Thai Visa 101
Understanding Thailand’s visa laws can be quite frustrating. For one, they change a lot. And two, if you aren’t familiar with the proper lingo, things can get hairy pretty quickly. To make things easier, especially if you are new to learning about Thai visas, we’ve addressed some common misconceptions and lingo mistakes.

Let’s start with the basics. There are many different types of Thai visas. They include business, dependent, education, retirement, tourist, medical, and volunteer visas. Citizens of some counties are also eligible for a Visa on Arrival. You can recognize a Thai visa by the shiny paper sticker placed in your passport. They give you varying lengths of stays, can be extended, and have different application requirements for each type.

Common Misconceptions Explained

We’ve seen our fair share of discussions gone wrong in online forums and on Facebook threads. Here are two questions that commonly pop up but have a multitude of answers:

Can I apply for a Thai visa in Thailand?

Technically speaking, no. The closest you can get to applying for a visa in Thailand is applying for a ‘Visa On Arrival’ literally meters before going through the immigration checkpoint to get into Thailand. There are counters issuing this visa type at certain land crossings along Thailand’s border (not all entry points) as well as at Thailand’s international airports. Only passport holders of these 28 countries are eligible for a Visa On Arrival and it’s good for 15 days. I case you were wondering, you can’t get a Visa On Arrival if you are from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Russia, the UK, or the USA, just to name a few.

This should not be confused with the free visa exempt stamp, which isn’t a visa. We talk more about this below. A visa exempt stamp is only issued to visitors holding passport from these 50 countries. This is good if you plan to stay for a short period of time in Thailand (15 or 30 days or less). It’s free and you can be approved for it on the spot.

Otherwise, foreigners looking to enter Thailand a true visa must apply for one at either a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate-General. These offices only exist in other countries around the world and not in Thailand.

Applying in America? There is a Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, DC. Canada? It’s in Ottawa. Australia? Go to Canberra. A Royal Thai Embassy can be found in London if you are in the UK. There are also smaller Royal Thai Consulate-Generals in each of these countries. Just remember, you can apply for a Thai visa anywhere in the world except for Thailand. Oh, and you don’t have to apply for a Thai visa in your home country unless you are applying for a multiple entry tourist visa (METV)!

You can apply for a single entry Thai visa at the Royal Thai Embassy or Royal Thai Consulate in whatever country you are living in now before you come to Thailand. Otherwise, you can come to Thailand and enter on a visa exempt stamp (explained below) and then make a visa run (also explained below) to any of the neighboring countries. Some of the closest Royal Thai Embassies to Thailand are in: Vientiane, Laos; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Yangon, Myanmar; Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Alternatively, you cannot apply for a Thai visa at your country’s embassy in Thailand. For example, an American cannot go to the American Embassy in Thailand (located in Bangkok) and apply for a Thai visa. It is not possible.

It is possible to change your visa type once you are in Thailand, but you must already have an existing visa. This can be done at the Office of Immigration Bureau in Bangkok. It’s located on Soi Suan Plu off South Sathorn Road and can be reached at (022) 873-101.

A single entry tourist Thai visa is good for 60 days. Or is it 90 days?

A single entry tourist visa grants a visitor up to 60 days in Thailand. However, you can apply for a 30 day extension at your local immigration office (there is one in every province, i.e. Thai “state”), so you don’t have to leave Thailand to do this. An extension costs 1,900 baht and the 30 days will be tacked on after the 60th day of your Thai tourist visa, no matter when you apply for it.

Therefore, a single entry tourist visa can get you 60 days plus a 30 day extension for a total of 90 days.

Lingo Mistakes

Using improper terminology causes a lot of confusion about an already confusing subject! Let’s clarify a few things:

A visa exempt stamp is not a visa.

Thai Visa vs Thia Visa Exempt Stamp

Let’s start with the definition of exempt, as defined by Merrian-Webster’s Dictionary:

exempt (adj): not required to do something that others are 
              required to do

A visa exempt stamp means that you are not required to have a visa. It’s a waiver. In lieu of a visa, a visa exempt stamp (the rubber kind with ink) is stamped into your passport.

