Staying a long time in the Phils is easy. Sixty day extensions to one’s tourist visa are given routinely. After 18 months one has to leave the country to start the clock on the next 18 month period. There is also a retirement visa available. It cuts the cost and number of times a year one has to go to the Bureau of Immigration.
[Updated March 9, 2011 because Regulations have changed in the Phils and this page keeps getting hits.] One needs an ACR-I card to stay more than 59 days in the Phils. It’s not cheap.
Thailand is different. One website states “Possibly the biggest challenge faced by anyone who is considering Thailand as an expat destination, lays in the fact that the Thai government seem to be making it very difficult for non-Thai people to spend extended periods of time within the borders of Thailand.”
I’m over 50, so I can get a retirement visa (type “O-A”) or enter the country on a Non-Immigrant type “O” visa and get routine one year extensions. The Thai visa situation changes often, so what is routine now may not be next year. Or next month. To start the “O-A” process I have to go to a Thai consulate or embassy in the states and jump through more hoops then are required for the “O” visa. The latter type can be obtained at any Thai embassy or consulate in the world, so it’s the obvious choice until I decide to stay in Thailand for good.
The Phils has one Thai embassy and one consulate. The embassy in Manila is considered the worst in Asia for getting visas. I was hoping to avoid ever going to Manila again, this settles it. The consulate in Cebu is more helpful, though nobody online is calling it easy.
It will take at least three visits. The first is to find out what their requirements are. The Thai gov sets the minimum standards. Each consulate is allowed to interpret them as they see fit and to ask for additional documents. Many Thai consulates list the requirements on their website. The Cebu consulate does not have a website. The embassy does, but, as I expected, it doesn’t state the requirements.
Second visit is to submit the visa request, third to find out if it’s been granted.
The bad news is that if one’s documentation is incorrect (the error can be, real, imagined or something is missing that they haven’t yet told the applicant he needs) one has to reapply. It’s not clear, but I gather from my research that at some locations each reapplication requires another visa fee. The good news is that the Thai government waived all visa fees last year as one of their moves to stimulate tourism. Visas are free until March 4 2010.
I’m going to Cebu next week to start the process. I’d go sooner but the biggest festival in the Phils is going on right now and I’d rather not join the crowd this year.
[Updated March 9, 2011] The Cebu Thai consulate was a complete waste of time.