Desperate to get a breather from the madness in my birthplace, I moved to Thailand to study an MBA in International Business at Stamford International University. Stamford is a member of the Laureate International Universities. I was on a student visa. The Thai consulate issues a 3-month visa to start with, and the holder must apply for an extension before it expires. If you’re from Africa, or one of selected Asian countries, you get a three or six-month extension, regardless the length of your program. The extensions continue as necessary, and come at a fee. But don’t you dare relax because every 90 days, you are required to inform immigration of your presence in the kingdom. If you’re intent on relocating to Thailand for study or employment, opt for a school or employer who will handle all the immigration admin on your behalf. Makes it easier.
My first misadventure with immigration happened after a visit home in December 2016. As I started the journey back to Thailand, I got to Harare International Airport, now called Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. African countries really need to get over this wasteful habit of renaming everything after dictators! Story for another day. At the check in desk, the officer queried my visa, saying I had no permit. He was being ridiculous really because I did have a visa! Or so I thought. My certainty convinced him to print a boarding pass, and I was on my way. Got to Nairobi, where I had a long stop over and a few hours into it, I became curious, so I messaged the international students relations rep. As always, she was quick to respond. She asked me to send her photos of my passport pages. After a while she responded with, ‘’Lovelyn, you did not apply for a re-entry permit before you left Thailand. Your visa is cancelled”. This made absolutely no sense to me. I still had two months before my visa needed another extension. It was a multiple entry visa, used only once, no “USED” stamp on it from when I made my exit. Hello misadventure!
I was stuck. Kenya Airways would not allow me to board. And just as well because I would have had to make a U-turn either way. I had one free change on my ticket, so I changed the Nairobi to Bangkok chapter flight date, went online and bought a Nairobi to Johannesburg return ticket on RwandAir. Being Zimbabwean, I had to go to South Africa to apply for a new Thai student visa. Earliest available flight was the next evening; which meant spending a night in Kenya. My Kenyan friend in Thailand stepped in and hustled an accommodation plan for the night. One of her high school friends agreed to take me in. Thank you Nancy Obonyo, and Roselyne Nyanduko. Side-note: Friendship is golden! Get yourself some friends across the globe!
Jomo Kenyata International Airport, Kenya: Finding comfort in all the confusion; fell in love with this butternut soup and
enjoyed my read.
At Jomo Kenyata International Airport the following day, I was asked for a yellow fever card. Though I owned one, I had left it in Bangkok as I had not planned to enter Kenya. Thailand requires travelers from certain countries to have a yellow fever card as proof of vaccination against the disease. Zimbabwe is not listed but I did get the vaccination in case I traveled to a listed country. Kenya is one of those countries. And well, I lost my visa, so I spent a night in Kenya. The baffling thing however, was that I was not even checking in to fly to Bangkok. I was checking in to fly to South Africa, via Rwanda. An official at the next desk overheard the conversation and as far as she knew, her colleague was being unreasonable. I had someone on my side! But again, that did not work. I had to spend money on a card at the airport’s health department before wheeling my suitcases back to the domestic terminal. Exhausted and Annoyed. On the up side, I enjoyed flying over Rwanda and it’s now on my list of countries to visit. The landscape is oh so beautiful. Those new RwandAir aircrafts are clean and comfy. Very pleasant flight attendants. Kenya Airways a.k.a KQ could learn a lot from them.
Kigali International Airport, Rwanda: Thank you @FlyRwandAir for the pleasant flight
Back in Bangkok, Nancy and Grace made sure the school urgently arranged paperwork for my new visa. I now have a multiple entry re-entry permit with the same validity period as my visa. This way, the misadventure will never happen again. At least not the same one. It also saves passport pages as the stamp takes up half a page. The re-entry permit also comes at a fee. One of the advantages of being in Thailand is its vicinity to other South East Asian countries which are must visits.
My ten days in South Africa felt like a holiday. I cannot emphasise enough on the importance of friends. My childhood friend was waiting at the airport and I lived with her until my new visa was issued. I also got to spend time with family, and met my cousin’s lovely girlfriend, now fiancee. Thank you Tafadzwa Sithole, Kudzayi Mazikana, Eva Bortne, Wilma and Shingi Munyeza, and the Matchaba family for putting a silver lining to my misadventure!
Johannesburg, South Africa: Did I mention my aunt throws a mean dinner party? :)
What Are The Lessons?
Make no assumptions, read the fine print on immigration and visa framework for each country.
Purchase an air ticket which allows changes at no cost, even if you don't think you'll need it.
Keep all travel documents together. Never separate them. As my friend Chenai Penduka "commanded", where the passport goes, the yellow fever card goes.
As you travel around the world, invest in healthy relationships.
N.B There are other kinds of Thai Visas which may not require as much admin as the above mentioned ones.