Many foreigners traveling to Thailand or working in Thailand without a work permit know the frustrations and confusion surrounding Thai Visas. There are a lot of rules to keep in mind as well as limitations to where you can get your visas, and it can easily become overwhelming. So after hours and hours of research, trips to most popular Thai borders, and some silly mistakes that cost me thousands of baht, I have assembled this little guide for your convenience. Your welcome!
There are many different types of visas, but the one I’ll be focusing on in this post is the Tourist Visa, since it’s the most popular. However, I have received a Non-Immigrant B Visa for education, so if you have any questions about that process, feel free to ask in the comments or email me. This visa is for people who wish to stay inside the country for tourism purposes and can range from 30 days to 60 days double-entry (don’t worry, you’ll understand all of the visa lingo by the end of this post!)
Update: I have heard that Thai Immigration plans to begin cracking down on repeat tourist visas, allowing no more than 3 consecutively. However, like most crackdowns, it remains to be seen if it will actually happen. If you are working legitimately, try to get that work permit from your school/agency – be persistent!
This is the visa most people get for Thailand, even foreigners who have been living here for years (ahem, like me). A tourist visa gives you various allotments of time to be in the country and have different restrictions. The restrictions depend on where you’re coming from and how you’re getting there: 1. Basic 30-Day Tourist Visa: all tourists first arriving to Thailand get this free 30 day tourist visa. It used to be that only people flying in got the 30 days, while entering over land only gave you 15, but that changed in November 2013 (to the delight of many border-runners). Now everyone gets 30 days!* You don’t have to get an actual visa or fill out an application, you just get stamped on your way in and fill out your basic immigration card. Benefits: 30 free days in Thailand without the hassle and cost of visa applications 2. 60-Day Tourist Visa (single entry): This visa has to be received outside of Thailand and is good for 60 days. It usually costs 1,000 baht* and is only good for one entry, meaning that if you leave Thailand, your visa is no longer valid and you will have to get another on your way back in. Talk about a serious pain in the ass! This is especially a pain in the ass because most countries that border Thailand, where you would get your visa, require a visa at the border as well, so that you’re buying two visas just to get back into Thailand. I highly recommend pairing a visa trip with a trip to another country you’d like to visit. My boyfriend and I have done this with Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia, and it has made the process much more worthwhile and enjoyable. Also note that with this visa, you can ask for an extension at the Thai Embassy in Bangkok for an additional 30 days, which will cost you 1,900 baht. Benefits: 60-90 days in the country without having to leave Drawbacks: You cannot leave and re-enter on the same visa, and you have to get it outside of Thailand 3. 60-Day Tourist Visa (double-entry): This visa is much more preferable if you have plans to stay in Thailand beyond 2 months and/or are working without a permit. The cost is 2,000 baht (about 60$ US).* Double entry means that not only can you leave Thailand and come back, but when you do, you will start an additional 60 days. So it’s actually a 120 day visa, with a departure from Thailand in between. If you really want to extend your time in Thailand, you can ask for the 30 day extension at the Thai embassy for BOTH entries. That means you get 60 days + 30 day extension, then after leaving Thailand, you get another 60 days + 30 day extension, for a grand total of 180 days, or 6 months. This is how most foreigners stay in Thailand without a work permit. It’s technically not legal, but Thai immigration keeps letting people do it without a second glance, so it’s become more of a gray area. It’s also notoriously a pain in the ass to get a work permit, so most people opt for the 60-day double entry out of necessity. Benefits: Since all you have to do in between the two 60 day entries is leave Thailand, you are only going for a ‘border run’ which has no weekend limitations. For example, you can leave Saturday morning from Thailand and enter back in right away. This means no missed work and no waiting around. In contrast, if you are going for your visa, you need two workdays to get it, one day to turn in the application and one day to pick it up. The embassy is closed on Thai holidays and weekends. Drawbacks: Between the visa and the two 30-day extensions, staying for 180 days costs 6,000 baht (about 200$ US). Also, if you add in the cost it takes to leave Thailand, you could be looking at closer to 12,000 or even 15,000 baht depending on where you go. *These rules and costs may be subject to change so check the Thai embassy page here before you come and make sure there are no surprises.
