What would you like to know about Thailand's visas and border crossings?
Thailand has a multitude of visa options and requirements -- many of which change with alarming frequency. You can go to the horse's mouth at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the full (though not always up-to-date) spiel. Read on for an overview of the options for entering Thailand.
If you're entering Thailand for tourism and hold a passport from any of the 57 countries listed below, you're eligible for a free visa-exempt stay in Thailand! The only requirement is a passport with at least six months validity, but allowed lengths of stay vary by country, so read on to see exactly what you're eligible for.
Citizens of these countries get a free 30-day visa-exempt stay if arriving to Thailand by air or land: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States.
Citizens of these countries get a free 30-day visa-exempt stay if arriving by air, but only a 15-day stay if arriving by land: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Citizens of these countries get a free 90-day visa-exempt stay if arriving by air or land: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and South Korea.
Citizens of Cambodia get a free 14-day visa-exempt stay if arriving by air or land. Citizens of Burma also get a free 14-day stay, but only if arriving by air.
You can leave Thailand and re-enter to get another visa-exempt stay for a total duration of 90 days within six months. This means, for example, if you're planning a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, which involves four stays in Thailand of 10 days each, you DO NOT NEED to get a visa in advance. If you're planning on more than 90 days in Thailand though, you will need to look into getting a proper tourist visa (see below) at a Thai consulate or embassy outside of Thailand.
Citizens of the 19 countries listed below are eligible for a visa on arrival that's valid for 15 days and is different from the visa-exempt stay outlined above. This visa can be applied for and received same-day at all international airports and most border crossings. It costs 1,000 baht and, according to the official line, applicants must provide a 4x6 cm head-shot photo along with proof of onward transport and proof of funds exceeding 10,000 baht.
The 19 countries eligible for a visa on arrival are:
Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Unless holding a diplomatic passport, citizens of all countries not eligible for a visa-exempt stay or visa on arrival must secure a Thai visa before departing for Thailand.
If the above options aren't going to work for you, then you need to get a Thai tourist visa. The traditional type of tourist visa is valid for 60 days and can be extended for a further 30 days once you are in-country, giving you a 90-day stay all up. It costs around US$30 and is a single-entry visa. It's valid from date of entry, so the 60-day clock starts ticking on the day you enter Thailand. The visa becomes void if you do not enter Thailand within 90 days from the date of issue.
Single-entry tourist visas can be applied for at virtually any Thai embassy or consulate worldwide; options within Southeast Asia include: Vientiane, Savannakhet, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kelantan, Singapore, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Yangon, Jakarta, Denpasar (Bali), Manila and Cebu City. It generally takes two business days to apply for and receive a single-entry tourist visa. Thai embassies and consulates close on public Thai holidays and the public holidays of whatever country they're in, so do check for holidays before making concrete travel plans.
At the moment there is no written regulation saying that you can't use tourist visas back to back. So you could conceivably get three consecutive tourist visas to give you a full nine months in Thailand (with extensions and leaving three times to get new visas). However the Thai authorities increasingly frown on this and some long-stayers have reported being slapped with a "red stamp" in their passport that bars them from receiving another tourist visa for the rest of the year. If you attempt to get one tourist visa after the next, you are pushing the system.
As of late 2015, the old double- and triple-entry Thai tourist visas have been replaced by a new Multiple Entry Tourist Visa that's valid for six months from date of issue. So the clock starts ticking as soon as the visa is issued, meaning that you'll only have four months of visa validity if you enter Thailand two months after receiving the visa. The METV also requires you to spend no longer than 60 days at a time in Thailand, though you can exit/enter as many times as you like.
The METV supposedly costs 5,000 baht, though exact prices may vary from embassy to embassy. Exact requirements may also vary but will likely include showing proof of employment and proof of bank balance exceeding US$7,000. This visa can only be applied for at Thai consulates and embassies within your home country, so unless you can prove legal residency in Laos, for example, you cannot apply for a METV in Vientiane.
Visa-exempt stays and tourist visas can be extended once at an immigration office in Thailand for a further 30 days. The cost is 1,900 baht, and an immigration office can be found in most provincial capitals throughout the country.
