Rules, Regulations and Red Tape
Do a quick search of rules about tourist visas and you’ll find a multitude of sites that often contradict each other. There are a couple of reasons for this. The pages that rank highly were probably written a few years ago and some information is now out of date, as the Thai Immigration Dept has a habit of changing regulations every year or so. So, I’ll try to keep this page updated if there are any changes.
But for the majority of people reading this, all you really need to know is that you don’t need a visa to visit Thailand for a holiday. You’ll get a 30 Day Visa Exemption stamp in your passport which allows you to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days. This isn’t a visa, it means you don’t need a visa and can stay for up to 30 days.
Which countries are Visa Exempt?
If you are coming here on holiday and are from any of the following countries, you don’t have to worry about getting a visa. When you cross into Thailand by air or land *, you will get permission to stay 30 days, assuming that your passport doesn’t expire within the next 6 months. ( If it does, you’ll need to get a new passport before coming to Thailand. )
* In the past the overland limit was 15 days, this was changed to 30 days a few years ago but some sites still show the 15 day limit.
30 Day Visa Exempt Countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, 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, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.
There are even a few lucky nations that get a 90 Day visa exempt stay. These are: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and South Korea.
Also bear in mind that tourists are only allowed to enter Thailand twice in a 12 month period, overland on 30 day visa exemption.
There isn’t any fixed limit of the number of times you can enter by air. But that is down to the immigration officers discretion. If they see someone has more than 2 or 3 consecutive visa exemption stamps they will begin to ask questions and will tell you to get a Tourist Visa. You can be refused entry into the Kingdom.
One requirement for getting a visa exemption is having a flight out of Thailand. This isn’t a problem for most tourists as they will book return tickets. But , for example, if you are planning on spending a year travelling and decide to head to Thailand on a one way ticket then you might have problems. When you go to check in for your flight the airline might refuse to allow you to do so. This is because they will be held responsible for your breaking the rules.
In that situation you have to book the cheapest ticket out of Thailand that you can find on a budget airline or use one of the services that charge a few dollars for making a booking for a flight you won’t take. Then check in for your flight. In reality, it’s very rare Immigration officials will ask to see an onward ticket or any proof of funds. But they could.
Tourist Visa on Arrival
There is another group of countries that whilst their citizens don’t have to apply for a visa in advance, but they do need to get a visa once they arrive in Thailand – either at the airport or border crossing. This is a Visa on Arrival. It currently ** costs 1,000 Baht and applicants will also need to provide a passport photo, proof of funds exceeding 10,000 Baht and proof of onward travel. Note that it’s up to Immigration officers if they check the proof of funds and proof of onward travel. It’s rare you’ll be asked.
15 Day Visa on Arrival Countries: Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
If you are entering Thailand by land check in advance that the border crossing that you plan to use can issue a Visa on Arrival. And note that the nearest crossing to Koh Chang, Hat Lek, doesn’t issue Visas on Arrival. You’ll get sent back to Cambodia if you are from one of the above countries and don’t already have a Tourist Visa.
** In September 2016 the Visa on Arrival fee was increased from 1,000 to 2,000 Baht. Then in December the same year it was lowered back to 1,000 until 31 August 2017. As the higher fee led to lower visitor numbers.
Single Entry Tourist Visa ( SETV )
If you aren’t from one of the countries mentioned above or if you want to stay longer than the 30 or 15 day limit then either you have to extend your visa exemption or get a tourist visa before you arrive in Thailand. A Single Entry Tourist Visa can be obtained from a Thai embassy or consulate. This will give you a maximum of 60 days stay in Thailand.
The visa is valid for 3 months from the day you receive it. Meaning that you must use it and enter Thailand within 3 months of getting it. So, don’t apply for it in June if you want to use if for a holiday at Christmas.
The visa fee is the equivalent of 1,000 Baht which is rounded up in the local currency eg GBP25 or EUR30. The documents you have to provide tend to vary between embassies and consulates. So, you’ll need to check at place you plan on applying. As a rule consulates have less bureaucracy and are easier to deal with than embassies. And in your home country, you should be able to apply by post, rather than make a visit to the consulate or embassy to get the visa.
If you plan on getting an SETV from a country in SE Asia, it’s worth reading up on which are easiest to get it from.
At the time of writing ( July 2017 ) the Thai Embassy in Vientiane , Laos is by far the easiest place to get a SETV. With no additional documentation, proof of funds or proof of flight out of the country required. Whereas if you go to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, you’ll be asked for bank statements and an onward plane ticket.
The situation is very fluid, and not all changes are announced on official embassy websites so the visa section of the Thaivisa.com is worth keeping an eye on when you are planning your trip.
Multiple Entry Tourist Visa ( METV )
Until late 2015, it was possible to get a double or triple entry tourist visa. This allowed you to enter the country two or three times and stay up to 60 days each time. That has been replaced with the far less user friendly Multiple Entry Tourist Visa. An METV can only be applied for at a Thai consulate or the embassy in your home country.
