A Crash Course in Thai Visa Runs: Extending Your Stay in the Land of Smiles

A Crash Course in Thai Visa Runs: Extending Your Stay in the Land of Smiles

Upon arrival into Thailand, most nationalities receive a 30-day Tourist Visa free of charge. As a responsible backpacker, you will need to make note of the expiry date of your visa and make sure you leave the country before this date – or consider extending your visa.

Extending your visa: If you only want to stay in Thailand for a few more days, you may consider extending your visa for a extra 7 days at an immigration centre (costing 1,800 baht). Normal tourist visas can only be extended for an extra 7 days maximum.

Border runs: Most backpackers choose to undertake what is known as a ‘border run’, leaving the country and crossing the border into a neighbouring country, in order to refresh your visa for another 30 days. It’s often the cheapest and quickest way of getting more time in Thailand and the entire process can be completed in one day.

So, should you ever find yourself staring at a near-expired Thai visa in your passport, wondering how to deal with it as fast as possible, so you can quickly return to your life of beach-bumming – let us help you!

BORDER RUNS:

To begin there are three important questions you need to ask yourself:

1. What’s your nationality and what is the Thai visa policy with respect to your passport?

2. Where are you physically located right now, as you sadly contemplate the necessity of this mandatory activity?

3. What is your timeline and budget?

Here’s how the answer to each of these questions will affect your next steps:

1. What’s your nationality and what is the Thai visa policy with respect to your passport?

If you are one of the lucky buggers who benefit from the 30-day visa-free policy (i.e. you possess a passport from one of 13 countries listed here online, these 13 countries get 30 days when arriving by land or air, there are other countries that receive 30 days when entering by air only) you can go to practically any border crossing, large or small, and receive a visa extension.

This maneuver will entail:

  • Getting to the border of a neughbouring country (Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos – any will probably do, but make sure you check their respective visa policies and fees).
  • Exiting Thailand and receiving the exit stamp on your passport.
  • Entering the neighboring country and receiving the entry stamp and/or visa.
  • Going around the block (sometimes on foot, at other times you have to hire a motorcycle driver to drive you through).
  • Exiting said country with an exit stamp on your passport.
  • Re-entering Thailand and getting your 30 day extension stamp.
  • Optional final step: Upon your return into Thailand – head to the closest food stand and buy yourself a cold Chang, all that maneuvering means you absolutely deserve one!

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Go on and treat yourself to a cold Chang after all that hard work- you deserve it! 

If you are NOT one of the above lucky nationalities and you are Chinese, Latvian, Romanian, Bulgarian or a few other nationalities (you can find the full list here) - watch out!

For you, it’s a bit more complicated. You will need to get a BRAND NEW visa as opposed to an extension. The most important thing you need to know is that not all border crossings will be able to grant you this new visa. Small checkpoints, especially in Southern Thailand, cannot do this for you and you MUST make sure that your tour operator doing the visa run knows that and clearly communicates it to your driver. Here is the list of checkpoints which provide facilities for issuance of visa on arrival. 

Important Note: Some Thai drivers will often try to take shortcuts to save on gas and time and take you to a closer, smaller check-point. The last thing you want to have happen is to wake up in Hat Yai eating overpriced chewy steak in a stripper joint or in nowhere land on the border with Burma with a Thai visa that expired three days ago!

2. Where are you physically located right now, as you sadly contemplate the necessity of this mandatory activity?

Depending where you are in Thailand, your options for border crossings will be different:

  • If you’re in the north of Thailand, anywhere between Bangkok and Chiang Rai, you can proceed to Chiang Khong in Thailand to Huay Xai in Laos. Once you crossed the Thai border you have the option of taking a boat or a bus to get to Laos – either is fine.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERATravel from boat at Chiang Khong boarder crossing

  • If you’re in the islands on the East Coast (Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi etc) make sure you go to Satun or Sadoa as no other Southern border crossing is big enough for what you need. Really impress upon your driver that he needs to get you to Satun or Sadoa and not one of the small foot crossings, which are marginally closer.
  • From Koh Tao, Koh Phan Gan and Koh Samui, you can do a visa run to Burma (Ranong) or, for the lucky folks above, you can now extend your visa hassle-free on Koh Samui, provided that you avoid national holidays like Songran (New Year) when vans fill up fast and offices close for extended periods.
  • If you are in Isaan (the Northeast of Thailand) you can cross into Laos, via the border crossing which connects Nong Khai, Thailand with Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

DSC_0577The Mekong river which separates Thailand from Laos

3. What is your timeline and budget?

Timeline and budget considerations will definitely affect how you organize your trip. If you still have several days (three or more) left on your visa and are already thinking about it, congratulations! You are more thoughtful than most sun-fried farangs on Thailand’s gorgeous beaches.