Overstaying your allotted time in Thailand results in a 500-baht per day fine that caps out at 20,000 baht. If you overstay, you will be required to pay the fine at the immigration checkpoint upon exiting Thailand. Brief periods of overstay do not result in a travel ban to Thailand and are generally no big deal, but if a police officer discovers that you're on overstay (for instance at a road checkpoint), you will likely be detained and deported after paying the fine. Overstaying for more than a few months now results in a long-term travel ban to Thailand.
The free visa-exempt stay, visa on arrival and traditional tourist visa are all single entry. While it's generally no big deal to do a "border run" down to Malaysia or across to Laos once or twice, tourists should be wary of the 90 days visa-free in six months rule. This rule was introduced primarily to target foreigners who had been living in Thailand long term, many working illegally, on perpetual 30-day visa-exempt stays.
Assumming you are a legitimate tourist, you shouldn't have a problem with this rule. That said, if you are planning on a stay in Thailand that will take you over 90 days in six months (not difficult to do if you're country hopping) try to factor in a lengthy stay in Thailand on at least one tourist visa. Stays on tourist visas do not count towards the 90 days in six months rule.
If you're looking to stay in Thailand long term, a recent crackdown on out/in border runs, multiple back-to-back tourist visas and overstays means that you'll probably want to sort out a Non-Immigrant visa. These come in several categories, including education, retirement, marriage and media.
Generally you need to be backed by a Thai family member, company, school or other recognized organization, and/or be able to show proof of adequate funds, to receive a Non-Immigrant visa, which can often be extended for one year or more. Each visa type has its own unique requirements -- check the MFA link above and the sprawling expat site, Thai Visa, for more info.
Do you need proof of onward travel if you're planning on entering on a visa-exempt stay or with a traditional tourist visa? In theory, by the book, yes you do. In practise, many people don't and they don't have a problem. We've yet to hear of a Thai immigration officer requesting proof of onward travel at any airport or border crossing, but nothing is 100%.
There is however a good chance that your airline will request proof of onward travel before allowing you to board if you booked a one-way flight or your return flight falls beyond the duration of time that you're presumed to be allowed to stay in Thailand. In these cases, many airlines will need to see a long-term visa, proof of a booked flight to another country, or something else, like a package tour booking. Explaining that you intend to travel overland to other countries may suffice, but it also may not. Unfortunately this is a major grey area, with many travellers reporting contradictory experiences that vary widely between airlines, airports and even individual airline check-in staff.
Generally speaking, airlines operating long-haul flights from outside of Asia tend to be stricter, while budget airlines within the Southeast Asia region seem to rarely check for proof of onward travel. Some travellers have reported airline staff insisting that they must purchase an expensive return ticket before boarding; if it comes down to that, you could instead book a cheap "throw-away" ticket (for example one-way from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur), simply to satisfy the onward travel requirement.
It's a good idea to think of the Thai visa system 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. No two Thai consulates and embassies treat visa issuance in the same way, and likewise no two immigration officers -- nothing is black and white. Losing your cool will not get you anywhere. Really.
For information on the many border crossings and to read travellers' reports, please see our Thailand border crossing page, or the exhaustive Border Crossings FAQ thread on the messageboard, which includes reports back from travellers.
Thailand has two types of border crossings -- international and local. As you may suspect, international crossings are generally open to all foreign nationalities who are in possession of a valid passport and visa (if necessary), while local crossings are open only to locals (on each side of the border) who are able to cross back and forth using some form of border pass. The international crossings are the only ones covered in this section.
Thailand has over twenty international overland border crossings. These allow overland travel to Malaysia (seven crossings), Burma (three crossings), Laos (six crossings) and Cambodia (six crossings). You can also arrive by air at a number of international airports, including Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, as well as Phuket, Ko Samui, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai and Krabi.
The most popular overland border crossings to/from Malaysia are the Padang Besar and Sadao crossings. To Cambodia, Aranyprathet/Poipet is the most popular, followed by Had Lek/Koh Kong. To Laos the most widely used is Nong Khai/Vientiane and Chiang Khong/Huay Xai, though Nakhon Phanom/Tha Khaek and Mukdahan/Savannakhet are also widely used.