It costs 5,000 Baht ( or the equivalent in your local currency ) and allows you to leave and enter the country as many times as you like within a 6 month period. With the longest stay at one time being 60 days. You have to provide proof of funds, over GBP5000 or EUR7,000; proof of hotel booking; proof of flight booking and a letter from your employer to get this visa.
Another hassle is that the 6 month validity starts ticking from the date it was issued. This is a key difference to the SETV. The METV is valid for six months from the date it is issued not from the date when you first arrive in Thailand. So if you apply and receive your visa on 1 June, but don’t fly to Thailand until 1 August, you’ll only have 4 months in which to use the METV visa.
How to make a 6 month visa last 9 months . . . If you are well organised you can make your 6 month visa last almost 9 months. You could get the visa the day before you fly to Thailand. Once in the country extend the 60 day stay for another 30 days at any Immigration office.
The day that expires, do a day trip to a neighbouring country. On your return you will get a 60 day stamp. Extend this another 30 days.
Finally, on the last day of the 6 month validity of the METV, take another border run. Come back the same day and you’ll get a third 60 day stamp which can also be extended and additional 30 days. Thus giving you just under 9 months stay in total.
But overall, for most visitors, the Multiple Entry Tourist Visa is a lot of effort considering how easy it is to renew either a Visa exemption, Visa on Arrival or SETV.
How to extend your Thai Visa when visiting Koh Chang
Assume that you have come to Thailand, got your 30 day exemption stamp at the airport and have decided to stay longer on Koh Chang and have a 6 week visit in total. In that case you don’t need to leave the country and do a border run in order to get a new 30 day stamp in your passport. You can simply extend your current 30 day exemption for an additional 30 days. Easy.
Likewise, if you have a 15 Day Visa on Arrival, this can be extended for another 15 days. And if you have a 60 Day SETV, this can also be extended another 30 days.
The process for doing this is simple and can be done at the immigration office in Laem Ngop on the mainland.
All that is required is
- A passport photo
- One copy of the main page of your passport
- One copy of the page with the entry stamp into Thailand / visa on it and the white, TM6 departure card.
- Fee of 1,900 Baht.
Unfortunately, this extension can’t be done on Koh Chang. Although there is a small immigration office here, opposite Flora Italay Resort, it doesn’t handle visa extensions.
Instead you’ll have to go to the mainland. Take the ferry and then from the mainland pier take a pick up truck taxi heading to Trat, tell the driver you want to go to Immigration office in Laem Ngop. This should cost no more than 40 – 50 Baht.
If you don’t already have a photo and photocopies then adjacent to the Immigration office is a small copy and photo shop. If that is closed there is another about 10 minutes walk away north along the main road towards Trat.
Laem Ngop Immigration is rarely busy so the whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. It is open Monday to Friday from 08:30 – 16:30.
Laem Ngop Immigration Office location
The map below shows the ferry piers for Koh Chang, plus the Immigration office, the two photo & copy shops plus one excellent restaurant ‘Rim Talay Seafood’, 5 mins walk from immigration. You really should try it, if you have the time.
Border runs from Koh Chang
If you have a 30 day visa exemption, then instead of obtaining a 30 day extension at an immigration office you could do a border run. This entails heading to the nearest border, leaving Thailand and then coming back in again. Hey presto, you’ll have another free 30 day visa exemption stamp in your passport.
The nearest border for anyone staying on Koh Chang is the Cambodian border at Hat Lek. You can buy tickets for a border run minibus from tour agents on Koh Chang for around 1,000 Baht. This will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the border. You then cross the border and return to Thailand, grab a quick lumch and the driver then returns to Koh Chang and you’re dropped off at your hotel late afternoon.
You’ll need to get a Cambodian visa. This is officially US$30 but you’ll be asked for more if you get it at the border, usually 1,200 Baht. Or you can get it online for $30 + $7 processing fee. Note that Cambodian immigration officers also like to extort people for 300 Baht for coming back the same day they are stamped out. You can hold out for paying the correct price for your visa and refuse to pay unofficial 300 Baht ‘same day’ fee. But that case expect to spend a couple of hours arguing and hanging around whilst everyone else gets processed before you.
So all in all, it’s more expensive than just going to Laem Ngop for the extension. Of course, you can only extend a 30 day exemption or tourist visa once. After that you will have to leave the country and do either a border run or a visa run – to obtain a new tourist visa from a consulate or embassy outside Thailand.
