If you’ve been following us on Facebook lately, you might have noticed a couple of posts where we complained about our visa troubles. Now that (we think) we have things straightened out I thought I’d explain what’s going on.
First of all, a visa is what allows a person to enter a foreign country. Thailand has many different types of visas–exactly how many I don’t know. An official Thai government website lists six different categories, most of which also have subcategories. I counted 16 different types and subtypes on that page and I don’t know if it was a complete list. The visa type determines how long a person can stay, whether they can leave the country and return, and whether they can work; and the requirements and qualifications for each type of visa are different. Needless to say it can be very confusing to figure out exactly which visa category one is supposed to fit under and how to go about getting it.
Before we came to Thailand initially we did a lot of research and finally figured out what we needed: a one-year, non-immigrant, multi-entry O visa. This visa was good for one year and allowed us to stay in the country for 90 days at a time.That’s the reason for our border runs; we had to leave the country before 90 days were up, but since our visa allows for multiple entries we could just turn around and come right back. We are allowed to do volunteer work but not get a job in the country. That visa expires on May 8, but since we did a border run last weekend we’re allowed another 90 days in the country. However, if we leave the country after May 8 we cannot return since our visa is no longer valid for entry.
We knew before we came that when our first visas expired we would need to get a different visa type. Many visa types require you to be sponsored by a foundation or agency. Before we even got here we spoke with the national foundation that our organization uses. We were told they would have visas for us and we could begin the process of applying for them after we were in the country. Right after we arrived the foundation informed us that there had been a mistake and they did not have any visas available for us. Back to square one, but at least we had a year to get it sorted out.
Fast-forward about six months: we hadn’t been able to work out how we were going to get new visas, and we were starting to get a little concerned. Even if everything goes smoothly visas can take up to three months to process. Then after a lot of effort by a lot of people we finally came up with a plan. We would still go through the same foundation but in a different way. The new visas we were applying for would eliminate the need for border runs; we would have to report to the local immigration office every 90 days and let them know we’re still here, but not make the four-hour drive to the border. For an extra fee we could get permission for multiple entries, so we would be able to travel to other countries and still be allowed back in. We pulled together loads of paperwork, letters from all over the globe, photographs, and copies of everything from birth certificates to college degrees and handed it all off to a Thai national who would take it through the next step for us.
The next step was not the Thai government, however. It was the foundation. We thought that since we were going about things in a different way everything should work out fine. But it didn’t. This time it wasn’t that they didn’t have a visa for us; the foundation had changed its internal requirements for approving visa applications and they said we no longer qualified. Our paperwork never even made it to the immigration office.
We found this out about a month before our visas were due to expire. By this time our options were very limited. In fact, we had only one option left: an education visa. There are many language schools in Chiang Mai, quite a few of which are approved by the Ministry of Education for granting ed visas. We did some quick research and narrowed it down to three schools. The schools’ requirements varied by quite a lot, from two hours of class twice a week to three hours of class three times a week. Out of those three, we ended up choosing the school with the highest requirements. We had a couple of reasons for this: a big one is that this school works with many people in similar situations to ours. I (Lisa) will be the one getting the ed visa; Tim and the girls will be granted a non-immigrant O again, attached to me and my ed visa. Our school will help us with not only the ed visa but the visas for the whole family. The other schools not only weren’t able to help us with the rest of the family, but weren’t even sure what to tell us to do or whether it was possible. The other reason we chose this school is that we’re thinking that this is actually a good opportunity for us. For the past year we’ve been taking private lessons, first three times a week then two times a week for two hours each day. We’ve made decent progress but not as much as we could have if we were spending more time and effort on it. We decided that if we’re going to be forced to go to language school we might as well jump in with both feet and push ourselves hard to get a good grasp on the language.
Ed visas are single-entry (meaning that if you leave the country you can’t come back), but like the other visa type we were trying for it can be changed to a multiple-entry for an extra fee. We’ll need to do 90-day reporting at the immigration office, but not border runs. These visas will be good for one year, after which time they can be renewed. We have also made contact with a different foundation that has told us to get in touch again in about six months to see if they might be able to help us next year, so maybe we’ll be able to switch visa types to one without the requirements of an ed visa.
We have started the paperwork process with the school and they’re telling us that it should take four to five weeks for everything to be complete. We’ll start classes the first week of June. We know this is going to be a challenge: three half days a week of school for Tim and me (we’ll be taking classes together even though I’m the only one with the ed visa) along with outside study time, required field trips, work for him, and homeschooling and co-op for me. The girls will most likely tag along with us to the school and find a quiet place to sit and do their own schoolwork, read, or (once their schoolwork is done) watch videos or play games on their iPods. We may leave them home some of the time as well.
One sad thing will be losing our current Thai teacher. She’s a dear sister and wonderful teacher who has been great with us and with the kids. The kids won’t be taking lessons anymore since our schedules will be so full. But as Tim and I are able to improve our own language skills we’ll be able to speak Thai to them more and more, which should help in their language acquisition. And perhaps as we get settled into a new routine we’ll be able to start their lessons back up.
So there’s a very long explanation of a very complicated subject. Hopefully next year everything will go smoothly and we won’t need to go through anything like this again.