The main thing to watch out for is Thailand's newish regulation regarding the visa-exempt entry -- unless you're Malaysian or from a G7 country (Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the US), if you're arriving via a land crossing, you will be granted only 14 days visa free -- not 30 days (as was previously the case). Malays and G7 citizens get 30 days visa free.
For those planning on visiting far southern Laos from Thailand, the Chong Mek / Vang Tao crossing is the most convenient. From Thailand a regular bus runs from Ubon Ratchathani to the border town of Chong Mek taking 1-1.5 hours. Sometimes you may be required to change buses in Phibun Mangsahan depending on the bus caught. Once deposited at Chong Mek it's a five-minute walk through each crossing and regular songtheaws run from Vang Tao to Pakse, taking about one hour. Visa on arrival is available.
With the construction of the Friendship Bridge II over the Mekong, all foreigners planning on travelling between Thailand and Laos at this crossing are required to use the bridge. Coming from Thailand, a bus from Mukdahan takes you across the bridge itself and on to the bus station in Savannakhet. Alternately, you can catch the bus just for the ride across the bridge and then take a tuk tuk on the other side. Visa on arrival is available.
The old riverine crossing is no longer open to foreigners, who now must use the Friendship Bridge III via international buses that can be caught at the bus station in Nakhon Phanom and run all the way over to Tha Khaek. Visa on arrival is available.
From Laos, follow the sign off the main road, just passed the Manolom Guest House and follow the sign that says Port. A boat across the Mekong River costs 60 baht when full (seven to ten people). Arrive in the morning to catch the day-tripping Lao crossing to shop in Thailand to be sure of a full boat, otherwise it's 360 baht per boat to cross. No Lao visa on arrival is available when crossing to the Lao side from Thailand, so be sure to get one ahead of time if you plan to use this border.
Lao visa on arrival is available at this crossing, the most popular means of entering Laos by land via the original Friendship Bridge. The crossing is actually around 20 km north of Vientiane and a few km from the centre of Nong Khai, but regular and affordable transport is available in both directions via international buses and private tuk tuks. Beware of tuk tuk drivers on either side insisting that you must arrange your visa paperwork at a "visa office," which will undoubtedly be the office of a regular travel agent who will fill out your application form on your behalf and charge a fee, giving a commission to the driver.
Just about unheard of. Travelfish reader Tilapia reports it is possible for foreigners to cross at the Thai village of Ban Mo to Vientiane. The convenience being the village, just west of Si Chiang Mai, is opposite Vientiane. Less conveniently, the ferry across only goes twice each week, both days at the same time of day (6:00 pm ... so, in the dark!) Sunday and Tuesday. No Lao visa on arrival is available.
This fairly remote crossing now serves a daily international bus running all the way from Loei to Luang Prabang. In late 2014 officials at the Loei bus terminal confirmed that foreigners may use this service, and that Lao visas are available on arrival. Songthaews also run to Tha Li from Loei, though we cannot confirm the existence of onwards transport once you're on the Lao side.
Lao visa on arrival is available at this popular crossing, which now uses the fourth Friendship Bridge rather than the old cross-river ferry boats. Expect Lao officials to charge an $1/40 baht fee for doing their job -- if you arrive at the weekend it's called a 'weekend fee'; if you arrive after 16:00 it's called an 'after hours fee'; and if you arrive on a week day before 16:00 it's called a 'processing fee'.
This is by far the most popular, and the most dysfunctional border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. Cambodian visas on arrival are available and eVisas are accepted. Crossing times can be in excess of three hours depending on the whims of the border officials, but crossings can also be mercifully fast. Poipet (the Cambodian side of the border) has a major touting problem; take care to ignore anyone who approaches you and tries to lead you to any office other than the official Cambodian border checkpoint. Also be wary of currency exchange services on the Cambodian side, which often charge extortionist rates. For more details, see the Aranyaprathet page.
