Travel Visas


General Visa Information    Visa Runs    Tips

General Visa Information

This section covers the different kinds of entry visa, how to renew visas, tips and related matters. Visa regulations are subject to change. Most changes are minor, though there have been some very significant changes from time to time. As of early 2009, major changes are not expected. Nevertheless, you should check with a Thai consulate or embassy in your country, or the Immigration Dept. in Bangkok (see the map at the bottom of this page), or a good lawyer regarding any and all of the following.

    News in 2008: Shortly after the military coup of 2006, back to back tourist visas were disallowed and a "90 out of 180 days rule" was imposed (discussed below). Never mind this rule because that was discontinued in 2008 by the democratically elected administration. You can now get back to back tourist visas and stay in Thailand a long time without any problems, or just get visas on arrival -- the so called "border runs" or "visa runs" whereby you can take a bus to go step over a border and back. Details below.

    Due to the worldwide economic recession and lower tourist arrivals, as well as the economic benefits of expats in Thailand, Thailand has announced most belatedly that foreigners are wanted again, thanks to the democratically elected governments (practically all politicians and their business constituents agree on this!). Indeed, for the first time ever, all travel visas became free starting January 20, 2009.

Citizens of most countries can enter Thailand without a visa and stay for up to 30 days, but if you plan to be in Thailand for more than 30 days, then get a travel visa for Thailand -- either a "tourist visa" if you are here just for tourism, or a "nonimmigrant" visa if here for business, to be with your Thai spouse, or retirement. Nonimmigrant visas can be extended beyond 90 days.

The basics: A "visa" is not a credit card, it is a stamp put in your passport by a Thai embassy or consulate in your country stating how long you can stay in Thailand. You can usually mail your passport in rather than needing to travel and visit in person. I strongly suggest registered mail.

You should make sure your passport is not about to expire, nor the passport of anyone travelling in your party, and has more than 6 months validity left before your entry date into Thailand; otherwise, you can be denied entry. It's 6 months validity required in most of southeast Asia. While you can get a new passport in Bangkok from your local embassy, southeast Asian countries generally will not give visas (and some won't allow entry) for passports about to expire.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at www.mfa.go.th is the best place to start on the web for detailed current information. Their Consulates subpage has information on passport visas, but I suggest you call your particular consulate first and verify because I've found that this information sometimes changes without notice. Their Diplomatic Missions Abroad subpage has a list of embassies and consulates around the world, most of which have their own separate websites. Here is a shortcut to the embassies and consulates abroad.

This section does not cover getting a visa for your Thai girlfriend to visit your country. That's a matter between you and your own government's embassy or consulate, not an issue with the Thai government (besides your girlfriend getting her Thai passport), and is discussed within the Culture section. Here's a shortcut.

TIPS: If you are travelling to an embassy/consulate to apply for a visa, then:

  1. If you have a Thai marriage certificate or other important information, get certified translations before you go to the Thai consulate, because some of them will not accept documents in Thai by themselves! I found out this fact when I visited the Royal Thai Consulate-General in [US city]. Nobody there could read Thai, and they initially tried to reject my application.

  2. At most consulates, applications are accepted only in the morning.

  3. It is strongly recommended that you email to double-check that particular embassy or consulate to verify that the visa section will be open and able to process your visa application on time. Just checking national holidays is not enough! For example, in late April 2007, a guy scheduled a trip to a major Asian business center but received an email from the Thai consulate there stating that "The visa section in [x] will be closed on [Monday] 30 April - [Thursday] 3 May 2007", and Friday the 4th was a national holiday in that country (which they didn't mention). The second embassy checked, in a capital city, was closed 3 days the next week, and specified two working days for a visa, so it would require a stay of more than a week. I've heard similar stories elsewhere.

  4. Some Thai consulates have wrong (and blank) information on their websites. In fact, the one and only email address listed for some of the consulates doesn't work (user address discontinued), and there have been replies with another, non-working email address (misconfiguration of their email program).

Some of the Thai consulates are very helpful, providing a lot of information, very courteous on the phone, and even asking if you have any more questions! This mainly is in regard to consulates outside Asia, but includes some inside Asia. However, as a general rule, you can expect the consulates outside Asia to be much more helpful than those in Asia, on average.

It is important to stay diplomatic but firm and respectable. For those where email doesn't work, you will usually get a better response over the phone.

