Thailand wishes a happy birthday or: extending a student visa
It isn’t exactly the best birthday I’ve ever had.
After realizing that my visa was about to expire I asked the university if I needed any more documents or if I could just go to the immigration office to extend it. No, they said, the original letter that I used for the visa application should suffice again.
So, after a five hour ride on the van back from my short holiday, I had to spend the night in Pattaya again anyway, so I could go to the immigration office Monday morning. Naïve as I am, I thought this was something I could get done within an hour or two.
So this time, I went straight for Yes Vegan Beds and Food and June, the owner, and her staff where very kind, figuring out how I could get back to the zoo, making me delicious food and so on.
Came Monday morning. I had read that the office would open at 8.30, but when I arrived at eight, I found it buzzing with Russian and German tourists filling out forms already. When I finally pushed through to the information desk, I asked them what I needed for extending my student visa, showing them all my documents: passport, letter from the university, photo, and plane tickets.
“Need document from school” said the officer.
“But I have this one.”
“Need document from school” he repeated. Probably I also had to fill out one of these forms they all had? Eventually he handed me a queue number and told me to go to counter number seven.
It seemed to be the only English sentence they could say: “Need document from school.”
“Well, what kind of document, if this one is not enough?”
“Document from school.”
She pressed the button for the next person.
Immediately, I started texting people – “my visa is running out in two days, do you know what kind of document I need?”
As my contact person had just gone on a holiday, she wasn’t exactly the biggest help, telling me to find out on my own how to extend my visa.
Enter Sue. She called me back immediately, asking what exactly the problem is, and promising to figure something out.
I crossed the street to find some breakfast, there was nothing to be done now until my van back towards the zoo came, anyway. And as I walk, with my spoon in one hand, and the fresh fruit in my lunchbox in the other one, thinking about what to do if this doesn’t work out and if I really want to take this fight or not just go home – I miss a step, of course. Saving my precious breakfast, I throw up my arms and fall down.
All day long, people are going to ask me about that bleeding knee, but one vet summarizes it perfectly: “The knee will heal, but the food would have been gone.” Exactly, I saved my breakfast.
Do I have to leave the country? Would I have to go on a so called visa run? And if so – can I continue my studies with only a tourist visa? Why does this country hate me so much?
Then Sue calls again. I have to go back to Bangkok the next day, to get a new letter from the university and take that to the immigration office in Bangkok.
Her colleague seems to be convinced that the German Embassy has to extend my visa and that my home university has to prepare some documents. Neither makes any sense, but I send emails to both institutions anyway, just to ask.
So as I sit in the van with a now slightly pus covered knee (maybe I should have cleaned it?) and a beautifully arranged lunch from the Yes Vegan in my ever same lunchbox, I keep texting. Instead of spending the rest of the week working in the zoo and getting a lift back to the university, I will have to rush out tomorrow morning. So I have to ask for help: how do I get there, without public transportation near the zoo?
I get off in a small town, changing to a Tuk-tuk. And what about my friend Phan, I was supposed to meet her at the zoo, now all we have together is this evening. And I was going to have dinner with P’Nui tonight!
My birthday dinner with her turns into a sort of farewell party with five Thai students.
I throw my things into my backpack, clear out the fridge, pass on things I don’t need anymore to others, get my signatures from Dr. Au, and off we go.
P’Nui has found the perfect place: It is outside, more of a shack, and outdoor furniture made from not exactly fitting wooden planks and pallets, it’s colorful, they’re playing the Beatles, and it is called “Hippie Coffee”. Did I mention they prepared vegan food for me?
And of course, there is Hipmie, who regularly helps cleaning beaches, collects the rope parts and glass pieces that have been smoothened by sand and salt – and turns them into jewelry. One of his bracelets will remind me of P’Nui forever.
The next morning, I get one last lunch delivered from Ba Moe, return my keys, pay my rent and say my good-byes. The driver of my pre-ordered taxi calls at 6.30 for the first time, but it takes him until nine to actually find his way to the wildlife hospital. Two hours later, I’m back in Nong Chok, four days earlier than expected.
Sarah, another German student, is currently living in the room that I lived in before and will live in again at the dorm – and she offers to take me in.
Two redheads with their reusable water bottles, cotton shopping bags and bamboo toothbrushes, this does seem to have a good side after all!
Sue and James have prepared a new letter for me, and finally, around noon, I can start my way to the immigration office. It takes one and a half hours to get there, with a taxi to the skytrain, and another one from the final skytrain stop to the office. Another information desk. This time, I get to fill out the form. My queue number doesn’t only say “N1-176”, but also: “Waiting: 98 persons”. Never have I been gladder to have water and food with me, and something to read, as I sit in the giant waiting hall for almost three hours.
And then. It turns out that the letter I need has to be addressed to the head of the immigration office, but the one that I have is addressed to me. I call Sue and have the officer explain everything to her in Thai, then thawing up from the air conditioned waiting hall, a bit dehydrated (it was definitely not enough water for an entire afternoon) I find a taxi – only to spend two and a half hours in Bangkok’s and Nong Chok’s rush hour traffic…
I get the letter that I actually need, and set out a third time early in the morning.
Yes, as a student with these documents I am allowed 90 days in Thailand.
And no, I cannot extend my student visa until the end of my stay in the country, because those last three weeks count as vacation. When I get back to the animal hospital, Dr. Golf is already there and asks how things went. He then presents his masterplan for me: He’ll give me and one of the Thai students a day off when my visa runs out again, so the student can drive me to the Cambodian border – it takes about four hours. I will leave Thailand, spend two hours in Cambodia and return on a 30-day tourist visa. This is called visa run and common practice.
Finally, I can breathe normally again and return to patients.
Quick guide: Documents you need to extend a student visa in Thailand
Copies of: the first page of the passport, the original visa, and the arrival stamp pages
A new passport photo
1900 baht in cash
A letter from the university, addressed to the head of the immigration office, stating your full name, passport number, exact time of your stay, your current address, the university’s address and what you do there
The extension application sheet that you will be given upon entering the immigration office
And don’t worry, you’ll have enough time to fill it out before it’s your turn!