The bureaucratic runaround
And all for the love of a good woman
I had a long-winded and bureaucratic nightmare last year, but one with a happy ending. My story began in November 2015.
I had been in my provincial town in Thailand for three years and had become jaded with the place. I had recently come out of an unhappy two-year relationship with a local woman who was both jealous and controlling.
I had become sick of the culture, the monotony of my town and ‘Thainess generally' I longed for the West. In my head, I was looking for a way out. That came in the form of a job offer in a town close to Madrid, Spain.
A new flame
With just over a month left in Thailand, having sold my motorbike and soon to be leaving my apartment, I met the new love of my life, which suddenly threw a spanner into the works. The final month became a blur with whirlwind romance and my excitement soon being replaced with dread at the prospect of leaving someone I had only just met but had fast become infatuated with.
On our last day, we went to all our favourite places before sharing a tearful goodbye at the airport. The moment I boarded the flight, I knew I had made a mistake.
I touched down in a cold and rainy Madrid. It was winter in Spain. One part of me was happy to be in Europe, but the other part longed to be with the person I loved. I struggled to settle in to my new life. The school I worked at was very strict with their high standards and I was out of my depth with the formality of lesson planning and the classes themselves.
'A stressful time'
Outside of work, I was lonely. I had no friends, couldn't speak a word of Spanish and was staying in a hostel as I was struggling to find an apartment. On top of that, I was trying to maintain a long distance relationship. It was a stressful time and I lasted just a month. My heart wasn't in it and the school could tell. I was fired after a month there.
My parents told me to stop doing TEFL, come back to England and find a real job. But my head trumped my heart and with the money I had earned in Spain, I booked a one-way flight back to Bangkok.
After 18 hours, a short stop in Moscow and a few stern questions off the grumpy woman at immigration, I found myself back in the sweaty embrace of a country I swore I'd never return to and moved in with the woman I loved.
But the novelty of being back was soon replaced with anxiety. I had sold everything I had in order to fund my flight and first month in Spain and had spent a considerable chunk of my Spanish earnings to come back. I needed a job and fast.
Pounding the streets
It was February in Thailand so not an ideal time to get a teaching job, but armed with several copies of my CV, my girlfriend's car and a handful of optimism, I hit the streets of Pattaya, going from school to school and just knocking on doors.
I soon got a job offer for a summer school in April at a semi-international school in Pattaya.
I felt good but my euphoria was shortlived. My thirty-day visa was fast running out and I needed to take a border run to Cambodia where the nightmare started.
With a day left, my girlfriend and I took a mini-van to the border at Poipet where we were told by the unhelpful Thai official that I wouldn't be able to renew my visa waiver as I still had a contract to my previous school!
I had given my work permit back to my previous employer and left on positive terms with no plan to return. I had simply assumed they would cancel my work permit. But they hadn't.
So I found myself in a position where I had to revisit my previous school in a different province, get them to write a letter stating that I had left, take it to the labour office and have them cancel the work permit, then go to the immigration office to cancel my visa and leave Thailand - all on the same day!
The paperwork problems start
My first stop at my previous school was different. My friendly employer was now terse with me. She told me coldly that she "knew I'd be back" and that my job was replaced with a "hardworking Filipino" days after my departure.
After an hour and half wait, I got the half-page letter stating my termination of employment. One of the secretaries then offered to accompany us to the labour office to cancel the work permit. After another hour, that was sorted and we went to the immigration office where I was told by the official that because I had terminated my employment in December and it was now February, I faced a 20,000 baht overstay fine!
Luckily the friendly secretary who was with us was friendly with someone at the labour office so we popped back, asked them to edit the dates on the document to "today", and returned to the immigration where my visa was cancelled without a second glance.
As it was now late in the day, it wouldn't have been possible to get to the border in time for it to close so I chose to go the next day. The following day, I returned to Poipet and got another 30-day entry visa without a hitch.
The next week or two was pretty uneventful until my new school gave me the document to take to the immigration office to get my new non-B visa. I had heard all about the reputation of the notorious Jomtien, Pattaya immigration office but had yet to experience it myself.
On my first visit to the cattle-shed as I liked to refer to the place, I was rudely told that I would need a copy of my girlfriend's ‘house book' as official proof of where I was staying. That was relatively simple and she accompanied me on the next visit where the same stone-faced official told me I would need my original degree certificate and would need to take it to the UK embassy in Bangkok to have it notarized.
After a tense, worrying couple of weeks waiting, my degree arrived in the post and we went to Bangkok before bringing the now legalised degree to the cattle shed where yet again the same official now told me I would have to return AGAIN to Bangkok to get the now legalised copy of the degree, legalised again by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cheng-Wattana.
She could have told me that before??! To top it off, another "official" offered to "have the visa ready in a day no problem" if I gave him an ‘express service fee'.
No chance. I was close to wits end by this point, my funds were dwindling and I would soon have to take another border run. My girlfriend, sensing my plight, chose to make the border run a fun one, going for a weekend away in Kuala Lumpur where I forgot about all my problems in Thailand until my return to Don Muang where I got a grilling from the immigration official, saying "no more border run!" despite me trying to explain that I had a job and was just waiting for the visa to process.
A week or so after getting back from Kuala Lumpur, I finally got the visa and "settled" into a relatively normal life - whatever that meant by this point.
Marriage and departure
Knowing that neither of us were happy in Thailand, in June, my girlfriend and I got married in the city hall. At least now we were legally married. After making plans to return to Europe again, my DOS at my new school told me "the immigration called, they won't give you a work permit until you have your original deed poll sent over" (my degree was under a different surname to that of my passport).
The DOS and I just laughed together as we both knew I was leaving.
Since then, me and my wife have settled in Italy and even with the notorious Italian bureaucracy, it turned out to be a piece of cake bringing my wife over compared to the ordeal I faced in Thailand. Now we finally have some stability in life (until Brexit happens!!!)
A tip for you. When you leave a school, make sure you cancel your visa and work permit yourself, even if you don't think you'll return to Thailand. You never know what will happen!
And make sure to now keep your official documents with you (photocopies will not suffice as of May 2016!)
Best of luck ajarns!
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Wow! This is the foolishness that is pushing us good qualified teachers away!
By Michael Sells, Bangkok (2nd September 2017)