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Phuket visa runners caught in “cash only’ immigration scare

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket visa runners caught in “cash only’ immigration scare | Thaiger

PHUKET: A van full of foreigners returning to Phuket from a visa run to Penang were delayed at the Malaysian border for more than two and a half hours today as Thai immigration officers demanded that they all present large amounts of cash to confirm that they each had enough money to fund their stay in Thailand.

Any foreigners who could not produce the required cash were told that they would not be allowed to enter Thailand and would have to remain on the Malaysian side of the border, the Phuket Gazette was told over the phone by one of the visa runners.

The call was made while the foreigners were standing in the Sadao Immigration Office on the Malaysian border in Songkhla.

Foreigners entering Thailand on a visa-on-arrival stamp issued by immigration officials at the border were required to show 10,000 baht cash, while people entering on a tourist visa issued at the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate were required to show 20,000 baht cash.

One school teacher on the visa run had to show 40,000 baht cash, as she was entering the country on a non-immigrant B (Business) visa issued at the Royal Thai Consulate in Penang.

“I showed the officers an ATM slip that proved I had the money in a Thai bank account, but the officers would not accept it as proof [of funds],” Phuket expat Steven (last name withheld) told the Gazette.

Steven also showed them the birth certificate for his three-month-old Thai daughter.

“They did not accept that,” he said.

Additionally, he showed officers his name entered on his landlord’s official Thai house registration document (tabien baan) confirming him as a long-term tenant.

“That was no good either,” he added.

Officers started manually recording the serial numbers of all banknotes presented so that they could not be passed to other visa runners to use as evidence of funds, another Phuket expat told the Gazette.

“The officers explained that it was an old rule now being enforced at all checkpoints,” said Steven.

That explanation concurred with the crackdown ordered by former Immigration Commissioner Pharnu Kerdlarpphon in May, which targeted foreigners using visa-on-arrival border runs as a way of staying in Thailand to work illegally (story here).

However, the “cash only” requirement did not.

By this afternoon, however, Sadao Immigration Deputy Superintendent Banphot Kittivira told the Gazette that cash was not the only way for foreign arrivals to provide evidence of funds.

“I don’t know what happened with those foreigners, but we had a meeting of all officers today to make sure that everyone understood that cash is not the sole way to meet the requirement,” said Lt Col Banphot.

Balance slips printed by any of the ATMs at the checkpoint are accepted, but bankbooks are not, he added.

Foreigners conducting the visa run confirmed to the Gazette that after 1pm, all of them were suddenly cleared by immigration – many by presenting only access to funds, not by showing cash.

Col Banphot reiterated that his officers were only enforcing the crackdown on foreigners using visa-exemptions and tourist visas to stay in Thailand and work.

“Foreigners working illegally in Thailand on tourist visas must be stopped,” he said.

Col Banphot explained that, in accordance with the long-standing law, foreigners entering Thailand must be able to prove to immigration officials that they have access to the required funds as follows:

• People entering on a tourist visa exemption or visa-on-arrival must show they have access to at least 10,000 baht per person or 20,000 per family.

• People entering on a tourist visa or non-immigrant visa issued at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate must show they have access to at least 20,000 baht per person or 40,000 baht per family.

Col Banphot noted that the money requirements did not apply to children under 12 years old, but that all foreigners were required to show immigration officers a return flight or confirmed bus ticket exiting the country when asked.

If cash is presented, officers will manually record the serial numbers so that they cannot be used by other visa runners on the trip, Col Banphot confirmed.

“We welcome all people to live and work in Thailand, but please apply for the right visa to do so legally,” Col Banphot said.

The van driver caught in today’s “misunderstanding”, who asked to be named only as “Mr Gee”, said that he had no idea that immigration officers would be demanding that foreigners present cash.

“Normally the border crossing takes 45 minutes for 10 people to clear immigration, but today it took from 10:30am to past 1pm,” said Mr Gee, who works for Phuket’s well-known Thai Visa Run Company (TVR).

“We knew about the rule, it is nothing new, and we knew that they recently started enforcing it, but we had no idea that the officers were going to ask foreigners to present cash.”

Regardless, Mr Gee said he was glad the problem was resolved.

“At least foreigners will not have to carry large sums of money in cash with them on a visa run,” he said.

“Our office has been informed of what happened today, and we will make sure all our customers know they need to be able to prove they have the correct amount of funds for their stay before they join the visa run.”

Meanwhile, Ranong Immigration Superintendent Aekkorn Butsababodin confirmed to the Gazette that his officers will also not be demanding that foreigners present cash.

“All we require is that the foreigners prove they are genuine tourists,” said Col Aekkorn.

“As long as they can show their travel itinerary or means of financial support during their stay, they will be allowed through.”

— Chutharat Plerin

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Tourism

Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp”

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp” | Thaiger
PHOTO: The monsoon waves are starting to hit Phuket's west coast

Thailand’s Sports and Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is acknowledging that Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ model for a no-quarantine re-opening in July will need “a major revamp”. As the Songkran travel bubble bursts and the monsoon season waves start to roll onto the island’s west coast beaches, Phuket’s scheduled July re-boot suddenly seems a long way off.

