Philippines Vs. Thailand – Which Has The Easier Visa Extension?

Finding the Place

Chiang Mai, when I was there offered a choice of two immigration offices, except they’d only process your visa at one of them. However, it was pretty clear from a quick Google search as to which was which and getting there was a 120 Baht tuk-tuk journey from the middle of nowhere.

Actual Location: Promenada Shopping Mall – the airport center is now closed and all immigration services are handled at Promenada which makes things less confusing.

Note: Grab taxi’s pricing is probably cheaper than using a tuk-tuk now. It wasn’t an option when I first went to Promenada. Walking is out of the question as the mall is on one of the main ring roads which are not safe to walk on (and may even be illegal to walk on).

Makati, lost this round, the advertised office did not exist and after 2 hours in the boiling heat walking to the bloody thing… I gave up and went home with the right address provided by a helpful security guard. However, it’s a 99 peso taxi journey from the apartment which is roughly the same distance away as it was in Thailand. So, it was a cheaper trip when I had the right address.

Actual Location: Above Edwin Lisa Hair Salon on JP Rizal Road and absolutely not in any way , at the Board of Investment Buidling on Gil Puayat Avenue

Note: Walking is not as easy as it seems in Makati from the street maps of the area. There are several sets of underpasses to be negotiated and these often make no sense, with completely separate systems depending on which part of the road you want to cross as an intersection (so there may be two underpasses next to each other and the only way to find out which is which is to go down inside the bloody things). Unless you know the area well – take a Grab taxi.

The Long Wait?

I arrived at Chiang Mai before it opened at 7 a.m. as I’d been advised to do by a million blog posts. This turned out to be bad advice and as long as you arrive before lunchtime… you’ll get your passport back by around 2-3 in the afternoon at the latest. However, there were forms available to fill in and the wait to hand those forms in was only about 45 minutes before being told to sod off and come back at 1 p.m.

Chiang Mai loses this round twice. Firstly, the wait was three times that of Makati and I got an official receipt in Makati in that time too and secondly, the rip off photograph scam which requires non-passport sized photos on a blue background handily sold by the shop next door for roughly 5 times the usual cost. The shop next door is owned by the former head of immigration. Makati doesn’t want a photograph at all.

Yup, I walk in sign a book in Makati. Get sent to a desk. Nice man takes my passport and says “2 months, no problem”. You may need to wait about 30 minutes, he says. I wait 3. He calls me back gives me the paperwork and tells me to pay. I pay. I go back and give him the forms and he says come back at 4. Much, much better than Chiang Mai.

The Paperwork

Let’s be fair. Thais love paperwork. You need to fill in several forms at Thai immigration. You need to repeat the same information, over and over and over again. Woe betide those foolish enough to fill something in incorrectly, you will be made to fill in the form again.

You will need children’s glue to attach photographs to forms tool. Your photographs need to be a certain size and on a blue background.

Only some of the forms, that you need, can be downloaded and completed in advance, others will be foisted upon you at Promenada.

In Makati, you fill in one form. It fits on a single A5 piece of paper. It only asks for information once. It doesn’t ask for very much information. It needs no photographs. Nobody cares if you make a bit of a mistake when you fill it in. They’re happy that you have it.

The Philippines wins hands down on paperwork.

The Dress Code

A strange one but a (sort of) win to Thailand. As long as you are wearing clothes that cover your genitals you will be served in Thailand. They may not like you very much for it but they’ll serve you.

In The Philippines you must be dressed respectably which means no shorts (ladies may wear skirts or trousers, men it’s trousers or jeans) and no sandals (shoes must be closed) and your shirt (or t-shirt) must cover your upper arms and all of your chest.

I prefer the Philippines system as I am fed up watching grown men dressing like children in Asia. But I can see how this would be a win for Thailand and am awarding it that way.

The Staff

Chiang Mai’s immigration is famously understaffed but it also feels like they are going out of their way to make people wait longer than they have to. They are all nice people but it never feels like anyone’s going out of their way to be helpful or add value to your day.

When I needed a residence certificate it took 3 trips to immigration in Chiang Mai to get this done because they hold you responsible for your landlord not carrying out his legal duties. Insanity of the first order.

Contrast this with “we can do your residence permit early on this visit to make life easy for you” which is what happened in Makati. Yes, on my first visit they gave me twice the length of visa extension and threw in the residence permit on top. Yes, I paid list price for this. No bribes solicited or offered. No input from a landlord required. No fines to be paid or forms to be filled either.

Makati wins hands down on this front.

Overall

It’s easy enough to get a visa extension in either country. In Thailand, you are limited to single extension on a tourist visa of a maximum 30 days and while they have the discretion to offer a second, 7 day, extension – everyone I know who applied for one was refused it.

If you have to do a visa run (and on a tourist visa this happens every 90 days), you can either take a miserable day long (each way) bus trip to Laos or more reasonably you can fly to Udon Thani and then take a quick bus to the border. The long bus trip is about $20 plus visa fees for Thailand (normally 1,000 Baht but can be free at times) and Laos ($35). The flight plus bus is roughly $45 each way. Want to fly direct to Vientiane? Not from Chiang Mai, you have to go via Bangkok and it’s roughly $150 each way. Not recommended.

In the Philippines, it’s a bit different; you can have your visa extended umm… 18 times. Each extension except the first one (which is a month) is supposed to be 2 months now. You can stay up to 3 years on a single tourist visa before you have to leave.

If you had to do a visa run from the Philippines the cheapest flight out we could find was $40 to Malaysia. So an $80 round trip should cover it. If you’re a Westerner you will pay no fees for your Malay visa and none for your visa exemption on your return to the Philippines.

So, it’s cheaper to stay long-term in the Philippines and requires no visa runs. It is easier, based on experience, to renew your visa in the Philippines (and all reports say regional offices are easier than Makati – though I am not sure how this could be the case unless they run out to your taxi and stamp your paperwork in the back seat). Visa staff are more helpful in the Philippines. Paperwork is much easier in the Philippines. The only places Thailand wins out are in directions to the office and dress code… that’s not enough.

The Winner

The Philippines is the clear winner in the “easiest visa renewal” category. Making it the second easiest place in the region, after Cambodia, to live and stay long-term from a visa perspective.

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