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! Upon arrival into Thailand via an international airport or land border crossing, most nationalities receive a 30-day Entry Pass free of charge. Read our comprehensive Visa Guide here for more details. 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.
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Stage 1: Extend your visa for 30 days at an Immigration OfficeIf you want to stay in Thailand once your 30-day entry pass has expired, you can now extend your visa for an extra 30 days (maximum) at an Immigration Office. Immigration Offices can be found in every province in Thailand and you will need to fill out an application form, take photocopies of your passport and take one passport photo to attach to the form. The process is quite quick depending on where you go. Smaller provincial offices are quieter and therefore quicker than larger cities. (We recently extended our visa in Mae Hong Son and it took 10 minutes, compared to the 2-hour wait we’d heard of in Chiang Mai). You can extend your stay this way at any time during your initial 30-day stay and you do not have to wait until the day before your 30-day pass runs out to extend. If you know you want to stay in Thailand longer, we advise that you extend as soon as possible. Which visas can be extended? You can extend your 30-day entry pass, OR if you obtained a 60-day Tourist Visa before travelling to Thailand, you can extend this too, for a maximum of 30 days. However, you can only extend your visa at an Immigration Office once. After your 30-day extension has expired you must consider a border run…
Border runs:Once your visa extension has run out, if you’re still not ready to say goodbye to Thailand, you may 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. The entire process can be completed in one day. This means leaving the country and crossing the border into a neighbouring country, in order to refresh your visa for another 30 days. The entire process can be completed in one day and many backpackers arrange their ‘border run’ with an agency to get the whole process over with as quickly as possible. How many times can you make a border run? The official rules state that you can make a land or sea border crossing to renew your visa only twice in a calendar year. However, when flying into Thailand by air, there is currently an official limit of the 6 times you can enter per calendar year.
The 60-day Tourist Visa:If you want to come back into the country with longer than 30 days, you can also exit the country and obtain a new 60-day Tourist Visa at a Thai Embassy in a neighbouring country. It does not have to be your home country. This process, however, will take much longer than one day, as in most embassies you have to drop off your passport and pick it up the next day, or the next three days.
How to make a Border Run:To begin there are three important questions you need to ask yourself:
- What’s your nationality and what is the Thai visa policy with respect to your passport? (See our visa guide for more info on that here.)
- Where are you physically located right now, as you sadly contemplate the necessity of this mandatory activity?
- 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 90 or 30-day visa-free policy (i.e. you possess a passport from one of the countries that get 30 days when arriving by land or air) you can go to practically any border crossing, large or small and receive a visa extension. This manoeuvre will entail:
- Getting to the border of a neighbouring 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 neighbouring 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 to Thailand – head to the closest food stand and buy yourself a cold beer, all that manoeuvring means you absolutely deserve one!
Border Crossings in the North of Thailand:If you’re in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai or Pai, you can proceed to Chiang Khong in Thailand and onward 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.
Border Crossings in the South of Thailand:
- 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 Phangan 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 for 30 days extra (only once), provided that you avoid national holidays like Songkran (New Year) when vans fill up fast and offices close for extended periods.
- If you’re in Koh Chang, Pattaya or Bangkok your nearest exit out of Thailand is Hat Lek which crosses over to Koh Kong on the Cambodian side of the border.
Border Crossings in the Northeast of Thailand: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. 3. What’s 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 buses, 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. The penalty for overstaying your visa in Thailand: A fine of 500 baht per day that you overstay, can add up, so it may be best to pay a bit more to make sure that you stay within the limits of your visa allowance. It is perfectly legal for a police or immigration officer to stop you in the street and ask to check your passport and visa. If you are overstaying at that moment in time, you can be fined on the spot. Also, remember that your extension fee cannot exceed 20,000 baht (which means 40 days+) or you could face deportation or imprisonment.
A few parting recommendations for border runners…
- If you book a visa run through a Thai travel agency, get the mobile phone number 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.
- Bring $USD for your visa fees. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and ATM runs, as well as minimise the risk of getting ripped off by poor exchange rates in border towns.
- 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!
Written by: Camelia Gendreau