Immigration Office in Butterworth, Malaysia

Last week the boys and I made a quick trip up to the Thailand border to renew our visas.  It did not go very well and rather than get the 90-day visa like we expected we were given one week and told to go to the immigration office in Penang, which is on the other side of the bridge in Butterworth.


My husband, who had been away with his sister also in Thailand, got back and of course got his 90-day visa no problem.  This is good, I figure. If he has his visa, surely they will grant the rest of us one.  On one hand we need the visa as financially it is the best fit for our plans but on the other hand we are big believers in following the signs of the Universe. This, coupled with a few other anti-Penang things, seemed to be pointing us out of here!

After some debate we decided to try and get the visa.  We wanted to wait to go to immigration a couple days after my sister-in-law left.  So on Thursday we rented a car and got up early later than expected AGAIN and traveled the hour over the bridge to Butterworth.  After about 30 minutes of not exactly being lost but not exactly arriving at our destination smoothly, we were finally there.  iPhone check...11:30am..oops!  Not exactly the crack of dawn like so many people suggested.

As soon as we approach the building we realized the depth of our error.  There isn't a single parking space and even though it is a large building many of the lines are wrapped around the exterior.  We approach with not a single clue as to what we are doing.  Luckily, most everyone here speaks English so that definitely helps alleviate any worries.

We proceed through the standard go-to-the-2nd-floor-to-be-told-to-proceed-back-downstairs run around.  Once in the proper room we breath a sigh of relief as it happens to be the only room in the whole place with hardly any line at all.  In fact, as soon as we walk in a man calls us over, asks us what we are there for, and starts the ball rolling for us.

10 minutes later my husband and I are in his office undergoing a barrage of questions.  We did not come very prepared but we did manage to purchase our onward flights and had proof of the tickets to show him.  I believe that was a very helpful thing to have. If you run into this issue I suggest you bring this as well.  The man was very friendly yet shocked at how we live our lives. 20 minutes later and back in the waiting room for us. We are the only farangs in the entire building so we garnered a fair share of odd looks and down right staring.

The man returns holding our passports and we think, wow that was pretty painless and fast, in and out in about 1 hour!  Woohoo...except not really.  At this point he tells us to proceed to the first room we had been in, the one that had about 200 people sitting on the floor, in the chairs, and along the hallway outside...great!

We proceed as told and walk in clueless, looking around for some sign as to what to do. Nothing appears obvious so as the family waits out in the hall I attempt to wait in line. I quickly made my way to the front where I am handed back my passports with a couple of forms. I stand there dumbfounded for a minute at which point the man tells me to, "come back tomorrow, very early, now go."

Wait...what???  Very Early?  Crap!

Next we need to drive home and secure the rental car for yet another day.  We wake up the next morning around 8, out the door at 8:30am.  This is nothing short of a miracle in my family. It's going to be a good day I profess!  The trip was much easier this time knowing exactly where to go and how to get there. My husband stayed behind to work. I asked the day before and the man told me the kids had to come but my husband did not since he already had his visa.  Lucky *****!

At 9:15am we are in line and getting our ticket number.  I vaguely remember thinking we would arrive at 7:30 when they open but quickly realized the error in that thought and am still reeling with pride at making it to Butterworth by 9-ish.  So ticket in hand, now what?

The number in my hand is about 200 numbers past what it says on the board so we sit out in the hall on the grimy floor because every possible seat in the main waiting room is full.  We proceed to occupy ourselves by playing games on the iPad, chatting, grabbing drinks from next door, sharing food and video game play with all the other kids in the office, working on reading, and then we sit some more, and finally....we have our number called!  No, not exactly. I look over and see that everyone is pouring out of the waiting room.  Time check...1pm, day check...crap, Friday.


Malaysia is a Muslim-dominated country so even though they do not typically close for lunch on Friday, the high holy day of the week, they close for lunch and then some. In order for everyone to be able to perform their extra prayers the whole place shuts down for 2 1/2 hours.  At least we get to go eat some real food I suppose.

There is not enough time to go home so we head over to a huge Tesco we saw on the way in.  WE start by playing in the arcade, followed up by eating some horrific KFC, and then make our way back for 3:45pm....we still have not even handed in our passports and the office is closed for 4 days due to some holiday.  And our temporary visas are done tomorrow.  Worry sets in but what can you do?  Oh yes wait it out some more.

