Travel Complacency: First Time We Committed A Crime Abroad

“OVERSTAY” he yelled as he slammed the passport down. “NO, YOU OVERSTAY“ was all he’d say. Upon any response, he’d hit the desk again and point. His nostrils flared, the side of his mouth lifted, and he pointed behind him to a chair in the corner.

After a wonderful month exploring the South of Thailand, we headed to the airport in Krabi to make our way to Singapore. Now, I don’t know about you… but pretty much every time we get to immigration control in any country (even in the States where we’re citizens!) I get nervous. My heart speeds up a bit and I wonder if it’ll be smooth sailing or if I’ll get an immigration officer that asks tons of questions and gives me quizzical looks. After flying so much in my life you’d think the nerves would pass by now… but I guess not! Even so, rationally, I still know the power of my passport is incredibly strong (rank 3 of 89) compared to many travelers and that I’m fortunate to be able to travel many places with ease.

 

Boating on a long tail boat inside Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand
Enjoying Our Time In Khao Sok Nation Park, Thailand

 

So back to the yelling immigration officer. And my panic mode…

We arrived at the airport on August 18th ready with our departure cards (slip of paper you receive when you enter the country that you must present when you leave) stamped for that day. We’d used our full month in Thailand and were moving on to our next adventure (as an American you get 30 days with no visa requirement).

As we approached immigration control there was a sense of unease as people waited in line. Some people in front of us traded places and a woman nervously smiled at her husband before suggesting he go first. Looking around we quickly realized there were only two officers working. One smiling and chatting and seeming to have a great time with those who came to his booth. The other… well not so much. Certainly no smile. More of a sneer actually. Didn’t say many words and gave out more exasperated gasps than instructions. Maybe he was having a bad day?

I can only imagine what it takes to be an immigration control officer, but I do know that it would get tiring telling tourists the same thing every day. Particularly when some of them seem to have no clue what’s going on or how long they’re allowed to be in the country.

As the line diminished, and we got closer to the front, I kept hoping we’d get the friendly looking officer! No. Such. Luck. Getting closer, TJ offered to go first (now I know why the lady and her husband switched spots at the last second) as an entire family went up to the “friendly” man and left us with the one that made my hair stand on end.

And that’s when the yelling began.

TJ said Sawadee Kab (hello) with a smile on his face and handed his passport over, along with his departure card. “OVERSTAY” the man yelled as he slammed the passport down. Taken a back and fully perplexed, TJ tried pointing to the departure card stamped with the 18th and tried to ask about it. “NO, YOU OVERSTAY“ was all he’d receive in response. The man’s nostrils flared, the side of his mouth lifted, and he pointed behind him to a chair in the corner. Unsure what was going on, or what to do as this mans anger and frustration level continued to rise… TJ went the opposite direction. He lowered his voice, took a step back, apologized, and asked what he should do next.

No response. Just a point at some lone chairs sitting in the corner. Understanding enough to know he was supposed to go sit TJ said Khob Khun Kab (thank you) to the man and ventured off to the corner his passport now being held captive in the booth.

As if I wasn’t nervous already…. now my emotions began to boil over. Were we going to miss our flight?

Air Asia plane getting ready to fly from Thailand to Singapore

My turn.

Crap.

The large family was still at the other booth and I had no option but to walk up to the angry officer trying to put a smile on my face, say Sawadee Kah, and that I was in the same boat. Thankfully he didn’t yell at me too. In fact the opposite, he said not one word and just glared at me silently while he held onto my passport. I joined TJ in the “time-out” corner with both of us passport-less.

I’d never overstayed a visa before and had no clue what would happen next. Classic Alli, my brain went into overdrive coming up with all the potential outcomes I could think of as we sat there waiting for something (what, we did not know) to happen.

  1. Would they separate us?
  2. Question us in a dimly lit, back room?
  3. Would we miss our flight?
  4. Make us pay an enormous fine?
  5. Not let us return to Thailand for a few months?
  6. Not let us return ever?
  7. Arrest us and send us to jail?…. Ok Alli that’s a little extreme, even for you.

As the seconds turned into minutes, and then minutes turned into hours. Ok just kidding, it was probably only 10 minutes… We watched as new travelers came up to immigration control and did the same uneasy dance we did hoping they’d get one officer over the other. We got both quizzical and sympathetic looks from people in line and watched as the officer who had our passports got so frustrated with a lady who couldn’t understand him that he came out from behind his booth to (gently) push her into the right spot for her photo to be taken.

As I sat there watching peoples’ nerves elevate along with my own, as I planned our impending doom, a woman walked out of a dimly lit back room (she’s coming for us… ahhhhh) and walked over to the officer. They chatted in hushed voices before she took possession of our passports and came to us. She riffled through the pages, took a look at the departure card, and said 2,000 Thai Bhat.

Turns out we had, in fact, overstayed our visa. Go figure, the immigration officer was right! Queue inner monologue: “What? How? It’s stamped with the 18th? Today is the 18th?”. Welllllll it was stamped with the 18th because we’d ARRIVED on the 18th. We actually needed to leave the country on the 16th as it clearly stated in our passports. Remember when I said Americans get 30 days? Well, we’d accidentally overstayed by two days by thinking we had a month and not exactly 30 days (foolish, we know). Our impending doom… not so bad. 500 Thai Bhat per person, per day. So we paid our $60 USD, signed a form admitting to our crime, and were handed our passports back.

As my nerves began to subside (it helped that this woman was friendly!!) I was curious about how often this happens (and feeling pretty dumb) so I asked! Her response? Almost Daily! … Almost Daily! Wow.

Thankfully we’d given ourselves plenty of time at the airport, and even after this whole conundrum, we had enough time to grab a tea & coffee and decompress before boarding our flight to Singapore.

Flying to Singapore from Thailand a view out the plane widow at the clouds

Travel complacency may have gotten the best of us this time, but we’ll certainly make sure to check visa requirements and specific dates more carefully in the future! Ironically, this happened just a few days after I’d read a post written by Charlie & Kristina of Map Trotting about travel complacency and what happened when they were refused entry into Thailand.   

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