As of 29 August 2014, citizens of the following 50 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the USA receive a visa exempt stamp that allow them to stay in Thailand for 30 days – for free.

A visa exempt stamp is perfect for the short-term traveler. Anyone who wants to stay in Thailand for less than a month or is passing through as they hop around Southeast Asia should stick with the convenient (and did we mention, free?) visa exempt stamp.

If you do want to stay a bit longer, you can apply for an extension at any local Thai Immigration Office. As of August 29, 2014, an extension will grant you another 30 days and costs 1,900 baht.

Remember, it is not a visa. It is simply an ink stamp in your passport.

There is no such thing as a work visa.

There is a non-immigrant business visa, nicknamed a B visa, and there is a work permit. They are two separate, very different documents. They cannot be combined and dubbed “work visa.”

A business B visa is the shiny paper sticker that goes into your passport and allows you to legally work in Thailand. It’s good for up to a year (once it’s been extended during the first 90 days) and is issued by a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate. A business visa costs roughly the equivalent of $65 USD; the exact fee and method of payment vary slightly for each country’s office due to the currency exchange rate.

A work permit is a document that looks a lot like a blue passport and is issued by Thailand’s Department of Labor. Your employer provides you with the right paperwork to apply for a Thai work permit. A work permit shows that you are a properly registered employee and it costs 3000 baht ($100 USD). It is also good for one year.

Thai Work Permit

To work legally in Thailand, you need both a B visa and a work permit. But again, there is no such thing as a work visa.

NOTE: Foreigners with a B visa and a work permit can work for either a Thai company or a foreign company that has partnered with a Thai company or the Thai government.

A border run and visa run are two different things.

A border run is, quite literally, a run to the (Thai) border. Its purpose is to activate the next entry on your visa, assuming you possess more than one entry. For example, it grants another 60 days on a tourist visa and another 90 days on a business visa.

The most common border run method is to take a scheduled van to the land border of Thailand’s neighboring countries (Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia). Foreigners cross the border for short time and then re-enter Thailand.

Border runs are also used by long-term visitors who ride out their stay in Thailand with back-to-back visa exempt stamps. They don’t have visas. Instead, every 30 days they make a border run into a neighboring country, leave the country, and re-enter with another free 30 day visa exempt stamp in their passport.

A visa run is much more complex than a border run. There is an extra step in a visa run, a very important step, which includes going to a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate and applying for a visa.

A visa run is not a quick, relatively easy, or inexpensive trip like a border run is. Instead, it usually involves standing in a long line to apply for a new visa (hoping that all your paperwork is correct and that you’re approved); spending at least one night in the neighboring country; waiting in line to pick up your new visa after it’s been processed; re-entering Thailand. Not the same as a border run, see?

There is no such thing as a residency visa.

There is what’s called Thai permanent residency, but it is not a visa because you no longer have to apply for extension of stay and are not required to leave the country every year for a new one. The eligibility requirements to get Thai permanent residency are pretty steep and few foreigners are granted it each year. Obtaining Thai citizenship can be even harder.

There is such a thing as a residence certificate. It is a simple document that proves you are residing here (i.e, that you are paying rent). For example, a residence certificate is required when applying for a Thai license or buying a vehicle in Thailand. But in no way is this a visa or part of the paperwork required to get a visa.

Foreigners looking to stay in Thailand for the long run are best off obtaining a non-immigrant visa and reapplying for a new one or extending it every year after that. Making sure to you still meet the minimum requirements! It is a common practice for people to stay in Thailand for many years on a non-immigrant business, education, dependent, or retirement visa.

Covering the Thai Visa Basics

We hope this sets straight some of the basic questions people often have with Thai visas. Before you get the correct answer, you have to be able to ask the correct question. Good luck!

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