Threats to national security and heavy immigration have prompted many territories to review their basic criteria for visa applications – apart from Southeast Asia. Here, you’ll find the majority of countries are less stringent in their approach to immigration, and will generally permit most temporary visitors to enter said country with a passport alone. Of course, there are certain rules and stipulations for visitors entering without a visa, namely concerning the permissible length of stay per visit and business activities. Few people are ever asked to offer proof of their intentions when entering Thailand, however, it’s important to note that occasional spot checks are carried out as part of the country’s commitment to improving problems with illegal immigration.
A visa will usually be required if you are visiting Thailand on business, plan to visit twice or more within a three month period, or you reasonably expect the length of your stay to exceed 30 days at any one time. If you’re planning a visit to Thailand within the next year and you aren’t too sure whether a visa is required, you’d do well to familiarise yourself with Thailand’s criteria before making any solid travel plans.
Entering Thailand: The 30-Day Rule
With the exception of Cambodia and Vietnam, the majority of Southeast Asian countries operate a 30-day visa exemption policy for tourists wishing to visit, or use the country’s airport to make further flight connections. Thailand conforms to this ’30-day rule’, however, this only applies to citizens travelling from 48 countries across the globe, such as the UK, USA or South Africa. If you originate from one of the aforementioned countries, Australia or the EU, you will generally be permitted to enter Thailand on a valid passport alone (as long as it is still valid), so long as:
You agree not to exceed the maximum allowable period of stay (30 days).
You have a minimum of 10,000 Baht per person in your travelling group/ 20,000 Baht per family.
You hold confirmed tickets for departure within the time specified.
Conversely, should you enter Thailand from a neighbouring country, the maximum of 15 days will apply. If you are recently returning from an area infected with yellow-fever, you may be required to supply your International Health Certificate as proof of vaccination against the illness. Anyone who cannot provide this evidence upon request by immigration officials can be denied entry to the country and/ or deported as a result.
Understanding The Visa System
It may seem complicated to travellers used to Westernised visa schemes, but Thailand’s tiered visa system is actually far easier to understand than most. Foreign nationals entering Thailand with the intention of staying for more than 30 days are required by law to hold a valid visa issued by the Royal Thai Embassy or Royal Thai Consulate. There is an exception to this rule in that if you were first permitted entry to Thailand under the 30-day visa exemption rule, and wish to leave and re-enter, you can do so providing the overall duration of your stay does not exceed 90 days within a six month period. The visa exemption rule only permits you to stay in Thailand for a period of 30 days each time, so if you intend on staying longer, or leaving and re-entering on multiple occasions (for more than 6 months) you will need to apply for a visa depending upon your travel plans.
Tourist or Non-Immigrant?
Thailand’s visa system has been designed to offer foreign nationals some flexibility of choice. Whether you’re planning to spend three months treading the tourist trail around Bangkok, or you’d like to experience living and working in Thailand before taking the plunge permanently, there are a variety of visa types to suit your needs, and for tourists, these can generally be organised on arrival at the main international checkpoints. These include: Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok; Samui Airport at Surat Thani, and Phuket Immigration Checkpoint, Phuket.
Tourist visas are intended for foreign nationals who wish to remain in Thailand for more than 30 days (the time permitted under the Visa Exemption Rule). If you plan on staying in Thailand for 30- 90 days, the single-entry tourist visa will be sufficient, however, if you intend on leaving Thailand to explore nearby Laos or Cambodia, you will be required to purchase a six-month tourist visa that allows multiple re-entry for up to 6 months. Single entry tourist visas cost around 35 Euros.
Non-Immigrant Single Entry Visa:
The non-immigrant single entry visa is the document of choice for short-stay business professionals and backpackers intending to conduct business activities or seek work in Thailand. It can also be used if you intend to stay in Thailand for up to three months, however, does not permit re-entry if you choose to leave before your visa expires. You should also be aware that if you intend to seek work in Thailand, you will need to obtain a work permit from the Ministry of Labour. Expect to pay around 55 Euros.
Non-Immigrant Multiple Entry Visa:
In contrast to the aforementioned single entry visa, this variant has been devised for foreign nationals intending on perhaps living or working in Thailand, and occasionally flying home. Applicants can choose between two periods of validity – either one or three years depending upon requirements. Prices start at around 125 Euros for a one year visa.
Unlike many countries, it can take little more than 3 working days to obtain a non-immigrant visa in Thailand, providing all relevant criteria is met. Tourist visas differ somewhat in that they are issued at various checkpoints throughout Thailand, and the criteria is far less stringent. If in doubt about the type of visa you require, consult the Royal Thai Embassy in your own country prior to departure.
Visa Extensions & Renewals
You can apply at any immigration office in Thailand for the purpose of getting your visa extended. Most foreigners use the Bangkok immigration office (tel:0 2287 3101; Soi Suan Phlu, Th Sathon Tai; 9am-noon & 1-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-noon Sat) or the Chiang Mai immigration office (tel:0 5320 1755-6; Th Mahidon; 8.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri) for extensions of most types of visa. The usual fee for a visa extension is 1900B.
The travellers with visa duration stating 15 or 30 days can extend their stay for seven to 10 days (depending on the immigration office) provided they apply for the visa extension prior to its expiry.
The 60-day tourist visa can be extended by 30 days but that is left to the discretion of Thai immigration authorities.
Another visa renewal option is if you are planning to come into Thailand via the land route. Since 2006, Thailand has been changing the border visa rules in an attempt to catch hold of foreigners who work or live in the country illegally (i.e. without the proper documentation). As of 2008, passport holders from visa-exempt countries could only obtain a 15-day visa upon arrival at a land border. The 30-day visa is still available if you arrive by air and many expats have been booking flights to nearby Kuala lumpur for their ‘visa runs’. If you’re arriving in Thailand via a land border and would like to stay longer than 15 days, you should consider applying a tourist visa from a Thai embassy or consulate in whichever country you’ll be visiting prior to your arrival in the kingdom.
For all types of visa extensions, you need to get two passport-sized photos and one copy each of the photo and visa pages of your passport. Remember to dress up neatly and do all visa extensions yourself, rather than getting it done from a third party.
If you tend to exceed the duration mentioned on your visa, you will be charged a fine of 500B per day, with a 20,000B limit. Fines can be paid at the airport or in advance at an immigration office. Overstaying for one day, does not levy any penalty. Children under 14 who are travelling with a parent do not have to pay the penalty.
Foreign residents in Thailand should arrange visa extensions at the immigration office closest to their in-country address.