However, some consulates just go thru a phase where the staff is hopelessly incompetent at providing decent service, and there's no sense flogging a dead horse, just change your plans to a better part of the world. There are Thai consulates in so many cities with good people.


Nationals from 56 countries can enter Thailand for 30 days without a visa, whereby you can get the visa stamped into your passport from an immigration officer at the airport. This is called "visa upon arrival". Nationals of another 76 countries, most of which don't have a Thai consulate, can get a 15-day visa stamp upon arrival. Nationals from Sweden and Korea can get a 90 day visa upon arrival. However, these are supposed to be used for tourists, not people intending to work and/or live in Thailand.

Nationals from countries near Thailand from which many impoverished illegal workers come often have problems (e.g., Bangladesh, India). Immigration officers have the power to deny a visa, including a visa on arrival at the airport (whereby you could be put on the next plane going back with available seating), so if there's any doubt, get a visa before you come, and check the minimum amount of currency you must have on you (in one form or another) which varies by visa category.

If you plan to be in Thailand longer, then you should bring your passport to the Thai embassy or a Thai consulate nearest you in the country where you are currently residing, and apply for whichever visa is appropriate:

  • Tourist visa (90 days) (changed from 60 days starting in October 2006). No special paperwork is needed for westerners from rich countries and those from rich Asian countries. However, lately, many Thai embassies and consulates have been giving 60 day visas and tell you to extend to 90 days in Thailand. Try to get a "double entry" tourist visa which you can stretch to 180 days with one border run.

  • Non-immigrant visa (90 days, renewable to 1 year) -- if you plan to do business here, or reside with a spouse, or retire. This requires documentation of your intent, usually a letter from your employer or your spouse's employer, or a marriage certificate with your Thai spouse.

    • Type B: If you are coming to Thailand for business, then you apply for a Nonimmigrant B (Business) Visa. This 90 day visa can be extended for up to 1 year (and again for the next year) if you subsequently get a work permit and can show you've been paid the minimum monthly salary (50,000 baht for nationals of most Western countries, less for others, details below).

    • Type O: If you have a registered legal marriage to a Thai (or to a foreigner who has a work permit in Thailand), then you apply for a Nonimmigrant O Visa. This 90 day visa can be extended for up to 1 year (and again for the next year) if you can display sufficient funds in a Thai bank savings account (a minimum balance of 400,000 baht over the previous 3 months). You show immigration your bank book, but immigration can also check its list of applicants using its contacts in the banks.

    • Type O-A: Retirement Visa (so-called) for those over 50 years old who keep a minimum balance of 800,000 baht in their Thai bank account over the previous 3 months and/or can prove they have a pension or regular income of at least 65,000 baht/month (including a required letter from their embassy about this pension), and wishing to retire in Thailand. If you are relying on the 800,000 baht then you must show it came into Thailand from a foreign country. Sometimes, a combination of the two (bank and pension) is allowed. A medical certificate is no longer required.

    • Type ED: Education visa. This has become very popular, starting in 2008. Many Thai language schools offer this to their students, so that you can get a longterm ED visa just by enrolling in (and paying the fees for) a Thai language school. For example, one of several is the Walen School of Thai. It's a good idea to learn Thai anyway, so many expats simply get their visa this way, too. Some advertise costs of about 35,000 baht/year whereby you never need to leave Thailand once you arrive, just keep on extending the ED visa at immigration.

    • There is no longer any "investment visa" starting October 2006.

For a non-immigrant visa, if you start with a single entry visa (see all the multiple entry option) you start with a 90 day non-immigrant visa and can extend to a year by submitting an application to the Immigration Department near the time your visa will expire, if you qualify. You will normally get a 30 day extension while the application is being considered and processed (assuming it is complete and you meet the requirements), and it may require multiple trips to the immigration department for additional 30 day extensions -- if the one year application has not been approved before your visa expires, then you must make sure to go back and ask the clerk to stamp your passport with another visa extension before your visa expires, which is extended one month at a time so may require more trips. This situation has improved over time so that most people don't need additional 30 day stamps. In fact, many retirement visas have been processed on the same day.

There are a few immigration department branches around Thailand, but most people must go to the branch in Bangkok on soi Suanplu. Which branch you must go to depends upon where in Thailand you live.

The main benefit of a tourist visa over a visa-on-arrival is that you can stay in Thailand up to 90 days without exiting, instead of 15 days (if enter by land) or 30 days (by air).