Minister Phiphat says he plans to meet with “all related agencies” this week. Apart from the latest national re-surge in new infections, Phuket has been unable to get its hands on sufficient vaccines to meed its deadline of 70% of the island vaccinated by July 1. Thailand’s limited supplies of the vaccine – including some 930,000 doses designated for Phuket – are being rerouted to other provinces as the government prioritises the limited supply.

“We are all concerned about the reopening timeline,” he was quoted in Bangkok Post.

But the Minister did acknowledge that, if the 70% vaccination level couldn’t be met, they may consider opening some areas of the island. Exactly how that would work hasn’t been revealed at this stage.

The minister also brought up the ongoing travel bubble negotiations and says he hadn’t heard back from some of the candidates with their reaction to the current outbreak.

Flights in and out of Phuket Airport’s international terminal have been extremely patchy and the flights from feeder tourist markets will need to co-operate with any re-opening plans.

Phuket, whilst suffering a rise in new infections, hasn’t been hit as hard as some of the other popular holiday provinces, like Chiang Mai, Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin).

This year’s Songkran was going to be a major stepping stone for the island’s recovery and many hotels, some who had opened especially to cater for Songkran holiday traffic, noted a lot of cancellations just prior to the break.

But some island hotels have still reported high occupancy rates over the past week. One Manager, who did not want his name published, said that their hotel was almost full with Thai patrons, most who had pre-paid for their flights and accommodation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, says that they are opposed to any lockdown as it would cripple the island, with its tourist businesses already suffering greatly. He stated that 15% of people cancelled their Songkran bookings, while 30% had postponed their trips.

The Sports and Tourism Ministers is still in quarantine after having close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 2 weeks ago.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing

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Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Kolour in the park was more pleasant in 2018 before Covid-19.

Health officials in Phuket put out a public statement this week compelling all foreigners who attended clubs and ‘Kolour’ events to report for Covid-19 testing. As many might expect, the response has been lacklustre at best. Spreading the message around the foreigner and expat community in Phuket, the message is aimed at the multitudes of people, mostly foreign who attended Kolour and related events that turned into a Covid-19 superspreader event. Many foreigners have not come forward, much to health officials chagrin.

Online and on social media, foreigners and Thais shed light on why this urgent public health request is going largely unheeded. Foreigners fear the repercussions of coming forward, especially since Thailand is not allowing staying home or elsewhere in isolation if someone tests positive for Covid-19. Quarantine is mandatory, and with infection numbers exploding across the country, many fear the less-than-posh comforts of being quarantined in an emergency field hospital.

Cost is the other factor that likely is preventing foreigners from turning themselves in to be tested for Covid-19. While Phuket health officials may test people for free, anyone found infected with Covid-19 will be financially responsible for all the costs of their treatment and quarantine. Foreigners with limited financial resources, especially after a year of holing up in Thailand to ride out the Coronavirus, may resist reporting to authorities when they cannot afford the mandatory quarantine and medical treatment.

Perhaps recognizing this hesitation, the message includes a plea for all attendees to self-quarantine and self-monitor for any symptoms over the next week, even if they fail to report or test negative. The note also reminds everyone to wear masks in public at all times. The statement to the public also instructed anyone who attended any of the Covid-19 spreading nightlife events to report to the Acute Respiratory Infection Clinic area of Vachira General Hospital to receive a Covid-19 swab test.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions

Tim Newton

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Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | Thaiger

Three of Thailand’s biggest expat areas are seeing sharp rises in new infections, partly from pre-Songkran traffic. The Songkran holidays, now officially over (but will see many people taking today off and making a weekend Songkran extension), and the government says they are expecting to see a rise in the cases numbers reported in the popular holiday locations.

Chon Buri Public Health office says they now have a total of 910 infections since April 1. They have 103 new cases in the past 24 hours. Most new cases are in Bang Lamung district which includes Pattaya City with 47, Siracha with 12) & Chon buri City with 8.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

Meanwhile Phuket has a total of 142 infections recorded on the island with the Governor still insisting there will be no need for a lockdown. Here’s a breakdown of the areas and the numbers of recorded infections so far (below).

Governor Narong announced that the Phuket Infectious Disease Control Committee won’t be implementing an official lockdown, but will “strictly raise the intensity of public health measures to counter the spread of Covid-19″.

“Everyone should wear a face mask, maintain social distancing, wash their hands frequently and install the Mor Chana app (available for free from App Store and Google Play Store).”

A meeting of the CCSA, chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to upgrade restrictions in red zone areas around the country, which includes Phuket and Pattaya. Read more about the latest red and orange zones HERE.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

For Hua Hin expats, there’s been 100 new Covid-19 infections announced in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the past 24 hours, 75 cases from Hua Hin. This takes the total in the province since April 1 to 625. Hua Hin accounts for nearly 90% of the district’s total cases.

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