Non-immigrant O visa (marriage)
Changing from an O-A visa (retirement) to an O visa (marriage)
I usually try to stay away from the more specialised topics that require regular monitoring to stay in touch, but I recently had to apply to change from my current non-immigrant O-A Visa (retirement) obtained in Australia to a non-immigrant O (marriage) the reasons for which I will explain below. I thought I would share my experiences for anyone thinking of following the same path.
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This post will be in two parts. Part 1 will give a bit of background on both the O-A and O visas for those of you who are confused about the terminology. I have only ever had an O-A (retirement) myself so all I have done is pull together information available on the internet, not being an expert myself.
Part 2 relates to the process I went though last week (21 February 2020) to lodge an application to change my visa from the O-A to an O visa (marriage). Here I can point to being an expert because this is exactly the steps I went through to get the package lodged. Please note that each Immigration office seem to make their own interpretation of the rules, so although my experience at Nong Bua Lamphu might have a broad similarity elsewhere you need to check at your local office before lodging the application to ensure a smooth process.
I had a number of reasons for changing my visa type. Firstly, I used to qualify for the O-A visa based on a minimum of 800,000 baht lodged in a Thai bank. I maintained that minimum by bringing money over from Australia on a regular basis to meet my living expenses. With the ever increasing strength of the baht, which reduced the exchange rate to a ridiculous low, I stopped transferring money from ‘home’ and instead relied on money that I already had in Thailand. The outcome is that my 800,000 baht has been reduced and I no longer qualify on that basis. Secondly, the introduction of compulsory health insurance for all O-A visas including those being extended (you only get one visa and then every year that visa is extended for another year) required me to look at changing. I have 1.2 million hospital coverage at a cost of around 35,000 baht per annum. If I met the new 400,000 baht hospital and 40,000 baht outpatient requirements it would more than double my premium while reducing the cover I really want – hospital! Not acceptable. Thirdly, there is a possibility that I will support a new business to be run by my wife Gaun, and an O-A visa is only for retirees and NO work is allowed. Even volunteering for free is a bit iffy according to some Immigration offices. With an O visa (marriage) I have the option of applying for a work permit if necessary.
I am only covering the O-A and O visas here, not the other options, because this post is specific in its purpose and doesn’t intend to be a general visa information resource.
So let’s tackle definitions. I have taken the following words from a recent article published in the Bangkok Post and you can read this at the source HERE.
The Non-Immigrant O Marriage Visa
Pursuant to Section 34 (15) of the Thai Immigration Act, immigration officers may issue visas to those seeking temporary stay in Thailand for “Other activities as prescribed in the Ministerial Regulations”. This is the enabling legislation for the visa category colloquially referred to as the O visa. O visas may be issued to foreign nationals who are married to Thai nationals. The terms of initial visa issuance at a Thai Embassy or Consulate abroad will vary depending upon the rules of the specific post, but the rules for extension of stay in Thailand with such status are relatively fixed. Namely, the applicant for extension must show 400,000 THB in a Thai bank account for a specified period of time or recurring monthly income of 40,000 THB per month. Thai O marriage visa may act as a platform for a Thai work permit application. An O visa may be available for those who exclusively support Thai children as well, but the terms of issuance and extension will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.
The Non-Immigrant Retirement Visa
There is an ongoing debate as to whether the retirement visa is an O visa or an O-A visa. In fact, there is a distinction being made by some between an O-A (which is supposedly only issued at an embassy or consulate outside of Thailand) and an O visa extension based upon retirement (which is supposedly only issued in Thailand). It is this author’s opinion that all retirement visas are inherently the same as they are all issued pursuant to the aforementioned Section 34 (15) of the Thai Immigration Act.
Before expounding further, it should be noted that in order to obtain and/or extend a retirement visa an applicant must show 800,000 THB as a bank balance or 65,000 THB in monthly recurring income for one year prior to application. In recent months the requirements for obtaining and extending a Thai retirement visa have been in a state of flux. First, approximately 14 months ago, many embassies (including the US, UK, and Australian) in Bangkok stopped issuing affidavits regarding income for their nationals which could be used as evidence of an ability to meet financial obligations for retirement visa issuance or extension. This has resulted in applicants for retirement visas needing to show funds on hand in a bank account. Further, Thai authorities recently announced that medical insurance will now be required for those who wish to obtain and/or extend their retirement visa. There remains some ambiguity especially with regard to those who were in Thailand and extending their retirement status prior to the enactment of this rule. It appears from the statutory language on this topic that Thai Immigration officers will retain discretion to allow retirement visa extension without medical insurance coverage, but that discretion will be exercised on a case-by-case basis and it is not prudent to pre-suppose that those seeking retirement visas moving forward will be accorded deference with respect to this discretion by immigration officers. Instead, this discretion seems aimed at equitably dealing with those who obtained their retirement visa before the medical insurance rules were enacted and are now too old or infirm to obtain coverage.