A visa on arrival or transit visa is issued upon arrival in Thailand for those who arrive without a visa, and by the official rules it requires a ticket for continuing your travels back out of Thailand. (That said, I can note that many people told me they were never asked to show their ticket. However, you should have that ticket in case you are asked for it.)

Normally, a visa is valid for one entry and one exit. If you plan to exit and re-enter Thailand within the period of your visa, for example, if you will go do business in India and then return to Thailand, then you may want to apply for a "re-entry permit" along with your visa, so that you don't have to go back to a Thai consulate in India for another visa (requiring two trips, to drop off your passport and pick it up, and you don't have your passport ID on you during the interim). Instead, you go to an immigration department in Thailand, usually the one in Bangkok on soi Suanplu, and get the re-entry permit on the spot in one trip. (It's 500 baht per time, if I recall correctly.) This does not extend the expiration of your visa, but just lets you exit and return without needing a new visa.

Tip: Multiple Entry Visa

You can also apply for a "multiple entry" visa when you first apply for your visa in your home country, if you are applying for a nonimmigrant visa of any kind. This saves you the trips to the immigration department in Thailand if you are entering and exiting Thailand often on business. However, business people with a 1 year nonimmigrant B multiple entry visa still can't stay in Thailand longer than 90 days per visit unless they extend their visa based on a work permit. The purpose of the multiple entry business visa is to save business people and spouses the hassle of multiple embassy/consulate trips per year.

Many people with multiple entry visas need to stay in Thailand more than 3 months but for some reason or another cannot extend their visa beyond 3 months. They must exit within 90 days before their visa entry stamp expires, so after 3 months in Thailand without leaving, they must do a "visa run" to just quickly step over the border and back to get another 90 days -- at any of several border crossings where there are immigration officers stationed to stamp their passports.

For example, they may just take a bus (or taxi) to the border with Cambodia or Burma (only certain places where there are immigration officers), exit thru Thai immigration, enter thru Cambodian immigration, turn around and exit thru Cambodian immigration, then enter thru Thai immigration to get a fresh new 90 days, altogether taking less than an hour depending upon the queue, in some places less than half an hour.

Again, the multiple entry visa means you don't need to visit either an embassy/consulate nor the immigration department for a year, but you still must exit the country at least every 90 days.

It is difficult to get multiple entry visas from Thai consulates in Asia, as well as nonimmigrant B visas. You can with all your paperwork in perfect status, but it is inspected much more closely. It is much easier to get these kinds of visas in your home country.

IMPORTANT: 90 day rule about reporting to Immigration:

If you extend your visa so that you can stay beyond 90 days, you still must report to immigration every 90 days or less to update them about your current address. If you don't, then you will be fined. You report to the immigration office within the jurisdiction of your registered address.

Recent History: Visa-On-Arrival, and long-stay tourists

Foreigners from many countries can enter Thailand without getting a visa in advance, by getting a "visa on arrival" at the airport, which is essentially a tourist visa. Work is prohibited. It is for one entry. It is a simple stamp in your passport. Nothing fancy, and limited. The purpose of this is to let tourists come to Thailand for a short visit without needing to visit a Thai embassy or consulate.

It has long been a policy that you cannot get tourist visas one after the other. They are for one visit, and then you must wait awhile outside Thailand before you can get another tourist visa. However, many embassies and consulates would give back-to-back tourist visas.

From 1994 to 2006, visa-on-arrival was for 30 days only, and many foreigners simply made border visits every 30 days for a new visa-on-arrival! Many did this for years!!

In October 2006, shortly after the military coup, the Thai government changed the rules which impacted people doing "visa runs" based on the 30 day visa-on-arrival loophole, in an attempt to get rid of many foreigners hanging out in Thailand who were believed to be questionable. The new rule stated that in any 180 day period, you can get only three 30 day visas on arrival. However, at the same time, they increased the tourist visa period to 90 days.

For example, if you'd been in Thailand for 84 days and then came back in again, your visa on arrival would give you only 6 days in Thailand, and after that you could enter again until your 6 month period is over, which meant 90 days in Thailand and then a forced 90 days outside Thailand.

I got a lot of emails from people refused entry because of this 90 day out of 180 rule, stranded in Cambodia or Laos or Malaysia, after the 2006 rule. On the other hand, I knew people who have gotten around it.

That affected only people coming in as tourists, not coming in on a business or marriage or retirement visa.

This 90/180 day rule was abandoned in 2008 after the democratically elected government returned.

However, visa-on-arrival by land gets you only 15 days, and by airport 30 days. It is still better to get a tourist visa from an embassy or consulate.

