I participate in a couple of travel forums and questions regarding visas for Thailand come up almost every day. The rules aren’t that complex but because many people travel in South East Asia without fixed plans and for extended periods of time, it can sometimes be confusing.
Here’s everything I know and everything you need to know:
Note: This information is for nationals of the countries listed in this link (including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Israel, Canada, USA, UK and most of Europe). If you’re lucky enough to be from Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil or Korea then you get a 90-day visa exemption on arrival. If you’re from any of the countries in this link (including China and India) you’re not eligible for a visa exemption and will only get a 15-day visa on arrival which can’t be extended in Thailand. If you’re Malaysian you get a 30-day visa exemption when arriving overland. If you’re confused about what kind of visa you are entitled to look at this chart.
You’re arriving overland, staying less than 15 days
If you’re arriving overland into Thailand you will receive a 15-day visa exemption free of charge. This is not a visa.
UPDATE: As of November 2013, tourists from the UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan receive a 30-day visa exemption at land borders free of charge. All other nationals still only receive 15-days.
You’re flying in, staying less than a month
If you’re flying into Thailand you will receive a 30-day visa exemption free of charge. This is not a visa. If you have proof of onward travel within the 30 day period, your airline will let you board with no prearranged visa. Proof of onward travel is generally an air ticket that departs Thailand but can now be any form of transport – ferry, train or bus ticket though it’s not common to have bought these in advance. Airlines don’t always request this proof of onward travel but they might and if you don’t have it you won’t be able to board your flight to Thailand. It’s best to be prepared.
If you don’t have proof of onward travel you have two choices – either get a visa in advance (see below) or purchase a cheap airfare out of Thailand within 30 days of your arrival, even if you have no intention of using it. The cheapest option is usually an Air Asia fare to Kuala Lumpur or Phnom Penh. You can pick up fares on sale for cheaper than getting a visa in advance. This is a good option if you don’t have easy access to a Thai Embassy or Consulate at home.
You’re flying in, staying between one and two months / You’re arriving overland, staying more than 15 days
You need to get a visa in advance. A single entry tourist visa for Thailand is valid for 60 days. You can get it in advance from a Thai Embassy or Consulate. You can do this before you leave home in many countries such as Australia (A$45), New Zealand (NZ$50), United Kingdom (£25), USA (US$40) and Canada (CN$40). The visa is valid for entry into Thailand for three months from the date of issue.
If you’re coming overland from a neighbouring country you can get your visa while you’re on the road. Visas are available in Phnom Penh (US$40), Vientiane (1000B), Hanoi & Saigon (US$40) and Penang & Kuala Lumpur (RM110). Download the application for from the Embassy or Consulate’s website in advance, bring two passport photos and the required amount of cash. Visas are usually processed in one or two days. Be aware that most embassies and consulate only accept visa applications for a couple of hours in the morning so check opening hours.
You want to fly into Thailand, stay less than 30 days then return and stay more than 30 days
Lots of travellers use Thailand as a hub for getting around South East Asia because it’s often the cheapest and easiest airport to fly into in the region. If you’re on an extended trip in South East Asia, chances are you will come in to Thailand first for a short amount of time, go off to a neighbouring country but return to Thailand later for a long period of time. If you’re doing this without an onward flight from Thailand within 30 days then you will still need a visa in your passport to satisfy the airline’s boarding requirement. You can get a double entry tourist visa which costs twice as much. The alternative is to get a single entry visa but only use it on your second entry to Thailand when you plan to stay more than 30 days and use the 30 day visa exemption for your first trip to Thailand. Here’s how to do it:
- When applying for your visa ask it to be dated for your second entry. You may need to show proof of this with any air tickets you have purchased. Your visa will then specify “not valid before…” the date of your second entry.
- On your first entry into Thailand, do not fill in the visa number on your immigration form. Explain to immigration that you will be using your 30-day visa exemption for your first visit and show that your visa is dated for your future visit.
- On your second entry into Thailand fill in your visa number on your immigration form. Let immigration know that you will be using your visa for this entry.
You want to extend or overstay your visa or visa exemption
If you received a 15 or 30-day visa exemption you can extend it by seven days by visiting an immigration office in Thailand. The fee for this is 1900B.
If you have a 60-day tourist visa you can extend it by 30 days by visiting an an immigration office in Thailand. The fee for this is 1900B.
You can overstay your visa or visa exemption by a few days. You will be charged a 500B per day penalty when leaving the country. There is a grace period so if you overstay a single day you won’t have to pay. Remember your visa or visa exemption is valid 15, 30 days or 60 days not nights. Whilst an overstay of a day or two is not an issue when departing the country, you may be caught and detained by immigration or police for not having a valid visa while you are still in Thailand. There are occasionally police and immigration checkpoints within cities and towns. You don’t want this to happen, so it’s best not to overstay your visa. If you are planning on overstaying a day or two, lay low and don’t travel except to the airport to catch your flight. To avoid any risk, get an extension from an immigration office.
You want to stay in Thailand more than two months
To stay in Thailand for three months, apply for a single entry 60-day tourist visa before you arrive and then visit an immigration office in Thailand to extend your visa by 30 days. The visa extension will cost you 1900B.
To stay in Thailand for four months, apply for a double entry 60-day tourist visa before you arrive and then make a border run to a neighbouring country after you’ve used the first 60 days. On re-entry into Thailand you will get a second 60 days.
To stay in Thailand for five or six months, apply for a double entry 60-day tourist visa before you arrive. Before your first 60 days is up, extend it at an immigration office for 30 days. When your 30 day extension is up, make a border run, activating you second 60 days on re-entry into Thailand. You can then extend this by another 30 days.
To stay in Thailand for more than six months you have a few options:
- Apply for a triple entry 60-day tourist visa and get 30-day extensions between border runs. This will allow you to stay up to nine months.
- Apply for a triple-entry 60-day tourist visa and get a 30-day extensions between border runs. Once you’ve used up all three entries head to a neighbouring country and get another tourist visa at a consulate or embassy. Repeat the whole process for as long as you want to stay.
You want to retire in Thailand
If you’re over 50 you can apply for a Non-immigrant O-A “retirement” visa. The visa is valid for one year. You will have to show proof of funds either 800,000B or a monthly income (e.g. pension) of 65,000B. You are not allowed to perform any kind of work on this visa including volunteer work. This costs 2000B for a single entry visa or 5000B for a multiple entry visa.
You want to work or volunteer in Thailand
It’s illegal to work in Thailand on a tourist visa. This includes volunteer work. In short, any type of work in Thailand requires you to have a non-immigrant visa before you arrive in Thailand. To apply for the visa your prospective employer needs to apply for a work permit from the Ministry of Labour. You can read all of the requirements, and there are many, on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.