In the past two days I’ve spent about eight hours engaging the Thai Ministry of Labour and other bureaucrats in order to learn how to get a 90-day extension to my work permit. Previously, I’ve just gone to a law firm and paid them about 2000 baht (US$58) to do this work for me. Over time, I wondered whether I could learn to do the renewal myself and save money. After the past two days, I’m not sure the “savings” are worth it.
Some background first:
In order to live and work in Thailand, you need both a non-resident visa as well as a work permit. The visa is issued overseas from a Thai embassy or consulate and is good for one year. However, you are required to physically leave the country every 90 days. Ostensibly this is so Immigration can run a criminal check on you when you come back in, to make sure your record is clean. In reality, there’s no reason you need to leave the country to do this. It is just a ploy to inject more money into the tourism and travel sectors.
On top of the visa, you have to get a work permit. It is also applied for at the Ministry of Labour once a year but it can only be valid for as long as your visa is valid. Since I can only get a 90-day entry with my visa, my work permit is only valid for 90 days at a time. So after returning from a “visa run” I have to get my work permit extended to match my new 90-day stamp in my passport.
My friend Stuart is in a similar situation as me and he’s been going to the Ministry of Labour and extending his work permit himself for some time. He agreed to go with me and walk me through the steps, so we set off yesterday afternoon. The MOL’s website doesn’t contain a list of requirements but a little searching online gave me a simple list: copies of my company’s articles of incorporation, copies of my passport and all the pages in my work permit book, and the completed application form.
We arrived at the MOL, picked up the application form, which is in Thai and English, and I filled it out. Some parts are confusing (in both languages). For example, I am asked to fill out the name and address of my employer on one line, then am asked to fill out the company name and address two lines below that. These would be the same information in most cases. Additionally, there was a second form that Stuart hadn’t seen before.
Arriving at the counter, the lady went through the paperwork, discarded a third of the sheets in the articles of incorporation (“no need”), then pointed to the form which Stuart had never seen. “This has to be in Thai.” Even though the instructions are in both Thai and English and there’s no indication of what language was required. This new form requested some financial data from my company, which I didn’t have memorized.
I returned home from the MOL and spent the evening reviewing the forms with Tawn, making sure they were both completed correctly in Thai.
This morning I switched partners and brought Kobfa along, figuring that a native Thai might be helpful. When I went up to the counter at the MOL (different lady this time), she asked whether I wanted a one-year or 90-day work permit extension. After reviewing the work permit book she determined that I was only eligible for the 90-day as it had to match my current visa expiration date. For a 90-day extension that extra application form with which Stuart was unfamiliar, wasn’t necessary. Would have been nice to know yesterday…
She then looked through the articles of incorporation and discarded several more sheets. “Not necessary, not necessary…” Then she came to two documents in the articles of incorporation. “Wait a minute,” she said, “these documents from the Department of Business Development were prepared 16 months ago. You can’t use documents that are more than six months old.” She explained we had to go to the DBD and get new copies.
Leaving the MOL, I decided we had best go to the law firm I used in the past and seek some clarification: they have been renewing my work permit every 90 days for the past 16 months, since I started my company. It that’s the case, then these 16-month old documents had been more than 6 months old for the last 10 months! How were they getting the work permit renewed? Or were they getting updated documents and not giving them to me afterwards?
The law firm was surprisingly helpful, considering that I wanted information that would enable me not to use their services in the future. The young man who is the work permit contact explained what the DBD was and gave us a number for them. He didn’t, however, really answer my questions about how they had managed to get me a work permit in the past.
Kobfa and I headed to the DBD, which thankfully had an office not too far away. This was something I would never have been able to navigate on my own and I’m in debt for his help. Everything was in Thai only. While I read and write Thai, government language is not my strength. The process for getting updated copies of the documents was surprisingly easy, though, complicated only by the fact that we arrived at 11:50 and the office closes for lunch at 12:00.
After retrieving the completed documents at the DBD after lunch we took a taxi back to the MOL. The lady with whom we had dealt in the morning asked if we had all the other documents we had given her (and she had taken) that morning. No, we replied, she still had them. She pointed to a row of baskets in the working area behind her, each basket given a different date of the month, and indicated that we should go back there and retrieve them. We were both a little confused: we were supposed to go back into the clerks’ working area and rummage through a bunch of applications? Yep. So I sorted through a stack of work permit extension applications (and personal data) until I found mine.
After another thirty minutes of bureaucratic back and forth – go to this window, no not complete yet, take it to that window, go to the cashier then come back, etc. – we finally walked out with my 90-day work permit extension. Which means that sometime in the next 90 days I’ll have to do this all again, except for the trip to the DBD, which shouldn’t need to be done until the end of September.
Whew! And who said living in paradise was easy?