The Thai economy benefits from tourists spending money here, and the more foreigners who are in Thailand running or helping businesses offer things that tourists want, the better for Thailand. (Also, many bargirls' families upcountry depend on money from tourists and expats, and would be in bad shape without them.)

Visa Run Services:

There have long been businesses which serve "visa run" people, whereby you book your place on a bus or minivan which takes a whole group to the immigration post at the border with Cambodia or Burma or Malaysia.

Malaysia also grants visas upon arrival to passport holders of most countries, whereas Cambodia and Burma have immigration officials at the border who offer quick visas in a few minutes for a small fee. (Laos is a bit different, and that situation is somewhat less official and more fluid, so you may want to get your Laos visa at the Lao embassy in Bangkok, though it will require 2 trips. However, many people get visas in Nong Khai at the border near Vientiane. It's a grey arrangement.)

The favorite overland route (by far) to a Thai consulate/embassy has been flying to Penang, Malaysia, near the border with Thailand, or else taking the long train ride. It has been noted that foreigners coming from Penang by surface transport have been stopped at the border by immigration for in depth inspection even though they have a visa, starting around the beginning of October 2006, and at the time the new rules were announced, it was stated that visitors to Penang were strongly encouraged to fly there.

Based on my 12 years of experience in Thailand, I believe that the new laws and regulations will be relaxed for most people, but applied strictly to suspected criminals.

The most common 30-day visa-on-arrival and multiple-entry visa run destinations by bus (because they are cheapest and quickest) have been as follows:

  • Cambodia: Aranyaprathet (Poi Pet), Pong Nam Ron, and Pailin
  • Burma: Mae Sot (nearest Chiang Mai), or Victoria Point (nearest Phuket)
  • Malaysia (only one point, Butterworth by train/van, near Penang)

These are where the visa run companies bring busloads of people. It's usually about 10 to 12 hours round trip from Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. Alternatively, you can just go to the normal bus stations alone and get a ticket to any of those towns. At the destination bus station are usually groups of motorcycles and tuk-tuks whose eyes brighten at the sight of a foreigner and immediately offer to bring you to the border.

Of course, you can always fly anywhere instead of the above.

I will expand on the topic of visa runs later on this page.

Don't Overstay Your Visa!

If you stay beyond the expiration of your visa, then you will be fined when you depart. This is called "overstaying your visa". The fee is 200 baht/day (approx. $5-$6) up to a maximum of 20,000 baht.

It's well known that there are foreigners who overstay their visas instead of doing visa runs, some by many years and who just pay the 20,000 baht fine when they finally leave. Many have left this way without any hassle except filling out the paperwork and paying the fine at the airport. However, if you are found in Thailand by the authorities with an expired visa, for example in the center of Bangkok, then you can be put in the immigration detention center and held there until you have sufficient funds and a plane ticket out of Thailand. The immigration detention center is a crowded and very uncomfortable and unpleasant place, and you may be laying down among some serious criminals. Also, if you overstay a visa, then you will normally be denied another visa until you've left Thailand for a minimum of 90 days. (Many people have still entered Thailand on a visa on arrival for 30 days, though, after such an overstay.)

Notably, some people who are new to international travel have accidentally overstayed their visa because they didn't understand that one of the official expiry dates stamped in their passport was not the one to go by. For example, if you go to a Thai consulate or embassy in your country and get a nonimmigrant visa on April 15, 2008, then that visa may have an expiration date of April 14, 2009. This does NOT mean you can enter Thailand and stay until April 14, 2009. This is NOT a 1 year visa. This means you must enter Thailand before April 14, 2009, or else you will need to go get a new visa. If you enter Thailand on July 8, 2008, you will get an entry stamp on another page, and it will have your entry date of 08 JUL 2008 and the new "admitted until" date of 06 OCT 2008. You must ignore the big prominent official visa stamp with an expiry date of April 14, 2009, and instead follow the simple little entry stamp on another page which includes the little "admitted until 06 OCT 2008".

In this example, for a tourist visa, 06 Oct 2008 is the end. However, for a non-immigrant business (B) or marriage (O) visa, you can extend those visas with the proper process and paperwork as discussed elsewhere on this page and in this website.

