Thailand’s dependence on tourism means losing passport wars

For foreigners from the so-called ‘global north’ traveling to Thailand, for the most part, they can just come whenever they please without the need of a visa for stays ranging from 45 to 90 days.

Yes, this includes travelers from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Schengen member states, whose governments all make it an ordeal for Thais to get a visa to go the opposite direction. The European Union claims that its policy is to achieve full reciprocity with non-EU countries so that citizens of both parties can travel easily.

While EU citizens have been able to travel to Thailand visa-free for as long as I can remember, there has been absolutely no signs that the EU intends to begin liberalizing visa requirements to the Schengen area for Thai nationals.

Why are some people more privileged than others simply based on their passports?

It’s not as if travelers with powerful passports never violate their entry conditions. Every year tourists in Thailand overstay their visa-free entry stamps, even if their governments have explained that there are consequences, and Thai authorities have reminded them that they cannot do so with impunity.

Of course, some tourists are a little smarter and choose to extend their stay through the well-known process of “visa runs” instead of overstaying. It would be simply too much to apply for a proper longer-term visa. This is in stark contrast to what Thais endure when they travel to the countries these overstayers and “visa-runners” are from.

The privileged stance with which some foreigners exhibit towards Thailand having the audacity to enforce some rules even include long-term residents who are perplexed to have to pay for a re-/multiple-entry visa or even something as minor as a departure tax—a 700 Baht fee levied on all travelers, not just foreigners, which is nothing compared to the United Kingdom’s 82 Pounds (~3,400 Baht) for long-haul flights.

Despite all this, Thailand has no intentions to curtail its liberal visa-free program and probably never will. Our economy is too dependent on tourism to impose stricter requirements for foreign travelers.

In other words, the Thai government cannot afford to reciprocate to their citizens similar draconian visa regimes that Global North countries impose on us. For what it’s worth, keeping the visa-free system is the right thing to do.

I believe that we should have the doors to our beautiful country as wide open as possible to share our culture, our beaches, our mountains, our food, and even our traffic, with the world. Perhaps eventually the foreign ministry will figure out how to negotiate better traveling conditions and visa-free agreements for Thais, which is difficult as Thailand has already given up its bargaining chip. In the meantime, we can hope that Fortress Europe, the British, Americans, and others, will one day live up to promises that they will review visa requirements regularly with some sense of respect and common humanity.


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