Starting Dec 31st, 2016, Tourist Visa Exempt Entries via land borders are limited to 2 per calendar year. Visitors arriving via air (int'l airports) are not affected by this rule; neither are Visa Exempts for countries with a Bilateral Agreement or any Malaysian citizen. This seems to be the final step towards ending abuse of VE entries for illegal workers and long-stay tourists. Here is some more context:
Since May, 2014 Thailand has been employing hard or soft limits to Visa Exempt entries. At the time of that crackdown, the term Out-In was officially coined to refer to foreigners who go Out of Thailand at a border and return In the same day (usually within hours). Prior to this, foreigners were either doing unlimited Visa Exempt entries or even long overstays (> 6 months) to stay in the Kingdom. There were no negative consequences at the time. Visa run [border run] companies were turning a healthy profit. Since there is a 20k THB maximum fine for overstays, you just showed up early at airport with int'l flight booked and 20k baht when you passed through immigration; all was forgiven and you could even return the same or next day. All seemed well, but like any good loophole.......
It started with hard limits at some land borders of 1-3 consecutive VE entries, in which you would have to switch to another border or 'reset' it with a tourist visa [TV]. Some borders like Ranong refused to let people out without ME visa, because they wouldn't be allowed back in (too many VEs); they did this to prevent the person from being stranded in no-mans-land. Some borders like Sadao required an overnight stay in neighboring country before being re-admitted. Note that those with Multiple Entry [ME] Visas (Double/Triple Entry Tourist, ME Non Immigrant, and Elite/Privilege Entry Visas) were not affected.
Combine this with the new Overstay Blacklisting (>90 days overstay), replacing Double/Triple Entry TV with METV, Honorary Thai Consulates worldwide not publicly issuing any more ME visas, neighboring Thai Embassies/Official Consulates limiting the # of consecutive SETVs and requesting more documentation, et. al, and it became increasingly clear that Thailand:
- wants visitors to either:
- refrain from abusing the VE system for those who are visiting for a short duration, particularly via land borders, or
- obtain the "correct" category visa if you intend to stay longer
- is [temporarily?] limiting issuing long stay visas unless you have a long stay reason that can constructively tie you to Thailand (e.g. visiting Thai immediate family, retirement, legit working/business, legit educational attendance, etc).
- wants visitors avoid overstaying or [visibly] working illegally.
In the OP's case, he is arriving by air. There were a few recent reports of people getting talked to briefly by immigration to get visa prior to being allowed in. One person merely showed proof that he was not working in Thailand, others show 20k baht. If they still give you a hard time, you can ask to speak to a supervisor.
You cannot randomly get denied entry in Thailand without a specific reason from section 12 of the immigration act and it will be stamped in your passport. The immigration computer may have an automatic flag if 6 or so VEs are done within a 12 month period. It is not an automatic denial, just an alert. They may then request to see additional proof that you are a genuine tourist, such as 20k THB and/or proof you are working outside Thailand.
As a side comment, I cannot imagine how some people really thought that unlimited consecutive VEs and/or back-to-back tourist visas would last forever, unchallenged. They were lax for a while, and it was convenient for a lot of people to casually hop the border Out-In for free re-entry and stay legally. Every developed country in the world has policies in place to protect their own borders and national interests. How easy would it be for a Thai national to just casually hop Out-In without a visa in your home country?
Additional comment: Thailand still has fairly easy straightforward entry/re-entry options for either tourists or expats, and is offering
free SETVs until August 2017.
The free SETVs from 01 March to 31 August 2017 are only for certain nationals (mainly those under the Visa on Arrival scheme). VoAs for those nationals listed are also 50% discount.
China (including Taiwan) |
Papua New Guinea
So those nationals of the Visa Exempt/Bilateral agreements (everyone else not on the list) don't qualify.
Update 28 Oct 2018: additional comments....
95% of visitors to Thailand have little to worry about. According to some 2016 official statistics (xlsx), the avg longest stay for Oceania, European, and North American G20 nations was appx 16 days. Other countries avg stay was a whopping 7-11 days!! Those that stay longer than the average are usually covered by 1-3 VE, 1-2 SETVs, 1-2 VoAs, 30 day extension of VE/SETV, or a combination of these options. 32.6 million visitors/365 days a year = >89k daily visitors. This does not include those entering as non-immigrant to the best of my knowledge; but that is of little consequence.
Again, no need to panic.
There is still nothing official that prevents Visa Exempt air entries above 6 per calendar year. But unofficially, airport immigration have sometimes been asking some entrants who come often (as "little" as 3-4 VE entries) what they are doing in Thailand. Entrants may be asked to show 10k or 20k THB equivalent in cash or traveler's cheques and/or an outbound flight in the case of VE entry. If they suspect the entrant is working illegally or having insufficient funds, their entry may be denied. It's a rare occurrence, but it is possible.
There are several factors that can contribute to a border entry denial, such as:
- country of passport
- how many free pages and when it expires (is there at least 6 months validity?)
- history of previous Thai entries over the previous 12-24 months, particularly non ME [tourist/non-immigrant] visa entries and any overstays. (e.g. type of entry, which entry, which [air]port/border crossing was attempted, etc)
- location of the border attempted (regional policies).
- new boss at that immigration post.
Without these specifics, it is difficult to accurately know why the person was denied entry other than the official reason which they stamp into the passport (usually in Thai language). IMHO I have demonstrated that being denied entry is an exceptional case, not a general rule, if you have the correct visa for the purpose of your stay. Even if the immigration officer is being rude, try to hold a smile and politely make your case.
Furthermore, the context that proved the 5 year trend that Thai immigration (with official policy or regional border and embassy policies) has been slowly reducing loopholes related to unlimited stay with only VE/SETVs was spot on.
And I felt a disclaimer is appropriate for this post:
The information presented here is a combination of official rules/regs from a Thai gov't dept announcement, news announcements, blog announcements specific to thai visa, talking with visa run companies/agents, talking with expats/tourist that have done border runs (air and land), and personal observations over 8+ years. It is believed to be accurate at the time it is written, but policies (written or de-facto) can and do change, especially among different border immigration offices. Furthermore, this is not intended to account for every possible scenario for those wishing to visit the Land of Smiles.
For those who want to discuss a specific visa scenario, they can consult with so-called visa agents (example 1), expat groups/blogs specific to Thai visa discussion (example 1, example 2), lawyers, employers, contact me privately, etc. Especially if you value a personal evaluation. The comment section of these StackExchange posts are not the place for this.