When we got back from lunch the wait was only about 15 minutes.  When they called our number we all felt a joy that I cannot adequately put into words.  We had already been waiting nearly 7 hours!  I hand the gentleman our passports and forms, he looks them over and again tells us to wait!  I calmly ask if they will be done by closing time in 1 hour to which he calmly replies...we'll see, lots to do.  I remind him that the visas are expired tomorrow so...  And back to the waiting game.

It is at this point that my 5-year-old basically turns into that Chucky doll from the 80's movie.  Whining, crying, hitting brothers, all out anarchy, it was not pretty!  I can't blame him.  8 hours sitting on a grimy floor waiting for something he cannot possibly comprehend as vital is enough. The kids have been wonderful up to this point but it's 4:30 pm now and we have all had it!  As I wrack my brain to come up with how to help him my 9-year-old reminds me privately about the marshmallow and candy lady downstairs!  BINGO!  Bribes, especially with a massive dosing of sugar, work every time. The others in the waiting room giggle at his transformation.

5, 5:15...we are really getting nervous as the office closes at 5:30.  The little guys plop down on the floor with a massive crew of Malay children hovering around as they build their 15th house of the day on Minecraft.  Dylan and I run through the different scenarios possible if this doesn't happen in the next 15 minutes...none of which seem good.

I hear my name called at 5:25pm.  He hands us the passports and we are pushed aside by the rest of the people waiting for theirs. I pause to check the visas, 90-day full page official visa for all of us!  Oh yeah, there was some loud music and ridiculous car dancing going on after that, all in all a great day!

Long story short - 2 days, 10+ hours, and we are legal again! 90-day visa accomplished.

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14 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I won't lie..it was not really very fun at all!

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  2. Oh-Em-Gee! At least you got the visa :)

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    1. It could always be worse. I am sure many people in there from Indonesia and India did not get the visas they want. And they only start with 30 days ever so, yes at least we got it!

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  3. Errrr I'd hate to be in all this! Bureaucracy really sucks, and esp you're asked to return on the next day or some other day to get that one damn thing done! Glad it's alright now. :)

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    1. Ha, yes the coming back the next day was not what we were expecting. We even considered forgetting the whole thing at that point and just leaving!

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  4. WAhoo! SOOOOO glad it worked out! The joys of our travel lifestyle, huh?!! :-)

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    1. Thanks, we are really looking forward to not having to worry about it for a few months:)

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  5. Congrats on the ordeal! our entire family (1 month old baby included) went to immigrations three times to be told nothing could be done but a visa run, and already a week overdue in visaless time. The trip was loooong and tiring but we all managed the 90 days which I later learned is only for a few lucky countries!

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    1. Wow, well I am glad they didn't have us do another visa run, they can get expensive. We really are quite lucky being American, it grants us pretty lenient visas in most countries.

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  6. It seems so arbitrary. When my kids got new passports, they were only given a 30-day visa. This is despite them having 2 year Student Visas in their old passports and both their dad and I have visas that are good for 2 years. It seems to me that they would automatically give the kids the same duration as the parents or, at the very least, the regular 90 days. Perhaps we were supposed to send them on visa runs without us.

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    1. Yes arbitrary is the name of the game. It is like that everyplace I guess. When its left up to the discretion of each individual immigration officer the you are bound to get different results. I am just glad we get 90 days for free:)

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  7. Is the Sadao songkla immigration check point on the train route from Butterworth to Bangkok ? Is there a way of reaching Bangkok via Malaysia by train? will i get Thai Visa on arrival en route?

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    1. Hi, thanks for your questions. I did the train from Penang (Butterworth)to Bangkok. You can even go all the way from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It is long but pretty comfortable. It goes through the border, but not positive what the name of that border crossing was. It was super easy, everyone gets off and goes through the exit Malaysia and enters Thailand and right back on the train.

      The visa really depends on where you are from but typically it is less days overland than if you fly in. Sp depending on how long you want to be in Thailand it may be cheaper to just fly in. Americans gets 15 days when crossing over land and 30 days when flying in. And both those visas are free. But check for your country specifically!

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