Photo: Khao soi in Chiang Mai.

No-one enjoys visiting Chiang Mai immigration office but for all expats and many tourists in Thailand’s northern capital an occasional visit is unavoidable, so here are a few tips on how to make your trip as painless as possible.

We will warn you Chiang Mai immigration office is not very photogenic - we tried our best!

Chiang Mai immigration office is not very photogenic.

Chiang Mai immigration office is one of the most pleasant (or least unpleasant?) immigration offices or consulates around. There’s a good, very welcome and cheap coffee shop and sitting area with free WiFi, English-language newspapers and even cable TV. (And if you stand in the car park you even have a nice view over Doi Suthep.) Having visited numerous embassy visa sections and immigration departments (including a recent nightmare trip to Phnom Penh’s Thai embassy), we can also testify that Chiang Mai staff are the most helpful and efficient we have ever come across.

Coffee and pastries - good idea!

Coffee and pastries — good idea!

Behind the main visitors’ office is a small cafe serving a few basic Thai dishes such as fried rice, pat krapao and so on, so if you’re stuck there over the lunch break don’t fear. The cafe also has a photocopier and they can even print passport photos for you.

Cafe and photocopiers

Cafe and photocopiers.

When visiting the immigration office we would recommend following the following basic guidelines — most naturally go for any Thai visa or immigration department and many are pretty obvious, though still frequently ignored, which is why we’re mentioning them again.

Our do’s are:
* Have a shave if you’re a man and dress up as smartly as you can no matter what your sex. Thai officialdom is concerned by appearances and you will get a better reception.
* Keep smiling and stay as polite and friendly as possible no matter how much of a nightmare you’re having.
* Take a book, crossword, Sudoku or laptop because you’ll need to be prepared to be there a while.
* Check the Thai immigration website to make sure you have all necessary documents with you for whatever service you require.
* If you know long enough in advance when you’re going, apply for an online queue number but bear in mind this is often full weeks in advance.
* Download and print out any documents you need to complete from the website since it will save time once you’re there.
* Try and pick a mid-week day to visit as it’s usually quieter.

Please take a number and sit down and wait your turn

Please take a number and sit down and wait your turn.

And our don’ts… Don’t:

* Turn up in a ripped Chang beer T-shirt and grubby shorts since rightly or wrongly staff will look down their noses at you.
* Lose your patience however difficult or unhelpful staff appear to be. It will only make matters worse.
* Forget that these staff are overworked — we’ve seen many working right through their lunch breaks — and spend all day dealing with often irate customers. They are only human and sometimes get ratty.
* Take it out on local staff — they don’t make up the rules, however idiotic they may seem.
* Panic if you find some documents missing — as mentioned there’s a photo booth and photocopier available on site.
* Turn up on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon, which are the busiest times of the week.
* Make an appointment for an hour after you plan to go to immigration.

Naughty naughty!

Naughty naughty!

You can find the immigration office’s contact details here — it’s located between Airport Plaza and the airport itself and tuk tuks will charge 100 baht or so to take you out there. Note there aren’t many tuk tuks in the area, so either ask your driver to wait, make an arrangement to come back or walk down to Airport Plaza where you’ll find taxis and tuk tuks. Opening hours are 08:30-16:30 and they close for lunch from 12:00-13:00.

Last updated on 13th October, 2012.

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