Travel, Teach, Live in Thailand

Thailand - Visas in a Nutshell
By:Johnny Farang

Here's the "least you need to know" with regards visas to Thailand. I tend to discuss the main implications of the visa types here, but you need to check the details and conditions very carefully. I usually refer people to the Thai Consulate in Hull, UK for further information on Thailand visas - the site is very informative (see link near end of article).

There are 4 basic types of visa that need to be considered if you are travelling to Thailand:

1. Visa Exemption (VE)

2. Visa on arrival (VOA)

3. Tourist visa (TV)

4. Non-immigrant visa (NIV)

Each of these is discussed briefly below.

1) Visa Exemption (VE)

This isn't actually a visa at all! This type of entry to Thailand is available to a select list of countries, including the UK and USA. What happens is when you arrive in Thailand your passport will be stamped for 30 days. There are some conditions to entry using VE. You need to have a flight out of Thailand within 30 days, proof of funds and at least 6 months validity on your passport. The key points to note are that you have to leave Thailand within 30 days and you don't need to actually apply for a visa at all - you can just turn up in Thailand and you will be stamped in for 30 days.

On October 1st 2006 the rules regarding this type of entry to Thailand changed. The new (and somewhat controversial) rules surrounding this seem to be open to different interpretation, but essentially you can enter Thailand only 3 times (for a maximum of 30 days each time) in any 6 month period. The October 1st changes do not affect any other visa type.

If you are going to Thailand for a couple of weeks holiday then VE is the way to go. If you are staying longer than 30 days then you will be better off considering other options.

2) Visa On Arrival (VOA)

If you are coming from UK this visa doesn't really apply as you will use VE instead. VOA is designed for people coming from countries not on the VE list. VE and VOA are often confused, but they are quite different. Most Westerners will be on the VE list, but double-check the VE list to make sure that your country qualifies.

3) Tourist Visa (TV)

This visa is different to VE in that this visa needs to be applied for, in advance of your trip, outside of Thailand, at a Thai embassy or consulate. You cannot apply for this visa (or any other visa) inside Thailand.

There are various types of Tourist visa. The basic one is a single entry 60-day tourist visa. You could stay in Thailand indefinitely by exiting Thailand every 60 days and applying for a new visa in the neighbouring country of your choice - however, this would be costly and inconvenient. The key point to note about TVs is that they only ever allow a maximum stay of 60 days at one time.

If you are taking a holiday that's longer than 30 days (but less than 60) then a 60-day Tourist Visa is ideal.

There are several multiple-entry versions of the Tourist Visa, including a visa that is valid for one year and allows 3 entries of up to 60 days each (remember the maximum stay is always 60 days with a TV). If you are planning to be taking several extended holidays to Thailand over a year (lucky you) then this might be a good option (and more cost effective).

You could (in theory) stay in Thailand for 6 months on a TV, by exiting and re-entering every 60 days.

Typically a 60-day TV is fine for those taking a slightly longer holiday and who don't want to exit after 30 days, which they would have to if they entered on VE. The multiple entry versions are most suited for people taking several extended holidays a year to Thailand.

Please note, tourist visa is strictly for tourist purposes (you can't work).

4) Non-immigrant visa (NIV)

OK this is where it gets complicated! There are various categories or 'cats' of non-immigrant visa (NIV). NIVs must be applied for in your home country.

The main point to note with NIVs is they allow a maximum stay of 90 days at a time, compared to the TV's 60 days. However, a multiple-entry NIV will allow you multiple entries of up to 90 days for the duration of the validity of the NIV. Single-entry NIVs are valid for 3 months (90 days). Multiple-entry NIVs are valid one year.

One thing to note at this point : with the exception of the Cat O-A NIV (see below) there is NO visa that allows you to stay more than 90 days at a time in Thailand. Even if you have a one-year NIV you must leave Thailand and re-enter every 90 days!

This strange rule, where you have a visa valid for one year, but you have to leave the country and re-enter every 90 days, gives rise to the so called "visa run". This is where tourists, or long-termers, do a quick run to the nearest border to exit and re-enter, often on the same day (or even within an hour or so). The nearest border depends on where you are in Thailand, but Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos are popular destinations for visa runs.