If you have a multiple entry B visa, you can actually renew it up to 1 year and 3 months, if you enter Thailand the last time on April 13, 2009, according to the above example, whereby you are given another 3 months up to July 11, 2009. To be extra clear, July 11, 2009 is well beyond April 14, 2009. If you have arrived in Thailand on April 16 on that business visa, then you would have gotten nearly 1 year plus 3 months out of it. I have known some people to do this (most are usually not in Thailand continuously, but some are).

You can extend a business visa forever with a work permit and all your documentation done well, or with a marriage visa. (I have done both.) Extensions are granted only if you fulfill certain requirements such as work permit, marriage, or retirement, as discussed elsewhere...

Just don't overstay your visa! Once you get an overstay stamp in your passport, many officers will have a change in attitude and may scrutinize your paperwork much more closely or outright reject a visa application. It is common to have officers not even consider a visa application from a fresh overstay, instead requiring you to either wait or else enter Thailand and exit again without an overstay.

If you come in on a multiple entry B business visa, then a year should be enough time to figure out if you really want to do business in Thailand or retire here -- do the market research, establish the relationships, get enough investors organized, hold the proper promoters meetings, compose the articles of incorporation, etc.

You are not allowed to work in Thailand unless you get a work permit, i.e., you are not allowed to get a salaried or consulting job employed by a company in Thailand. (Of course, you can still work by internet for companies outside Thailand.) You can explore doing business, attend meetings, and many other things without a work permit on a clearly temporary basis as a clearly outside entity with a clearly limited purpose here, but you must know the limits of what you can do. The work permit issue is discussed in the section on Work Permits. You also cannot enter into many kinds of service contracts or own registered property unless you have a work permit, except those married to a Thai and who fulfull certain requirements (though many places sell you things or sign off on service contracts anyway, and the illegality of it is just overlooked as long as nobody objects).

However, I should note that Thailand is not a police state with harsh punishments or penalties, and in fact is a fairly easygoing place businesswise and livingwise. This is why a lot of people do business here and live here. There are not officials going around demanding to see all your papers. In fact, Thailand is generally much more relaxed than most Western countries. However, if you engage in activities which offend others or flagrantly violate the law, then these laws can and often will be used against you. When in Thailand, be like the Thais ... or go elsewhere!

If you plan to travel to another country, you will be happy to find that most countries maintain an embassy or consulate in Bangkok where you can get a visa. The ThailandGuru has a list of embassies and consulates. Many accept visa applications only during morning hours, and give back passports in the afternoon. Some process your passport on the same day, others may require you leave your passport with them several days.

Visa Runs

"Visa run" is a slang term invented by ex-pats which means to exit and re-enter the country in order to renew your visa, usually very near the time that your current visa is about to expire. The most popular places to travel are listed below. Some have a Thai consulate or embassy which can issue you a new tourist or nonimmigrant visa into Thailand. Others are simply border posts with an immigration station where you can get a 30-day visa-on-arrival, or else a 90 day re-entry visa for those on a nonimmigrant business multiple entry visa.

Penang, Malaysia

The most common place to go for a Thai consulate is Penang, Malaysia, a fairly nice, very modern, and inexpensive (for the seasoned traveller) island in the Andaman Sea near the Thai border, and where the Thai consulate is accustomed to processing a lot of nonimmigrant and tourist visa applications. Westerners can travel to Malaysia without needing to get any visa from the Malay embassy.

Unlike the other bordering countries, Malaysia is very modern, and there are many foreign businesspeople there.

Penang is relatively safe, peaceful and modern. The island is half natural beauty with a few decent beaches hidden away, and half industrial. The vast majority of Malaysia's computer electronics industry is in Penang, where you'll find major American and other manufacturers (e.g., Intel, AMD, National Semiconductor, etc., etc.). Penang is populated by nearly 50% old Chinese immigrants, and most of the rest is Malays and Indians. English is universally spoken, unlike in Thailand. The national language is Malay, which is a romanized (A-Z spelling) written language. You will find English fluency to be very good down to the street vendors and samlor pedal-drivers.

Some people take the 24-hour train ride down the Thai peninsula in order to save a little money (air conditioned sleeper coach), going thru immigration at the border, and exiting the train at Butterworth where you can take a ferry or a bus over the bridge to Penang. However, with the increase in terrorist violence in the southernmost province, this overland route has become less popular due to its potential risks.

Flying to Penang is relatively inexpensive. While a travel agent can book reservations at a hotel, you will find that Penang usually has plenty of guest houses available, both in the city center and along the much less densely populated coastline, many of which offer to carry your passport and application to the Thai consulate for you for a reasonable fee. You can find information on a wide range of guest houses at the airport. Taxis and buses serve the island very well and economically.