The Had Lek / Koh Kong crossing is most convenient for those planing on travelling between Thailand's Ko Chang and the Sihanoukville beach area of Cambodia. There are numerous reports of the Cambodian officials here being particularly troublesome and asking ridiculous amounts of money for visa on arrival -- the easiest way around this is to arrive with a visa already in hand. If you need to get to an ATM, there is one in the Thai town of Had Lek. Expect to pay 80 - 100 baht for a moto from Koh Kong town to the border -- this should include the bridge toll. Most travellers use a cross-border minibus service, which can be arranged in Trat, Ko Chang and Sihanoukville.
This crossing is convenient to Surin in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Regular minibuses run from Surin to the border (and back) with the trip taking a couple of hours. On the Khmer side you can either grab a share taxi to Siem Reap or get to Samraong first from where you can either continue onto Siem Reap by share taxi or head east for Anlong Veng.
This crossing is very convenient to Anlong Veng but little else. If you are heading to Thailand via this crossing, there is no public transport from the border to any sizeable Thai towns; you will need to hitch a ride from the border for around 20 km to a sealed road from where there is then occasional public buses, though you are better off to hitch at least as far as Route 24 along which there are very frequent buses.
This little utilised border crossing is a 30-minute motorbike ride from Pailin and from the Thai side there are frequent minibuses to Chanthaburi an hour or so away. Cambodian visas on arrival are available.
Close to the Ban Pakard, Chantaburi / Phsa Prum, Pailin crossing, this very little utilised border is about 45 minutes from Pailin and on the Thai side there are songtheaw services to Chanthaburi. The Ban Pakard / Phsa Prum crossing is your better bet.
There are at least seven border crossings between Thailand and Malaysia which are open to foreigners. Running east to west they are: Ban Ta Ba (actually at the border village Ban Ta Ba), Sungai Kolok, Betong, Sadao, Pedang Besar, Wang Prajan and Langkawi. The four most popular crossings are the boat crossings to Langkawi, Pedang Besar, Sadao and Sungai Kolok. The border crossings at Sadao and Pedang Besar and open 24 hours, the others, daylight hours only.
This tiny crossing is a few kilometres south of the Thai town of Tak Bai in the far south of Narathiwat province. From Ban Ta Ba it is easy to arrange onwards transport by songthaew to Tak Bai, Sungai Kolok. Narathiwat and further afield. On the Malay side there are regular buses to Kota Bharu. If you're heading to the Perhentian Islands, this crossing is closer to Kota Bharu than Sungai Kolok.
This popular crossing (though less so due to the strife in southern Thailand) is a straightforward "walk over the bridge" style border crossing. There is loads of transport from the Sungai Kolok side to transport throughout Thailand, including the train station, which is a ten minute walk from the border. On the Malay side, there are taxi and bus services to Kota Bharu -- most likely your next stopping off point.
The Malay frontier is around 7km and is easily reached by share-taxi from Betong town. We've never crossed here so can't help on the niceties on the Malay side.
This is one of the most popular crossings used for visa runs in southern Thailand, but for onwards travel it isn't a great choice because of lack of transport on the Malay side. From Sadao, in Thailand, it is straightforward to take a bus or songtheaw onwards to Hat Yai. This crossing is open 24-hours.
Better than nearby Sadao, Pedang Besar can be reached by bus, train or taxi from both sides. Like Sadao, this crossing is open 24-hours. If you're crossing on the train, you will need to disembark to clear customs.
A pretty obscure crossing, Wang Prajan is near Taleban National Park in Satun province -- in fact the park entrance is walking distance from the border. There are irregular songtheaws from Satun to the border, though as we've not crossed here we can't help on transport on the other side.
This crossing entails catching a boat from either Thammalang pier (a half dozen km south of Satun) or the island of Ko Lipe, and on to the Malaysian island of Langkawi. While in Satun in early 2015 we were told that only Malay and Thai citizens can now use the boats from Thammalang to the mainland town of Kuala Perlis in Malaysia.
See the visa and border crossings section of the Travelfish forum for reports from travellers how have used the above crossings.