not sure if the Tourism Authority of Thailand will be happy with this new slogan. Don Ross, writing in TR Weekly suggested a compromise here. Instead of having the 24 rule, it should be increased to more than three days away from your home. That way we can go away for a three day weekend without having to bother with the TM30 when we come back.
When the online petition was first launched, people were saying that no way would Immigration pay any attention to it. But, the publicity it has garnered, together with the chamber of commerce meetings, the articles in the Bangkok Post and other online news outlets, has made them sit up. At the recent panel discussion at the FCCT, a senior Immigration did finally say that “we will address all of the comments that you made”. Although at first they said they system works, they finally admitted that there might be some problems and that they promised they would work on them. During my presentation, I concluded by saying that I wasn’t calling for the TM30 to be abolished. After all, it is their country and their law. As foreigners, we should all obey their laws whether we agree with them or not. However, what I did call for is for clarity and consistency. Clarity meaning that many expats, Thai landlords and even some Immigration officers don’t know all the details about the law. And consistency meaning that not all of the Immigration offices are interpreting and enforcing the laws in the same way. It also doesn’t help when they are being very selective about which laws they choose to enforce and which ones they are ignoring. This kind of shows me that it is time that they seriously thought about updating this cold war era law to something that works in the 21st Century.
I hope you found these notes useful. As usual, please post your comments below. Feel free to correct me or offer first hand experiences.