The nightlife is not very lively in this predominantly Muslim country, especially compared to Thailand, and is more expensive. The main ways visa-runners spend time is relaxing in fully equipped hotels or natural beachside guest houses, touring the island's tropical park, and browsing English language bookstores for things not offered in Thailand.

The main disadvantage of Malaysia is the distance from Bangkok, requiring either a plane flight or a very long train ride. Malaysia is used mainly to get new nonimmigrant or tourist visas due to the Thai consulates in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Cambodia

Many people fly to Phnom Penh for a tourist or nonimmigrant visa at the Thai embassy there. Just check with the latest on the political situation there, and don't stray too far from the tourist centers. However, I'd recommend Penang, Malaysia, over Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

If, instead, all you need is a "visa run" for an existing multiple entry visa, or else just another 30 day visa on arrival, then you can take a bus to Aranyaprathet, Thailand, which is right next to Poi Pet, Cambodia. The Poi Pet border town is one of the few paved roads where goods pass between the two countries (but don't think of driving your own car into Cambodia!) This has led to an immigration post there. Poi Pet is also a gambling place for Thais. Since gambling is illegal in Thailand, many Thais step over into Cambodia. Once you walk past the casinos, there isn't much in Cambodia for foreigners, and you won't see many Cambodians at all in the casinos, except service people. The cost for the bus ticket at Bangkok's Mochit Northeastern Bus Terminal to go to Aranyaprathet is only a few hundred baht each way, and it's only about 5 hours each way. There are lots of motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks at the Aranyaprathet bus station clamoring to take you for the 10 minute ride to the border. Alternatively, there are also tour agencies on Khao Sarn Rd. and on Sukhumvit which take minivans and big buses of people to Cambodia and handle everything for you, whereby you leave Bangkok in the morning and return that evening.

The main advantage of Poi Pet, Cambodia is that it's nearest Bangkok and Pattaya, cheapest and quickest to go to by land route to Poi Pet, but there is no Thai embassy/consulate at Poi Pet so it's really good only for people who already have multiple entry visas or need a new visa on arrival.

Burma/Myanmar

Foreigners who stay in Phuket will often bus to Ranong (not to be confused with Rayong), and from there cross over to the Burmese town of Victory Point, or else the casino on another island there. There isn't much over there for foreignrs, so it's usually a quick border run.

Foreigners who stay in northern Thailand will often bus to Mae Sot for their Burma visa runs.

As with Cambodia bus runs, there are tour agencies in Phuket and around northern Thailand which will bring you there and back within the same day and handle everything. Also like Cambodia, Burma is nearest northern Thailand and Phuket, and thereby the cheapest and quickest country to go to by land route, but there is no Thai embassy/consulate at any border crossing so it's really good only for people who already have multiple entry visas or need a new visa on arrival.

Laos

Laos, or the Lao PDR (People's Democratic Republic), is a common place to go. It has its plusses and minuses, however.

If you want to go back in time and see Thailand like it was 50 years ago or more, then Laos is the place to go. The cultures are very close to each other, unlike all other neighboring countries. Landlocked and periodically isolated politically, the culture is relatively preserved. Laos is a relatively safe place, and very peaceful. If you speak Thai, then you will be understood since the two languages are about 70% the same and the Lao watch Thai TV, though the Lao will usually speak back in Lao and not Thai. English is rarely spoken in Laos.

There are a few border posts, but the only consulate/embassy is in the capital, Vientiane, which is within an hour of the Thai border at Nong Khai. You can take a bus or the 12-hour train to the border town of Nong Khai (air conditioned sleeper coach) where there are plenty of buses and tuk-tuks waiting to offer to bring you to the border crossing immigration center, and on the other side are Lao transport peddlers to take you to the capital city about 20 km away. Alternatively, you can cross at one of several border points in the north which are much more scenic and interesting, but there is no Thai consulate at those places to get a longer term visa.