There are many cats of non-immigrant visas (NIV) - and you need to apply for the right one. I'm going to look at the more common cats.

Cat 'O':

You use this cat of NIV if you want to stay in Thailand, but don't need or want to work there. This cat of NIV will not allow you to do voluntary or paid work (legally).

The Cat O will not be extended by the authorities after a year, so you would need to return home, apply for another Cat O, and then return to Thailand. However, you could apply to your home country for a NIV by post. This is perfectly legal and your visa will (all things being correct) be processed, but you run the risk of your passport being lost in transit and if problems arise they can be difficult to sort from afar. For this reason I can't recommend this approach (but many people do it).

Cat O's are great for people who have an online or remote business and who want to enjoy extended stays in Thailand. Cat O's also have the advantage that they are relatively easy to get, as there are no stringent financial checks involved (you just need to self-certify you can support yourself in Thailand).

Cat 'B':

This is for teaching, working, or business activities in Thailand.

You are unlikely to get a Cat B unless you already have a job, business or suitable contacts already lined up in Thailand. If you are travelling to Thailand to investigate getting a job or setting up a business then apply for a Cat O instead.

If you are in Thailand on a Cat O and you get offered a job which you then want to take up, you can apply in Thailand for a work permit. This will allow you to work legally.

The authorities in Thailand can extend the validity of your Cat B NIV according to your employer's requirements, so you don't need to return to UK and reapply for the Cat B NIV. However, you do still need to leave the country every 90 days and re-enter.

So, if you want to stay in Thailand indefinitely, and your income is from an overseas source (e.g. online business, rental income, share dividends etc.) then the Cat O is the best option (but you have to return to UK annually or renew by post). If you want to work or run a business in Thailand then the Cat B is the only option.

Cat 'O-A':

If you are over 50 and want to retire to Thailand (you don't want to take up a job there) then the O-A is designed for you. The beauty of this visa is you don't need to exit the country every 90 days. You do need to present yourself to the authorities every 90 days though, although this can now be done by post. In the case of the O-A you can have the visa extended by the authorities at the end of the year.

You need to prove you have certain funds available to get this visa (or to have it renewed), but you don't have to transfer that money into Thailand. At time of writing the requirements are 800,000 Baht capital amount or 65,000 Baht monthly income. Note that the capital amount of 800,000 Baht has to be present on an annual basis. In other words you must have 800,000 Baht available in your account at the end of each year in order for the authorities to approve renewal of your visa. This comes as a shock to a lot of people!

If you intend to retire with your spouse, your spouse will only be given a Cat O (not O-A), so theoretically they would have to do a visa run every 90 days! Unless you are content to send your partner off on their own to the nearest border town, then you will probably be accompanying them too. This means the O-A now doesn't look as attractive as the Cat O, as the Cat O does not require proof of funds.

Further, if your spouse then applies for a Cat O-A, they will be assessed in their own right as far as income or lump sum is concerned.

This means to retire as a couple you would need a lump sum of 1.6 million Baht (annually), or a monthly income of 130,000 Baht. This recent change has obviously made it a lot harder for couples to retire to Thailand.

Conclusion

So that concludes the quick guide to Thailand visas. There's no doubt that visa runs every 60 or 90 days are inconvenient and expensive. Unfortunately, visa runs are a fact of life for westerners who want to stay longer term in Thailand.

Here's a quick summary of approximate visa fees at time of writing:

VE - Free

VOA - £16

TV 60-day - £28

TV (Double) - £56

TV (Triple) - £84

NIV (Single) - £45

NIV (Multi) - £100

For further information the best source is the Thai consulate in Hull: http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com - read their application packs very carefully.

Johnny Farang has been visiting, living in, and writing about Thailand since 2003. He hopes to retire there one day and is working towards that end. Johnny is founder of the site http://www.dreamofsiam.com which he has been running since 2004.






Messages In This Thread

Thailand - Visas in a Nutshell -- Johnny Farang
Re: Thailand - Visas in a Nutshell -- Marie Symons

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