Navigating the British passport system

 | Mon 17 Aug 2020 15:40 ICT

Dear Citylife,

Recently I had an unusual passport and visa problem. It has been resolved successfully and I thought you might want to pass the information to your avid readers.

I am a 60 years old retired Brit here eight years on a Non-Immigrant-O visa. Every year I have got an annual extension of my retirement visa in the usual way with no problems. However this year my passport expires. What to do?

Actually I have two British passports both valid concurrently. As an international businessman it is not unusual to have two (or even three) passports at the same time. The idea is that I can travel on my first passport (with its foreign visas) whilst my secretary back home obtains the visas for my next trip using my second passport. Also some countries will not allow a visitor to enter if their passport contains old visas for unacceptable countries. So, having two passports is very useful.

This week I went to Immigration Chiang Mai and asked them to transfer my retirement visa (actually the annual “extension of stay” stamp) from my almost expired first passport to my second passport (valid for several more years). They said I needed a letter from the British Embassy Bangkok cancelling my first passport. Sounds straightforward eh?

However the British Embassy in Bangkok no longer issues such letters. It was a blanket refusal. They gave no more information on what to do next.

I was stuck in a quandary. I needed an embassy letter but the embassy doesn’t issue them any more. Without the letter, my passport and retirement visa would expire and I would have to leave the country. Given the Coronavirus problems, the consequences would be dire. I was tearing my hair out.

Fortunately I discovered VFS in Chiang Mai. VFS is Visa Facilitated Services. It is a private company. Years ago, I remember reading an article about VFS in your magazine. My take from the article was that VFS can help with passport applications but they sounded like no more than an enhanced courier service.

Actually, the British, Australian and Canadian Embassies in Thailand have outsourced almost all of their consular activities to VFS. It is a great pity that the British Embassy has neglected to mention this on their website.

I went to the VFS office in the Siriphanich Building on Huay Kaew Road. There, a very nice Thai lady looked at my two passports and asked if I needed a letter. I could have hugged her! Five minutes later she gave me the necessary letter on British Embassy Bangkok letterhead. It was not only signed, it was embossed with the official Embassy stamp. Apparently she has a stack of blank stamped Embassy letters. I asked her how much was the cost. She smiled and said “no charge today”.

I went back to Immigration and twenty minutes later I had my new stamp in my second passport. Success!

Actually they transferred everything to the new passport: my 90 days reporting (TM47), my registered address (TM30 & TM28), my annual visa extension (TM7). Also, they said I must always keep my old passport because it contains the original Non-Immigrant-O visa . That visa can never change and it will last me the rest of my life no matter how many new passports I get. Every year I do not get a new retirement visa. Instead I get a stamp extending the validity of the original visa. I am sure you already know this but I mention it for the benefit of your readers.

So, the import of my message to you is that VFS is much more than a passport courier service. Effectively, it is the British Consulate in all but name.

Best always,

Alistair Cunningham