Thai visa FAQ
First published 10th January, 2010
Questions relating to Thai visas are some of the most common ones popping up on the Visa and Border Crossings section of the Travelfish.org forum. Given the Thai authorities change the rules so often it is no surprise that people get confused regarding both the need for a visa and how they can get one. So what follows is a brief summary of the rules and regulations regarding Thai visas along with some background information that may help.
Why does Thailand change its visa rules so often?
As anyone who has been to Thailand knows, it is a great place to travel and spend time in. Many first time visitors become regulars and many regulars (yours truly included) end up living there for a prolonged period. Getting a visa for a prolonged stay however is both complicated and a bit expensive, and, if you're doing it above board, the process generally requires that you are either retired or in legal employment.
Rather than jump through the hoops to get a non-immigrant visa (and the work permit that follows) many people just don't bother. They instead work illegally and do visa runs on a regular basis to remain in the country as a tourist. It's easy to lump all these people as sexpats holding up the bars in Pattaya, but the picture is a good deal more complicated. Some work for employers that will not get them a work visa, or are simply self-employed. Others are remote workers -- working via the internet for overseas companies. We have a good friend who worked as a marketing executive for a global marketing firm in Bangkok who did visa runs for five years because his employer wouldn't make him legal.
In the old days, these people would leave Thailand every 30 days, mostly via the border crossing to Cambodia at Poipet. They would enter Cambodia, turn around and head straight back to Thailand and get another 30 days. Others would go down to Penang every two months and get another tourist visa that was good for three months in Thailand (with extensions).
It is these people that the Thai government is trying to catch by changing the rules.
So what visas are available
There are two main means of entry to Thailand for people visiting for tourism purposes.
The visa-free entry
For nationals from certain countries there is a visa-free entry programme. This means you arrive and get stamped into the country for free. If you arrive by air you get 30 days and if you arrive by land you get 15 days. You are theoretically required to have proof of onward travel (more on that later).
If you are visiting Thailand for a short period and are a national of one of the eligible countries, this is the way to go.
A 30-day visa-free entry can be extended for 15 extra days at an immigration office for 1,900B. The 14-day visa-free entry can be extended for 7 days (also costs 1,900B).
The eligible countries for the 30-day visa free entry are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA and Vietnam. Nationals of Brazil, Republic of Korea and Peru are eligible for a 90-day stay.
The tourist visa
Tourist visas are available at Thai consulates and embassies. In the past you had to pay for the visas, but they are "free" until at least March 2010 -- some embassies and consulates are still charging a "handling fee" to issue them, especially at missions where visa issuing was a major source of income.
Tourist visas are valid for two months and can be extended for a third month (incurring a 1,900B fee).
Some embassies -- notably Kuala Lumpur and Vientiane -- have reportedly issued dual-entry tourist visas, effectively giving travellers six months in Thailand.
There is also a whole lot of information on non-immigrant visas which I'm not going to get into as they're of limited use for tourists -- see ThaiVisa for a near endless stream of information in this regard.
Proof of departure
By the books, the Thai authorities require that you have proof of departure from Thailand within the period that your visa allows you in for. So if you're arriving on a tourist visa they want to see a ticket out within 90 days, while if you're doing a visa-free entry, they want proof that you will depart within two weeks or a month.
The problem is that even legitimate tourists may not have proof. For example, if you're planning on overlanding to Malaysia, you won't have a pre-purchased bus ticket to prove when you are leaving.
In practice, proof of onward travel is very rarely asked of legitimate tourists and we'd suggest -- especially for those on a short trip through -- not to worry about it. If you do want to have all your bases covered, buy yourself a cheap ticket with a low-cost carrier out of Thailand and just don't use the ticket.
Also, if you are a legitimate tourist and you are asked for proof and can't provide it, as long as your passport doesn't contain 15 pages of visa-free entry stamps, you should be able to talk your way through it.
Remember -- legitimate tourists are not the target of these rules.
But my airline says I need a ticket out
This can be a problem. We've received some reports that some carriers -- notably British Airways -- won't let passengers board without having a ticket out of the country. This can often come down to the attitude of the person at check-in. All you can do is check with the airline beforehand and if they require it then pick up a cheap ticket out of Thailand to prove you are leaving.
Can I use visas back to back?
Yes, at the moment there is no written regulations saying that you can't use tourist visas back to back. So you could conceivably get four tourist visas to give you a full year in Thailand (with you briefly leaving three times to get a new visa).
So what sort of visa should I get?
If you're in Thailand for a short time (under a month) and are eligible for visa-free stay -- then use that. If you're going to be in Thailand for over a month, get a tourist visa. If you're going to be entering Thailand on multiple occasions then look at how long each stay will be and plan accordingly. Bear in mind you can get tourist visas in all of Thailand's neighbouring countries. So for instance if your plan calls for three weeks in Thailand, then two weeks in Laos, a month in Vietnam, two weeks in Cambodia then six weeks in Thailand, arrive on a visa-free entry and then get a tourist visa in Phnom Penh to cover you for the six-week stay.
It is a good idea to think of it in these terms: Being granted admission to Thailand is a privilege, not a right. Dress reasonably and always be polite when dealing with immigration officers. Losing your cool will not get you anywhere. Really.
No two Thai consulates and embassies treat visa issuance in the same way, and likewise no two immigration officers.
The above is intended as a guide only.
If you have a question regarding your particular situation, please use the comment form below or ask on the Visa and border crossings section of the Travelfish forum.
Read 21 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (10)
- All stories
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (5)
- Cambodia (21)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (15)
- All stories
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (70)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (31)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (19)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (16)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.