Visa runs from Koh Chang
If you need to get a new 60 day Tourist Visa then rather than go to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, many people prefer to go to the Thai Embassy in Vientiane. It’s a much further distance but far easier to get the visa there. But for most longstay visitors or travellers, it’s relatively easy to plan your trip to include time in neighbouring countries when it will be possible to get a new visa for Thailand if required. From Bangkok there are various ways to get to Vientiane. There are numerous visa run services which offer all inclusive packages. Or take a bus or train to the north of Thailand. Or fly on a budget airline to Vientiane ( AirAsia or Thai Smile often have good deals )
Overstaying Your Visa
If you stay longer than the number of days permitted by your visa exemption or Tourist Visa, you are in the country illegally. In the past this wasn’t such an issue. You could overstay months and just pay the maximum fine, 20,000 Baht, on your way out of Thailand. Then return again without a black mark against your name. The overstay regulations have changed. Now, if you overstay by 3 months and try to leave the country, you’ll still have the fine to pay but will also be banned from re-entering the country for 5 years.
The authorities are still lenient to tourists who overstay. If it’s just a day you are let off, as people often miscalculate dates or have airlines change flights through no fault of their own. If the overstay is a few days, you just apologise and pay a 500 Baht per day fine when you leave the country. But you really don’t want to allow yourself to get into a situation where you are overstaying for months. That’s not going to end well.
Other Types of Visa For Thailand
After visiting Thailand for a holiday you may decide you want to retire here, move to work in Thailand or marry a Thai national. There are specific visas for each of these options. They are harder to get and have more restrictions than tourist visas. If you are getting one of these visas then it;s also imperative to get a Re-Entry Permit before you leave the country for a holiday. This allows you to re-enter Thailand using the same visa. If you don’t have this, your visa will be cancelled when you leave and when you return you’ll have to apply for your marriage, retirement or work visa all over again. A Single Re-entry Permit is 1,900 Baht and a Multiple Entry is 3,800 Baht. You can get one form any Immigration office or international airport.
Retirement Visa – Non Immigrant O-A
This is the easiest option for anyone over 50 who wants to spend all, or a large proportion of their time, in Thailand. It is a 3 month single entry visa which can then be extended in Thailand for 12 months. The main requirements for eligibility are to be over 50 years old and be able to show 800,000 Baht in a Thai bank account or an income from overseas of over 65,000 Baht / month ( or a combination of cash + overseas income which is over 800,000 Baht / year )
After the initial 12 month period, the visa can be renewed at an immigration office in Thailand. There’s no need to leave the country to apply for another visa.
In late 2016, the government announced a new 10 year retirement visa was being introduced which would require applicants to either have an income of 100,000 Baht / month from overseas of bank balance of 3 Million Baht or more in Thailand. unsurprisingly, this wasn’t greeted with any real interest amongst expats as it has no benefits over the current 1 year visa.
Marriage Visa – Non Immigrant O
As the name suggests this is the visa to get if you end up marrying a Thai national. The financial requirements for this 12 month visa are 400,000 Baht in a Thai bank or proof of an income of 40,000 Baht / month. You’ll also need a marriage certificate. At first you’ll be given a 3 month visa and then that will be extended on a yearly basis.
Work Visa – Non Immigrant B
As with the other visas, this is a renewable 1 year visa. entitles the bearer to stay in the country for a period of twelve months. As with the retirement and marriage visas this is initially a 3 month visa and then you extend it at your local immigration office. To get this visa you’ll need either paperwork from your employer or, if you are running your own business, documents from your lawyer showing company formation, accounts and your position etc.
Thailand Elite Visa
The Thailand Elite Visa was set up over 15 years ago as a visa for wealthy individuals who wanted to be able to visit Thailand regularly but didn’t want the hassle of having to apply for visas or re-entry permits. It also has a host of add on extras such as free limo service to/from the airport. But it’s not cheap. 500,000 Baht for a 5 year visa is the cheapest option. And a 20 year visa is 2 Million Baht. But if you have the money and don’t quality for any of the longstay visa types above then it’s worth considering in order to come and go as you please without any hassles from Immigration. ( You also get to use the VIP Fast track Immigration counters and avoid queues at Suvarnabhumi Airport. )
Single, Under 50 or a Digital Nomad?
If you don’t have 500K Baht for an Elite Visa and want to stay longterm without working but are under 50 years old then there isn’t a long term visa for you. If you have no plans to work or get married then you’ll have to get back to back SETV or METV in order to stay in the country for as long as possible.
Likewise if you are a digital nomad who works online from their laptop, there isn’t a visa for you.
Technically you are working illegally. But it’s extremely unlikely that any Immigration officer will knock on your door and ask to see your latest affiliate website or piece of code you’re working on. It would be very easy to monitor all the nomad Facebook groups if this was a real concern for authorities. So, again, it’s a matter of using tourist visas until you decide either it’s time to move on or you want to stay much longer and set up a company or get married.
For full, detailed information in English on the types of visa for Thailand and specific requirements, see the Ministry of Affairs website.
Another good source of information is the Thai Visa forum. There is some scaremongering there but overall, you’ll get some good replies to any visa related questions that you might have.