The story of 37-year-old Marc Ryan shows clearly that foreigners are dealing with a system which must be complied with to the letter of the law. It also highlights the dangers for westerners of switching jobs in Thailand from one employer to another.

A former Olympic athlete who won medals at the Beijing and London Olympics was arrested earlier this month and spent four nights of torment at the immigration detention centre in Bangkok before being deported after he was found to have been working in the kingdom without a proper work permit.

Kiwi cycling star, Marc Ryan, was leaving the Get Fit Cycling Studio in Bangkok on Monday, December 9th when he was arrested by Thai Immigration Police. He spent 4 nights at the notorious Immigration Detention Centre in Sathon before being fined by a court and deported over a violation of his visa in that he did not have the appropriate work permit. Now back in New Zealand, and able to return to Thailand, the kiwi is not sure and will not easily forget the ordeal of being held in detention.

A New Zealand sports legend and two-time Olympic medalist is back home in New Zealand after his two years spent working in Thailand ended abruptly with him being arrested and subsequently spending four nights in the hellish immigration detention centre in Bangkok.

In recent days, he gave an interview at home to the New Zealand Herald newspaper in Auckland in which he describes just what happened.

Accomplished and professional athlete

37 years old Marc Ryan represented his country with distinction in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and later in London in 2012 where he won two bronze medals in cycling. The top athlete later trained in Switzerland where he received a diploma from the prestigious UCI World Cycling Centre.

Came to Thailand two years ago having worked in Italy, decided to switch jobs this year

Having, first of all, worked in Italy he came to Thailand two years ago to take up a position here coaching and training Thai cyclists and fitness enthusiasts.

The kiwi had everything in order including a valid visa and work permit. His problem started earlier this year after he decided to switch jobs. 

Needed to change his visa and work permit

This necessitated him changing his visa and obtaining a new work permit. The process takes some time so from August to October, Marc was not working.

However, his photos were used and appeared on company literature for his new employer, the Get Fit Cycling Studio.

Mr Ryan this week told the media in New Zealand that he also, at this time, began to receive threats that he would be kidnapped or go missing in Thailand.

Arrested on Monday 9th December

On Monday, 9th December, as he was leaving the gym in Bangkok, the New Zealand man was approached by immigration police and arrested. He was held on the basis of working without a valid work permit. 

The athlete explained this week that his Immigration B type visa had already been approved by Thailand’s immigration office and a new work permit was being processed.

Immigration bureau police tipped off by the public about a ‘foreigner coach’ at the gym

Immigration authorities are currently running a now regular crackdown campaign on foreigners abusing immigration laws in Thailand including a hotline where the public can tip off the police. 

Later, he was told that immigration police were telephoned and told that a foreign coach was working illegally at the gym.

‘Bad’ experience of New Zealander after being held at the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok

This was the beginning of Marc Ryan’s personal ordeal which he has described as ‘bad’. The Kiwi was taken immediately and lodged in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre initially sharing a bare cell with six other men. He had no money and no access to a mobile phone.

This meant that on what are now cool nights in Bangkok, he was forced to sleep on the floor even without a blanket as such items must be paid for by inmates at the facility.

‘It was like a jail..’

Mr Ryan, like fellow Kiwi Thomas Tana, also held there last year (see story link below), found the immigration holding centre not only to be a prison but also to be a terrifying experience. ‘It was like a jail and the first two nights were bad,’ he said. ‘I was lucky to get out. Some people had been in there a long time,’ he told the reporters in New Zealand this week.

The world-class athlete will not easily forget the clamorous and foreboding atmosphere of the detention centre run by Thailand’s Immigration Bureau where a US teacher is reported to have died in May this year only days after being lodged at the facility and after becoming the target of a campaign of intimidation by long term inmates.

Embassy of New Zealand provided assistance

It has been confirmed by New Zealand’s Department of Foreign Affairs that consular assistance from the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok was provided to Mr Ryan after his arrest.

As with Mr Tana last year, the Embassy of New Zealand in Bangkok has a good reputation for assisting its nationals unlike the embassies of quite a few other western countries. 

Appeared before a court on the 11th December – fined ฿5,000 and deported from he kingdom

After spending two nights at the Immigration Detention Centre in the centre of Bangkok, Mr Ryan appeared before a court charged with working without a valid work permit. 

He pleaded guilty on the basis that promotional materials for his new employer showed him in imagery and this constituted in itself an infringement if the immigration law. He was fined ฿5,000 and ordered to be deported. 

Immigration authorities, however, believed that the Kiwi Olympic medalist had been working for some months with his new employer without a work permit.

Another two nights at the immigration detention centre before his flight back to New Zealand

After his court appearance, Mr Ryan was informed that he would have to spend another two nights at the immigration detention centre before he was put on a flight back to New Zealand.

This time he was forced to share a room with up to 80 other men with two toilets and again obliged to sleep on the ground in cramped and filthy conditions.

Not sure about returning to Thailand again

He arrived home in New Zealand on Saturday 14th December. In just five days, he had been suddenly uprooted from his life in Thailand  as well as being compelled to leave his Thai girlfriend behind.

Mr Ryan was not convicted of a visa overstay and is not therefore blacklisted from returning to Thailand.

However, this week, he was not so sure about returning to the kingdom given the threats to his life and the gruelling ordeal he suffered over the status of his work permit.

Further reading:

Visitors warned of the deadly danger of working in Thailand without a proper visa and valid work permit

Crackdown on illegal foreigners sees American teacher arrested in class and Russian at his restaurant lunch

Immigration boss warns that a new crackdown on foreigners flouting Thai laws has begun

UK man claims FBI investigating the death of 41-year-old American held at Thai immigration jail in May