The drawbacks are the following:

  • Laos is a little bit conservative about allowing foreigners into the country, so you must get a visa from a Lao embassy/consulate before arriving, and Laos isn't equipped at the border to give visas to people who are arriving (unlike Cambodia and Burma)

  • The Thai embassy in Vientiane is often a wild place due to masses of Indians and Bangladeshis trying to get into Thailand (see discussion below)

  • Laos is a poor, rustic place with few modern hotels and conveniences, not for the luxury traveller

  • There is little public transport in Vientiane or anywhere else, mostly tuk-tuks

The capital city, Vientiane, is flat as a pancake. Most visa-running tourists stay in or around the city center. It is a sleepy place. If you like nightlife during a visa run vacation, then forget Vientiane. The people who enjoy a trip to Laos are those who just like to hang out in a quiet, peaceful and inexpensive place, amidst a sedate culture. In many respects, Laos is a very charming country. It is also very poor. Most people get around on bicycles, motorcycles and ad hoc private buses. There are no street signs.

Laos is technically Communist, but it doesn't have the feel of a communist country, and indeed the Lao communists, who seized power in 1975, were one of the first communist regimes to go their own way before the revolutions elsewhere in the world in the 1980's. The government runs about 15% of the economy and what you'll see is the 85% free wheeling private economy regular businesses and markets. Police and military personnel are rarely seen (and usually on bicycles). There is no strict authoritarian interaction with ordinary tourists or anything like that. The main thing you may note about the place that smacks of Communism is lack of a free press. Under the surface, however, there is a lot of control and corruption, just like in any other nondemocratic political system.

The situation at the Thai consulate varies with time, but if you see a huge crowd of people of Indian descent, don't be intimidated. Just skip the long line, walk around them, and go to the window to submit your visa application. That is what the officials will say from time to time. They are stonewalling the majority of these applicants, and that's why there are sometimes very, very long lines. If you go to the gate at opening time, you may find a huge crowd pressing against the gate and a dangerous stampede when it opens. If you can get a visa running service you can trust, e.g., by staying at or visiting a major hotel, then you can save yourself a lot of time, energy and hassle. Be sure to get a receipt for your passport from an established entity you trust before handing it over. It can take from half a day to three days, depending upon their connections.

If you want to bring a Thai girlfriend, she can cross the border at Nong Khai for a small sum (used to be 10 baht) and just using her ID card, not a passport. However, she's supposed to return to Thailand by sunset. For stays of days, you must process the proper paperwork and pay the fee. Check with the consulate for the latest policy and details.

Regarding getting a visa to Laos, there are many reports of visas being given at reduced cost in Nong Khai. Whether you want to take a chance with this, in order to save a little money, is up to you.

Singapore

Unlike the above countries, Singapore is not a bordering country. Nonetheless, it's a popular place for people to go for a new nonimmigrant or tourist visa from the Thai embassy there, especially for people who have already been to all the above countries, or who prefer a place where everyone speaks English, or another modern place not far from Thailand time-wise. People from most countries don't need a visa to go to Singapore.

If you go to Singapore for a visa run, you should be advised that many, many people have been denied a tourist visa at the Thai embassy there on the basis that they just left on a tourist visa and must wait 30 days before re-entering Thailand on another tourist visa. Other strictness has been reported as well. Singapore is generally a noncorrupt and strict country, and this culture seems to spill over into the Thai embassy there.

I like Singapore for its English language bookstores. The main disadvantage is the cost -- the plane ticket and hotel, plus it's generally a more expensive place.

Tips

If you lose your passport and other documentation, then you could have a time consuming, expensive and difficult problem.

Make a copy of your passport, insurance information, ID cards, credit cards, airplane ticket and any other important documentation, and leave it in a safe place. If you don't have any other good place to put this information, then the ThailandGuru can help you find a secure place for copies of your documents. Spare money stashed away can also prevent hunger and poverty in case you are robbed completely.

A lost passport can be replaced at your consulate or embassy, though it takes time. If you have an emergency, then you may be able to get an immediate temporary travel permit to your home country.

Leaving your passport as collateral is a common practice, and often becomes too routine for many farangs. For example, you may be asked for your passport in exchange for renting a car, motorcycle, or other valuable commodity. This is understandable, as there are countless stories of farangs damaging or losing property and skipping the country.

Do not hand your passport over to anyone without getting a receipt which clearly links your passport with their establishment by formal logo and is signed by a responsible party. This is a common oversight. Western passports are valuable to criminals. If you don't get a receipt, then they may take advantage of the situation and run off with your passport. (They or a thief might use your passport anyway, signed receipt or not.) Do this with your lawyer, too. With everyone.

Oftentimes, a business transaction can be done with a signed agreement plus a photocopy of your passport which you sign twice in their presence, i.e., you can avoid handing over your passport for any length of time but can just hand over photocopies. You will find that most businessmen are reasonable, but they are also very cautious.