You could potentially skip the visa runs organized by the travel agencies, which range in price from 1,000 baht to 2,500, depending on your location and powers of negotiation. As you have time, you should be fine making your own way to the border. Organizing the whole trip by yourself, taking local/public busses, can save you up to 50% of the visa run fee. It’s also not a bad idea to get to know some of your friendly local expats (scuba diving or surfing instructors) who usually do visa runs together, which can make transportation costs even cheaper.

If, however you only have a day left, it might be better to go with a company that can ensure you will get there in time.

A fine of 500 baht per day that you overstay, can add up, so it may be best to pay a bit more. Remember that your extension fee cannot exceed 20,000 baht (which means 40 days+) or you could face deportation or imprisonment.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAKnow what you’re doing, don’t get charged 500 baht a day for overstaying

Here are a few other parting recommendations:

  • If you book a visa run through a Thai travel agency, get the cellphone and landline for the agent who sells you the tickets. The drivers will often speak little or no English and you will need someone to help you on that end if anything goes awry.
  • Bring plenty of cash. You never know when something can go wrong and you need to buy band-aids, taxi rides, motorcycle rides, grease a wheel or get a hotel room for one night. In some of the smaller border towns you might be hard-pressed to find an ATM that takes foreign cards.
  • Also, bring USD for your visa fees. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and ATM runs.
  • Bring your book or Kindle. Even if everything goes as planned and you’re there and back in five hours (that’s rarely the case), border towns and the roads that lead to them are not necessarily the most picturesque.
  • Bring dramamine motion sickness tablets just in case. Most tour operators employ small vans and the drivers are usually in a hurry to wrap it up and get home, so they drive like maniacs on sometimes very windy roads.

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For information about Thai visas and other South East Asian visas, check out our Visa Guide here.

Written by: Camelia Gendreau

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4 Comments For This Post We’d Love to Hear Yours!

  1. angsta says:

    That’s a beer Laos.

  2. Julie says:

    Hello – I need help! I came to Thailand from South Africa with a double entry visa – I had 60 days – then I extended it to 30 days at immigration in Chiang Mai. Then I came to live in Maesot – near the Burma border in January – they advised me that I could just cross the border each month for four months. Now I need to get a new visa. What do I do – which border must I go to – who can assist me with the necessary forms etc….

    Thank you in advance!

    JULIE

    • Camelia says:

      Hi Julie! I recommend that you get in touch with the South African consulate in Thailand and ask for their help and clarifications about the necessary visa. If you’re planning to live there for a while longer, you may need to get some sort of work or study visa.

      Good luck!

  3. Kel says:

    The rules are changing across a lot of Thai borders with regards visa runs. Always best to check right before you are due to leave, or you risk being turned back at some entry points. The recent Phuket to Myanmar visa run is an example, where only last week residents were denied coming back in according to the Bangkok Post. In Cambodia it is a similar story if trying to cross at O’Smach. The aim is to stop foreign criminals entering Thailand, however the reality is that tourists trying to extend their stay may also be stopped re entering. On one side i think its a good thing as far too many tourists work here without legal papers making it unfair to those of us who pay for work permits and visas, on the other side if you simply want to extend your stay for legitimate reasons and just want to stay longer, its unfair to punish the innocent. What i have also seen recently are tourists flying into Thailand having their return flight and sufficient funds checked and in Don Muang last week, i actually saw two Western tourists turned away and told they couldn’t enter, due to no flight out and not sufficient funds. Good or bad i think it depends on your perspective. It wont stop criminals coming into Thailand as they always find a way, but it will also get rid of tourists some of whom simply don’t want to have rigid schedules and flights into and out of countries.

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