My reading of this and alternative often confusing information posted in various forums and other resources is as follows:
- An O-A can only be obtained outside of Thailand and will only be issued on the basis of retirement NOT marriage. I won’t cover the specific requirements as they are easy to find online and are outside the scope of this post,
- A O visa can also be obtained outside of Thailand but for the purpose of this article you have the choice of applying based on marriage to a Thai national or retirement. The Bangkok Post article states that you can only get an O (retirement) visa INSIDE Thailand but other forums say that both are available and there lies the problem of writing about this subject.
- The only two differences I can see between an O-A (retirement) and an O (retirement) is that firstly the O is only issued for a maximum of 90 days while the O-A is for 12 months. With the O visa you can then reapply within Thailand and be granted a 12 month O visa. Secondly, if you travel outside of Thailand within the initial 12 months and have a re-entry permit then the expiry date of an O-A visa is extended by 12 months when you return, if that’s within the initial 12 month period. I don’t believe this oddity is available to the O visa but am happy to be corrected.
Now my interpretations may be incorrect, and if so please let me know in the comments. As I said before this isn’t intended to be a point of visa reference other than the aspect I can talk about with authority and that is my experience of lodging the O (marriage) visa application.
The other confusing aspect is the broad range of opinion about the regulations and process of changing from an O-A visa to an O visa. Some forums state that you have to leave the country to in effect cancel your current visa and then return on a 90 day O visa and then apply to extend. An example from ThaiVisa here:
It is not possible to change non immigrant visa categories while in the country.
They would have to leave the country to get a single entry non-o visa and then apply for a new extension of stay. Or they could leave the country to get a 30 day visa exempt entry and apply for a 90 day non immigrant visa (category O) entry at immigration.
The writer of this comment who sets himself up as an expert, then changes this advice in other replies to questions on this topic, so who knows. I think the main problem to answering questions on-line is that each Immigration office follows the process as broadly determined by the Department of Immigration but then individually determined by the senior police officers in that location. I am here to tell you that in theory (because I have lodged but not yet been approved) you CAN change from an O-A (retirement) to an O (marriage) without leaving the country providing you meet the requirements of the new visa (wife and money basically!)
So, what are the specifics for lodging a new O (marriage) visa at the Immigration office in Nong Bua Lamphu (northern Isaan)?
I want to emphasise again that no one can write broadly about any bureaucratic process in Thailand as a whole and be correct. You MUST check with your local office and find out what their particular needs are. However, what I provide below will be on the required list of most offices I suspect in one way or another. So let’s get started. Here is the list of requirements helpfully provided in a brochure by the Nong Bua Lamphu office in Thai and English. They have done a pretty good job with the translation this time although there are a couple of areas that are misleading and I will point them out below come the time. My misinterpretation of these two aspects had me making a return trip to both the bank and our local Amphur office, a 60 km round trip. I hope I can save you the same experience.
The Thai version.
And this might be more helpful to you 🙂 A PDF version at the end of this post.
I will be working through the list of requirements outlined in this brochure as they applied to me and give you pointers you might find helpful. Firstly please note that you will require two copies of EVERYTHING. I made the mistake of only providing one set of photos – duh!
These match the numbers in the brochure above:
- You can download a copy of the TM 7 form HERE. I have also included PDF files at the bottom of this post. The TM 7 is straightforward to fill in with no hidden surprises. Any local photo shop can make the correct sized photographs for you. I got a set of six done for 60 baht.
- If you have been through the visa extension process then photocopying all the relevant pages in your passport will be no mystery. I am not going to go through this on the basis that most people can get that bit right. The TM 6 is better known as your departure slip, and it will be stapled in your passport. The arrival stamp will be on that form plus in your passport, or it is in mine, so copy both.
- You will obviously have a valid visa otherwise you’ve got problems! That is verified by the copies you have made of the relevant passport pages.
- If you are working here or are relying on an income to meet the requirements then points 4 or 5 are aimed at you. Mine application was based on money in the bank (list item 6) so I make no comments on these two items.
- See above.