If your passport is stolen by a scammer, then when you go to your embassy to report this matter, you will probably be referred to the Thai police in the jurisdiction of the person who received your passport. Your embassy or consulate can't do much beyond its own walls, and may or may not be willing to perform the service of calling the Thai police (or better yet, the scammer who received your passport). You are responsible for your passport, regardless of what receipt you may or may not have, though a receipt might put you in a better position. Some embassies and consulates are staffed with people who really don't care or want to be bothered, regardless of the fact they're on a very high salary from the taxpayer, and you may be faced with either persuasion tactics in Thailand or anty-ing up the stakes for them, something that could just add problems and dangers to you as well. There have been corrupt western embassy and consulate staff before... However, you should also understand their experience. They also deal with a lot of false stories, and if they don't know you personally, then they may assume you are a shady character with a cooked up story. They are often overworked individuals. Nice, pushover people aren't hired for consulate kinds of jobs. Western passports are valuable commodities, and are sometimes used by organized crime to get criminals across the border (those banned by the Thai government, and those wanted by international police organizations such as Interpol), e.g., by replacing your photo with someone else's in your passport, which professional criminals know how to do. Your passport could also be used for bogus transactions. In any case, don't panic and make a bad situation worse. Cool off, find a smart and good friend with a cool head to advise and help you (if you don't already have good contacts), and proceed carefully. Most people are able to resolve such matters to their satisfaction, but you must be reasonable and considerate.

The next topic is one that I have been hesitant to discuss on the web because I don't want to see these services encouraged, but there's already been a lot of discussion of these services on the street and on the web, and I get a lot of questions in this regard. So for now, here it is:

There are many services in Bangkok and Pattaya that offer to run your passport across the border for you, whereby you just stay home. They offer to save you money on travel expenses and hotel, and save you time since you can continue working or whatever. They claim to know corrupt immigration officials who stamp piles of passports for a bribe (immigration officers of two countries, plus consulate staff based in another country for the visa -- think about it...). Obviously, this service is illegal, both by Thai law and by the law of your own country which issued you your passport. This may be a victimless, petty crime that benefits everyone involved and reduces wastage of time and resources (issues of corruption aside, in a country with underpaid civil servants and underpaid departments...). Many people have reported using such a service, and most of them reported no problems ... but many have had problems. The moral questions are obvious and I'm not going to discuss them here, nor am I going to discuss the legal issues of the practice here. Some other possible practical matters are the following: They could use your passport for fraudulent transactions. Criminals could have your identification information in the form of a copy of your passport. You may spend a lot of time explaining things related to what was done in your name, even if you are cleared of liability. It has also been reported by a number of people using this kind of service that they actually got a falsified visa stamp, recognized as such by an immigration officer they eventually had to pass thru later on. Yes, immigration officers everywhere, not just the beneficiaries of your fee, are also very much aware of this practice... and yes, a lot of guys have spent time in jail over falsified official visa stamps!!

If you're so busy that you don't have time to take a travel break, then maybe you need to "get a life" and take an enjoyable travel break. If you are considering using or seeking out a service like this, then you'd better also consider whether it will affect your having a good night's sleep in Thailand.

When you leave your passport with your lawyer, you should not only get a receipt but also make clear that you don't want anything illegal done with your passport. Some lawyers handle a lot of visas and work permits, and it's been know to have a passport "accidentally" go over the border rather than down to the immigration department in Bangkok as planned. Try to find out if they do illegal operations such as phantom visa runs before you hand over your passport. It's not a bad idea to sit around their office and see what kinds of people come in and out before you use them.

It's recommended that you depend upon a reputable or highly established lawyer and firm. Be careful with referrals which may have a commission kickback to the referring person and/or which your associate has limited experience with. If you go by advertisements in the newspapers, do be aware that the newspapers generally don't check the moral standing of their advertisers, and there are known cases of ripoffs continuing to advertise despite complaints. Simple money talks.

If you can't afford an expensive lawyer and need an economical one, then the best situation is to use a lawyer who others you trust have used.

For immigration matters, you can handle most of them yourself by going to the Immigration Department located down soi Suan Plu off Sathorn Rd., as shown on the map below:


Map copyright © ThinkNet Company Limited, www.ThinkNet.co.th , Silom Rd., Bangkok, 02-635-5005, mapmagic@thinknet.co.th
Used with permission by www.ThailandGuru.com   This map is a screenshot from the Bangkok CD map we recommend.




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