You have entered into the Alien Registration Zone…
As an American citizen you are afforded the best, in travel options worldwide, and most Americans don’t even have a Passport.
As an American you can go to the Airport, buy a ticket, to almost any country and be there, in a short or long time, depending on how far you want to go. You can go to Hong Kong for 90 days on an arrival stamp alone.
An arrival stamp is given, by an immigration officer, when you come to a country, without a visa, but are allowed to stay. It is usually set up by treaty between the two countries. China requires a visa for Americans, but other Asian passport holders, can come on an arrival stamp. To enter from Hong Kong to Shenzhen China, there is a 72 hour stamp for most travelers, except Americans. There are Hong Kong day workers that cross the border every day, who have an identity card they use. But Americans still have to have a visa at this border crossing. The ability for people, from third world countries, to come to America has this same degree of difficulty.
The story of entering any one country has many twists, the one thing that is for sure, the immigration official, you are facing, is the one making the rules. It is best to be as calm as possible and say as little as possible. People who talk too much have something to hide. Declaring a lot of trivial stuff in your bag is a mistake too. They are looking for people to bust, if you say you have a bunch of stuff, they will take your bag apart to see if you forgot to declare something. When asked, “why you’ve come to their country” think clearly. If you are there on a tourist visa, the best answer is a tourist answer. Don’t say you are there to go to a school or study flower arranging, because that requires an education visa. They will refuse you entry. It happened to me!
The idea of fluctuating visa rules, is never more apparent than in Thailand. I love Thailand and the Thai people. I say that so you will understand, I was looking for a way to stay there and not move on. There is a forum on line called “thaivisa.com”, where you can read all of the permutations of getting and keeping a visa in Thailand. If you go to the official site, of the kingdom, you will get a clear definition. That definition is you can come to Thailand on a thirty day arrival stamp, you can extend the stamp for up to sixty days in a number of ways. Then you have to leave the country for ninety days. Unless you have a retirement visa, education visa, embassy passport, or a work visa; there are also a few exceptions for medical procedures.
You can now proceed to thaivisa.com and read about, all the permutations of getting around the official rules. In one case an attorney, in Thailand, told me that sometimes the immigration officials go by what is on thaivisa.com. That sounds great! There’s a way to beat the system?
The ways that people do this are varied but mainly two ways that are documented on thaivisa.com is: people have been getting on the train and riding it to Cambodia, walking across the border, having lunch and coming back. When they come back, through the border, they get another arrival stamp, which is good for thirty days and then repeat. They do it again and again, month after month. One account I read the person had been doing that for twenty years. The other way is to look at thaivisa.com board and see which office, outside of Thailand, is giving sixty day visas without requiring ninety days outside of the country. So one month they will report Singapore is doing it Vientiane Laos. In my mind it is a floating crap game.
After reading accounts and talking to many people including an attorney I was still bothered by what could happen. If I was to do this, it would require me to leave the country and all my worldly belongings in my Thai apartment. So if you are shading the line and think you are coming back to your apartment and you are denied the visa; what happens to your stuff?
Visa runs are also expensive; you pay for your visa, travel fare and hotel; because it usually takes three days to get the visa. The price for one visa run to Singapore can be five hundred dollars. Singapore is an expensive place, but when I went, on one visa run, that was the only place currently reported to renew a visa without the required ninety days spent out of Thailand.
What I did was every ninety days I would go to Manila, where I was also comfortable, and stay for three months and go back to Thailand. You can run and get a sixty day extension anywhere, it is when you have been in Thailand, for ninety days, you need to pay attention to what embassies are issuing the visa, without the required waiting period.
The Philippines only allows twenty one days on arrival, and then you can extend 21 days, at a time, for up to a year, after a year you have to leave the country and re-enter. You can also get a one year visa, please read the small print, that is good for 59 days and needs to be extended for another 59 days until the end of the year. So it costs about $100 for the year visa and then the $60 to extend. The math for extending every 21 days is 11 extensions for a grand total of $1260.00 then if you lived in Mindanao you could take a boat to Indonesia and come back and re-enter. If you go the year visa and renewed 5 times it would be $400 and take the boat ride.
The retirement visa is a little different story. You have to show that you are getting a pension or monthly income of $800 and have a $10,000 deposit. This deposit varies from time to time. A condo can substitute for a deposit. The last time I looked Thailand had an 80,000 baht deposit. If I would have made that years ago I would have made money because of the fluctuating dollar.
So as it came to pass I was living in Thailand and one weekend they said that if you have a retirement visa, your family is no longer grandfathered under that visa. This went out on thaivisa.com. For two days there was all this speculation about your wife needing the same deposit and the kids needing an education visa. It was just crazy! That is when I decided that the Philippines was more stable from a visa standpoint and if they changed the rules there is always some backdoor method of resolving the problem in the Philippines.
I would caution against too much back door stuff. I was offered a permanent resident visa by an immigration official for about $3000.00. In another story but same kind of thing, I wanted my wife to come and stay with me in Thailand, so we went through an agency to get her passport. They ended up giving us a passport that three other people had the same number. It is really better to do this stuff by the rules. We went back thorough the DFA and got it the right way only 700 pisos vs. 10,000.
I have gotten a lot of visas, it seems that it always takes three visits to get it right. You can get a lot of forms on line and fill them out. What seemed to happen, to me, more than not was: I would go to the embassy and it was either a local holiday or the embassies countries holiday, which meant they were closed. You can check twice but it just seems like you go on a scouting mission and then come back with all of the right stuff. Like pictures 2X2 pictures, got to have two of them most places. Copy of your passport, need that with the id page and the legal stamp to be in the country you are filing the visa from. There are very few copiers at embassies. India had one in the building, but nowhere else. You have to go out on the street and find one. Don’t forget your phrase book. Xerox is generally understood but I have been on the street walking around looking for awhile a few times.
Here is a link to some general stay times in the different Southeast Asian countries.
I would always google the country in questions web site. The forms are available on these sites and the rules are there. You will still need three trips but that is the quest.