- Bank records. The English version of this, if not the Thai, is misleading. It doesn’t make it clear that TWO items are required here. First is a certificate from the bank, what the instructions above refers to as “a letter of verification’ and second a bank statement showing sufficient funds in the account for at least two month prior to application. These are two different documents and although the instructions above do make reference to both it confuses everything by referring to the letter of verification as a ‘bank statement’ in brackets afterwards. The verification is NOT a bank statement – it is a certificate. I was mislead and only got the statement first time around (100 baht from Bangkok Bank) and not the certificate (another 100 baht). Banks rip you off worldwide.
- I formally married Gaun in Thailand so I have a Thai certificate. I can’t comment on the other requirements listed. This has to be the certificate supporting a ‘real’ legal marriage, not anything associated with the community village wedding you might well have enjoyed at some time in your relationship.
- Straightforward. Remember two copies of everything. The registration book is the blue book all Thai people have listing everyone who is permanently residing at that address.
- I thought the two photos were separate to the photos that I attached to the TM 7 form, but in my case anyway, they’re not. No need to to provide four photos is what I’m saying, only the two which should be glued to the spaces on the TM 7 forms.
- Only provide if the children are actually yours – not step-kids. Not applicable in my case thank God.
- The big surprise is that I doubt anyone in Thailand has EVER got the 100 baht change that should be given from this fee 🙂 I think the 1,900 baht has been set specifically to be a under the radar tea money bonus. If the fee was say 1,800 baht then maybe we’d start giving the correct money or maybe that ‘exact money’ threshold would be 1,700 baht. I doubt the fee will ever increase to say 2,200 baht because 800 baht retained is too evident as corruption and farang would be more likely to provide the exact amount and those 100 baht’s would be lost to the office 🙂
- I am sure this is one of those requirements that made sense 20 years ago but is just plain stupid now. Why do they need a hand drawn map (and don’t just print out a Google Map route). In the days before Google Maps and widely used GPS coordinates a hand drawn map made sense. These days why not GPS? What other purpose does a hand drawn map have????? Why bureaucrats never revisit procedures to see if they are still relevant or can be made more simple is a question we all ask no mater what the country. Anyway – hand drawn map it is.
- Two lots of photos as listed. There’s no point asking the ‘why’ question even if it’s just in your head. These things will only make you frustrated. Just do what’s required and move on. I only provided one set of photos, which was dumb, and had to get a second batch, although the police officer was prepared to overlook it. I submitted them loose and the officer then attached them to sheets of A4 paper, so I suggest that’s what you do too.
- No other documentation was asked for in our case.
- Marriage Certificate update. Now this was confusing. Unfortunately the Thai version tells you exactly what’s needed but the English wording is so general as to be useless. What Immigration is after is a verification that you are still married and the form that they are looking for (or were in the case of Nong Bua Lamphu) was this form shown below. My phonetic spelling of Gaun’s interpretation of the name is ‘kor ror’. Evidently a copied version of this original form stamped and dated by the Amphur is sufficient. I hadn’t realised that this was what they wanted and had a completely different form stamped by the Amphur office, and that was rejected by Immigration so we had to drive the 30 km back to Si Bun Ruang to have another go. By this time Gaun had picked up on what was needed and we were good to go.
The Name and number in the top right corner refer to this version of the form (2), which is used for marriages conducted inside Thailand. I believe if outside the name is the same but the number is 22.
And finally there’s the witness. This has to be someone outside your wife’s family. We used a neighbour and friend called Bun, with a thank you bottle of Hong Tong delivered to her later that evening 🙂
Your witness will need two copies of their Thai ID card plus their house book, neither of which I had because that wasn’t on the list! I wish I could have time-travelled and read this post before going to Immigration. I would have saved myself a lot of time.
The witness is mildly interviewed by the police officer concerned and the answers noted on a form he/she completes. Bun was asked how long she has known us and how many toilets and rooms in our house. I believe that was to verify that she knew us well enough to have been inside our house. The reality is that Thais aren’t keen to get into anyone’s house so luckily Bun’s guesses were close enough. She was also asked if Gaun and I argued or if there was any physical abuse that she knew of. I don’t know if these were a list of questions on the form the officer was completing, meaning if these question are standard, or maybe each office does its own thing. Anyway, make sure your witness has some idea what your house looks like.
Once you have provided everything, your passport is stamped that your application is under consideration and a date is set to advise you of the outcome one month after the expiration of the original visa extension. The officer said that he would phone us when the answer came through. I have heard of cases where an official actually makes an appointment to visit you in your home, but nothing was mentioned in our case.
I hope you have found this useful. Please make the effort to correct anything I may have got wrong or add your own experiences for the benefit of other readers.
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TM 7 Form PDF
A downloadable PDF for you.
Immigration brochure - list of requirements
A downloadable PDF for you