I've been talking for quite some time about how the changes in policies regarding visas in Thailand have finally tipped the scales and after more than 15 years of me living there I am gonna get out of Thailand. I was unsure, until today about how the visa situation with Vietnam, my future home, would end up being.
Getting a long-term visa for Thailand is nigh on impossible these days. It doesn't seem to matter what the circumstances surrounding your case are; if you have already had a 1-year visa, their objective seems to be to find any reason they possibly can to say "no" to the following year.
In the past I was able to circumvent this by simply returning to USA and getting a new passport but recently, Thailand has installed biometric machines where they take down all of your finger and thumb-prints. So that avenue is now closed as well.
When I left Thailand today, they asked me a bunch of patronizing and aggressive questions about what I have been doing the entire time like they weren't going to let me leave if I didn't provide the "correct" answers. At the end of it all, the uniformed gentleman gave my passport back to me almost with disdain.
It is also worth noting that in order to obtain my 1 year visa I was forced to sign up for classes, constantly let immigration know my whereabouts even if staying with a friend for a few days, report in every 90 days to be subject to questioning (after waiting in line for the pleasure), submit hundreds of pages of documents, pay over $1200, and at the end of it all, get treated like crap anytime I was interacting with an immigration official.
Let's compare this to the process in Vietnam:
You apply for a "approval letter" online with the Vietnamese embassy and pay something like $20 to have the .pdf sent to you. It is a one-page form and the questions are simply easy things like your name, your passport number, and what kind of visa you want to have. It was so easy I was convinced it was a scam.
You get the letter a few days later, presumably if you are not on an FBI or Interpol list, print it out, and fill out a 1-page form in ALL CAPS!
Then when you arrive at the airport you submit it to an immigration official. Too easy right? no way this could be true, right?
Well it is.
Today when i turned in my 3 PAGES of documents and paid the $135 visa fee I had a 1-year multiple entry visa in my passport 5 minutes later. The staff behind the counter even smiled and called me "sir." I don't think I have ever seen a Thai immigration official smile, ever.
There were no questions, no giving intimate details about where I am going to be living, no grilling about "what are you doing in my country?" It was a simple exchange and it was extremely efficient and pleasant.
I don't have much of an opinion about Vietnam yet, because I have only been here about 10 hours, but so far the country is already winning me over. Now I just gotta go figure out some of the language.