Pattaya expats recommend changes to immigration and driving license rules

Expats say the queues at immigration are a bugbear of living in contemporary Pattaya.

A random survey of 100 Pattaya expats has thrown up suggestions to reduce overcrowding at immigration offices and transportation offices. The questionnaire survey was conducted publicly in Jomtien, and also with members of local expat clubs, during the period January 18-20. The research arose after many expats complained about the surge in international tourist arrivals, partly due to increased flights landing at neighboring U-tapao airport, which has resulted in complaints about the ability of local bureaucracies to handle the tourist boom.

Almost all those surveyed were dismayed by the ongoing queues at local immigration every workday, and especially on Mondays. They claimed that the majority of those queuing were new arrivals reporting their local address on the infamous TM30 forms which require proof of residence such as a hotel receipt, a rental agreement and even a ‘tabean bahn’ or property ownership booklet. Alan Greene, a long term Pattaya resident, said, “The paperwork and inconvenience far outweighs any advantages and I very much doubt if foreign criminals or undesirables would give their real address anyway.”

In response, immigration officers said the TM30 reporting could indeed be done online by hotels or condominiums, but some hosts were not conscientious about their duty or failed to tell customers they had done so, or did not give them the official receipt to place in their passport. They also stressed that the separate 90 days reporting by expats was now done in the carpark booth rather than in the immigration building to reduce queuing pressures. A scheme to allow online registration and online payment for some visa extensions of stay or renewals was currently being piloted in the Bangkok area with results and recommendations expected later in the year.

Foreigners begin queuing at the land transportation office to renew their driving licence as early as 6.30 am to ensure they get a ticket.

Expats also complained that they were being fined for not having earlier reported on the TM30 form when they wanted a further service such as a visa extension or a certificate of residence to open a bank account or to apply for a driving licence. To these points, immigration responded that the land transportation office and the banks require recent proof of residence with supporting documentary evidence. A general finding of the expat survey was that there is need for an online reporting system for all, with the initial address remaining correct until the foreigner changes it electronically. Some well-informed expats referred to the Foreigners in Cambodia Database which allegedly has these merits across the border.

Those questioned in the survey also referred to the long queues for driving licence renewals at the land transportation office. Appointments can be made online, but a waiting period of several weeks is allegedly the norm. Staff at the bureau said some testing and training functions had been delegated to approved and registered driving schools, but it was still necessary for all applicants physically to appear at the center. This was to enable any checks, if thought necessary, and to take a head and shoulders photo which was then embossed onto the plastic driving licence card. Under the current national rules, a Thai driving licence or renewal cannot be issued without the candidate being present at the final stage of authorization.

With double the number of overseas visitors to Pattaya expected in 2023 compared with 2022 – thanks mainly to many extra daily flights to U-tapao from Russia and Dubai – and the resumption of charter flights from China scheduled to re-commence early next month, the city’s boom in international tourist numbers is set to increase month by month. The positive features of merrily-ringing cash registers are well-publicized. According to the expat survey, the downsides of overloaded bureaucracies, as well as traffic-jammed polluted roads and labour shortages, should also be addressed as a matter of urgency.