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The first step towards obtaining a Non-Immigrant (O) visa is to open a Thai bank account.  I wanted a just a simple savings account so I could transfer the required 400,000 baht from my Stateside account.  Some banks require a work permit when opening these, others don't — often different branches of the same bank have different policies (and sometimes these vary from day-to-day at the same branch!).  Like everything else in Thailand, there's plenty of bureaucracy and it's difficult to find straight answers.

After reading plenty of online forum topics about opening Thai bank accounts, I finally decided that the branch of Siam Commercial Bank on Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road in Patong seemed to be the best bet.  Many other expats reported that they had had good experiences here.  "In and out in twenty minutes with new passbook and debit card," seemed to be the consensus.  I thought that if this bank wouldn't open an account for me, I'd just keep going until I found one that would (that section of Rat-U-Thit has several large banks).

The process was fairly straight forward, and I was glad Tim was with me since the application forms were written in Thai.  Also, it took about 30 or 40 minutes but part of that was the lady helping me was either new or had never opened an account for a farang before.  The only real document I needed was my passport; I had taken my rental lease and a couple of utility bills for proof-of-address but she just looked at my business card and used that.  She did ask Tim a few questions although I was just opening an individual account, not a joint one.  It turned out that Tim agreed for me to purchase some sort of accident insurance the bank was selling — kind of an unnecessary expense if you ask me but it worked out to around USD $40 total for one year so I guess I can't complain too much.  It also took a bit longer because I wanted Internet banking.

I did walk out of the bank with a savings passbook and a MasterCard/Electron debit card ("For Electronic Use Only").  They have separate cash machines for withdrawals (a "normal" ATM machine), for deposits (you don't put the money in an envelope — just feed it into a large enclosure and somehow it counts it up without the cash getting stuck), and one that you feed your passbook into and it prints the transaction and new balace right into the book.  It's kind of cool and all but eliminates having to go inside the bank.

Now, I have to set up some way to transfer my cash from my Stateside accounts into the Thai one.  My bank in New Mexico won't do SWIFT or wire transfers unless I sign the transaction form in person.  I've emailed Customer Service for both HSBC and EmigrantDirect but haven't yet received a response.  A few people on one of the better Thai expat forums suggested establishing an account with E*Trade as they handle overseas transfers all the time without any hassles.  I'm still waiting for approval on this one but it looks pretty good.