An ordinary day at the Thai consulate in Vientiane, Laos. This is where you can get your visa for Thailand. Even though they don’t open until 8.30, there’s already a long queue in front of the gates at 7.30. Hundreds of people are waiting, an hour before opening time, to apply for a visa for Thailand. Tourists, backpackers, students, pensioners, people with all sorts of different backgrounds.
The streets around the consulate are buzzing with activity. Hawkers selling snacks and water, taxis, tuk-tuks, copy shops and touts offering to get you a place closer to the front of the queue against payment.
Visas are nothing more than two things. Firstly, it’s a matter of one country against the other, saying: if we need a visa for your country, you need one for ours, and we’ll make ours just a little more complicated to obtain. And secondly, in Asia anyway, visas are a cash cow.
Take Thailand, for example. Want to send your child with foreign nationality to school in Thailand? You’ll need a student visa. You can only apply for a visa outside Thailand. So, you’ll have to go on a visa trip to Laos.
Upon arrival in Laos, you’d probably already guessed this, you find out that you need a visa to get into the country. This can be arranged, against payment, at the airport. Quite a straightforward process that doesn’t require too much paperwork. After that, you can make your way to the Thai consulate. This requires a whole lot more paperwork. Birth certificates, school permits and certificates, letters from the school and from the Ministry of Education, proof of residency, etc., etc.
Once you’ve obtained your visa, you can stay in the country for 2 or 3 months, depending on your nationality. At the end of that period, you can extend or renew your visa. Against a fee, of course.
Based on a quick count, or estimate, I’d say that about 400 – 500 people come to the Thai consulate in Laos every day to apply for a visa. The fees depend on the type of visa, but they’re somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 Thai baht. Let’s say an average of 2,000 baht, 450 people per day, 5 days per week and 50 weeks per year. That amounts to 225 million Thai baht. 37 baht is worth 1 euro. Based on that calculation, this small consulate has an annual turnover of 6 million euros. From visas alone.
In Asia, visas don’t really have anything to do with regulating visitors, you can stay in a country for as long as you like by going on a ‘visa trip’ every now and again. Visas simply are big business in Asia. Apart from in China of course, where they are taken seriously. No visa trips for China. If China doesn’t want to let you in, or stay on, you can forget about it.
General manager Van den Berg Roses, China