How to Apply for a Tourist Visa
The steps involved are pretty straight forward, and may vary slightly depending on where you’re getting your visa. For most embassies, these are the things you’ll need to bring with you:
- Your passport
- A copy of your passport
- 2 x small passport-sized photos
- 1000-2000 baht, depending on which visa you’re getting
- Your Visa application filled out (usually you can get them upon arrival at the embassy, so don’t sweat it if you can’t print it off and bring it along with you)
Remember to double-check the requirements before arriving on the specific Thai embassy’s website where you’ll be getting your visa. Remember, no surprises! 1. Arrive to the visa during open hours for application drop-off. Make sure you have everything you need. If you’re visiting one of the more popular visa consulates, like Vientiane, Laos, I recommend getting there as early as possible. You’ll usually need to take a number as soon as you arrive. 2. Turn in your paperwork and payment to the consulate worker when your number is called. They hardly ever* ask you questions other than ‘what is your purpose for this visa’, so don’t be nervous. I only had one guy ever chuckle and give me a ‘yeah right’ look, but I was actually not working at the time and really was traveling around Thailand. Make sure to hang on to the receipt they give you! 3. Come back the next day at the allotted pick-up time and bring your receipt with you. Now you need to take a number again, unless there’s no line, and wait for your number to be called for pick-up. This process is much faster. Make sure to check your visa before you leave to see that the dates are correct. Know that legally they can reject your application without refunding the money, but I have never heard of this happening to anyone. I have also received about 7 Thai Visas now and have never had any issues.
Where to Apply for a Tourist Visa
1. Vientiane, Laos: This is probably the most popular Thai visa consulate because it’s really easy to get to. You can take a flight to nearby Udon Thani for cheap or you can take the overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai and cross the border there. The city also has a lot of accommodation and a great food for fairly cheap. If you end up here, I highly recommend renting a motorbike or taking a bus out to the Buddha Park. It’s a well-kept secret, and it’s awesome. We only saw one or two other tourists when we were there. Downside: everyone and their grandma comes here so you sit in line for HOURS. It’s kind of ridiculous actually compared to other consulates. But hey, it’s easy to get to. You also need a visa for Laos which costs around 25$ USD. 2. Savannhaket, Laos: My personal choice for visa runs. Savannakhet can be reached by bus from Bangkok and is a much quieter town. The Thai consulate was literally deserted when we were there, which was a shock after waiting 3 or 4 hours at the Vientiane consulate. It was super easy and laid back. We also rented bikes for the day while we waiting and checked out the nearby farms and villages. It was gorgeous, a much recommended day trip. 3. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia: My absolute favorite consulate, but it’s hard to get to quickly from Bangkok. If I had the time I would always visit this consulate! Not only is Georgetown an interesting place to visit with amazing food (authentic Malaysian, Indian AND Chinese food?), but the Thai visa only takes on day to get. You’re in and out in literally 5 minutes and then you pick the visa up later that day. Easy peasy! Also, Malaysia is the one of the only countries bordering Thailand that doesn’t require a visa to enter (as opposed to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, which all require visas for entry). Downside: I’ve heard that they no longer offer the double entry visa there. Bummer. Check to make sure though, as maybe that will change soon! 4. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: I haven’t used this consulate myself, but it takes about 3 days to get your passport back I believe (at least through a visa agency). However, like Georgetown, you cannot get a double-entry visa in Phnom Penh. It’s single entry only. 5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: I have not received a Thai visa from KL but have read it can be trickier than in other places. If you have multiple Thai visas, they are much more likely to deny you a new visa unless you have a ticket showing your departure plans from Thailand. Also, you can only get single-entry visas here.
How to Apply for a Visa Extension
The visa extension is very easy to get. You have to head to the Thai Embassy on Chaengwatthana road about 45 minutes North of downtown Bangkok. The complex is huge so it can be tricky to find the actual building but your taxi driver should know where to drop you. The application hours are 8:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:30 (closed on holiday and weekends). It can take a long time if you get there first thing in the morning, as people start lining up before it even opens. If you want to get in quickly, you can increase your chances by having all of your paperwork ready. Here’s what you’ll need:
- The Extension of Temporary Stay form filled out which you can find on this website (3rd doc from the top)
- Your passport and original immigration card (that you received upon entering Thailand)
- A photocopy of your passport AND immigration card*
- One passport size photo
- 1,900 baht
*If you need photocopies, there’s a center down on the first floor where you can have them made. When you get inside, show your paper work at the front desk and they will direct you inside where you will report to another desk. Here they double check that you have everything necessary and give you a number. You then go sit and wait for your number to be called. When it is called, report inside to the immigration officer at the desk and show they all of your documents, passport, and give them the moolah. If you are traveling with a partner (spouse, child, boyfriend, best friend) you can usually go in together. In fact, they often will lump you together with the same officer if they see that you are together. When they finish processing your stuff, you go back outside with your number and wait again for it to be called so you can go in and pick up your passport. Before leaving, double check and make sure the date is correct. If you have additional or more specific questions, you can also check out the Thai visa forum here, which is extremely helpful. Have you had any problems getting a tourist visa in Thailand? Where did you get yours from? Do you have a favorite consulate that you like to go to? Is any of my information incorrect? Let me know in the comments!