Photo: Straight ahead to Laos.

Visas and border crossings

What would you like to know about Thailand's visas and border crossings?


Introduction

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.

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Free visa-exempt stay

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.

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Back-to-back visa-exempt stays

In recent years, Thai authorities have cracked down on back-to-back out/in border runs -- i.e. crossing the border and attempting to cross back into Thailand on the same day to get a fresh 15- or 30-day visa-exempt stay. The crackdown was directed at long-stayers who were living and working illegally in Thailand, but some regular travellers have also reported problems.

If you're an honest traveller hopping from country to country and, for example, you plan to spend less than 30 days in Thailand, then go to Laos for a week, then back to Thailand for 10 days, then to Cambodia for two weeks and back to Thailand to catch a flight home, you should not have any problems using only visa-exempt stays to enter Thailand. If you plan to travel around Thailand for more than 30 days and then go to another country before returning to Thailand for, say, another 12 days, you should get a single-entry tourist visa (see below) for your first stretch in Thailand, and then re-enter on a visa-exempt stay.

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Visa on arrival

Citizens of these 19 countries are eligible for a visa on arrival that's valid for 15 days and is different from the visa-exempt stay outlined above: Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

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.

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.

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Single Entry Tourist Visa

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.

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Back-to-back tourist visas

At the moment there is no written rule 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 been slapped with a "red stamp" in their passport that bars them from receiving another tourist visa for the rest of the year.

In short, you are pushing the system if you apply for back-to-back tourist visas. You may be asked to provide proof of adequate funds, proof of hotel reservations and/or proof of onward transport if applying for a new tourist visa immediately after the last one expired. These extra requirements tend to vary from embassy to embassy. Though nothing is certain, the Thai embassy in Singapore is usually strict, while Savannakhet's Thai consulate is usually more lax.

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Multiple Entry Tourist Visa (METV)

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.

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Extensions and overstays

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. Two of the most widely used are Bangkok Immigration and Chiang Mai Immigration.

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.

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Validity issues

The free visa-exempt stay, visa on arrival and traditional tourist visa are all single entry. For example, your 60-day tourist visa will become void even if you leave Thailand after only five days. The only way to keep a single-entry visa valid when leaving the country is to pay 1,000 baht for a re-entry permit at an immigration office or the immigration section of an international airport before departing Thailand. Otherwise, go for a METV or use more than one visa-exempt stay.

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Other types of visas

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, volunteer 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.

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Proof of onward travel

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 a flight to Thailand 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. 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.

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Other points

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, but honest travellers rarely run into problems. Losing your cool will not get you anywhere. Really.

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Border crossings

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.


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Types of border crossings

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.

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Popular crossings

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.

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Technicalities

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.

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Thailand/Lao borders

Chong Mek / Vang Tao

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.

Mukdahan / Savannakhet

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.

Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek

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.

Bueng Kan / Paksan

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.

Nong Khai / Vientiane

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.

Ban Mo / Vientiane

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.

Tha Li / Nam Hueng

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.

Chiang Khong / Huay Xai

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'.

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Thailand / Cambodia borders

Aranyaprathet / Poipet

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.

Had Lek / Koh Kong

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.

Chong Jom / O Smach

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.

Chong Sa Ngam / 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.

Ban Pakard / Phsa Prum

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.

Ban Laem / Daun Lem

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.

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Thailand / Malaysia borders

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.

Ban Ta Ba / Pengkalan Kulor

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.

Sungai Kolok / Rantau Panjang

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.

Betong

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.

Sadao / Changlun

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.

Pedang Besar

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.

Wang Prajan

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.

Langkawi

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.

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More information

See the visa and border crossings section of the Travelfish forum for reports from travellers how have used the above crossings.

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Highlights

How long have you got? Here are some of our favourites ...

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