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Visa questions

Visas for staying in Pattaya, Thailand
 


Everyone wants to come and live in Thailand these days, it's comfortable, cheap and an enchanting place which is attracting an increasing amount of foreigners. It's also relatively easy to enter the Kingdom and continue staying indefinitely. The locals aren't fussed and the immigration officials apply the rule only when motivated by underhand gratuity. But they can, and do, give you the run around, so pay attention to your options.

In general, the government is more interested in attracting 'monied' foreigners, rather than foreigner dropouts who tend to swell the ranks of ex-pats here. Everyone is welcome provided you have a good excuse to stay here or a generous monthly income to live off. It’s much easier for those over 50, who can get a retirement visa, others get by on spousal visas or work permits, while a large proportion do regular visa runs, either on a 30/60 day tourist visa or multi-entry Non-immigrant visa (good for a year).

The following are the common and accepted ways, legal or otherwise, to remain here in Thailand.

  • Tourist visas
  • Non-immigrant visas
  • Work Permits
  • Spousal visas
  • Retirement visas
  • Permanent residence
  • Business owner

30 day visas


These are issued to most nationalities upon entry to the Kingdom and can be extended once, for 10 days, by visiting your nearest immigration department before the expiry date. The fee for this is 1,900 baht. Overstay fines are 500 baht per day and can jeopardise your future applications. Every time you leave and re-enter Thailand at a land crossing you will get a 15 day renewal, no matter how short your exit is. In January 2009 this was reduced from the usual 30 days given at airports. In mid 2006, a new directive was issued permitting only a maximum stay of 90 consecutive days (ie two renewals) on a tourist visa, after which you have to leave the kingdom. This can be resolved by applying for a 60 day tourist visa at a neighbouring consulate, and starting over. Furthermore, those leaving and re-entering Thailand on the same day are usually asked to show proof of at least 10,000 baht in a local bank account or cash.

60 day tourist visas


These are issued by Thailand Embassies abroad for a variable fee (about $15/£10) and can be collected on-the-spot. Once in the Kingdom you may renew this visa for a further 30 days at your nearest immigration department before the expiry date. The fee for this is 1,900 baht. Furthermore, if you have double entry tourist visa you can then leave and re-enter and do the whole thing again, theoretically for a toal of 80 days, although the immigration might not co-operate with the 30 day extensions, giving you 10 days instead.

Visa runs Until the January 2009 directive reducing re-entry visas to 15 days at land crossings, the 30 day visa-run was all many bothered with, for the paperwork necessary for a non-immigration visa is sometimes problematic. The Cambodian border is a long day’s drive round trip which generally discourages this option. But some have continued this routine for a year or more. From September 2004 onwards the immigration officials have been asking to see proof of at least 10,000 baht for each 30 days you intend to stay, this would have to be in hard cash or shown in a Thai bank account book. From mid 2006 they also put a limit of three consecutive visa-upon-entries, afterwhich you need to remain outside of Thailand for 90 days. However this excludes 60 day tourist visas which are issued at consulates. Read about doing a visa run.

Non-immigrant visas


This is the most popular and realistic way of remaining long term in Pattaya. With a Non-immigrant visa you can remain in Thailand for up-to three months at a time and this can usually be extended several times, theoretically allowing you the right to stay here for up to a year. Typically you could apply for one of these in order to study full-time (some Thai language institute offer drawn out year long course inexpensively especially for this), take up a job, investigate starting a business, and a number of more obscure excuses. In each instance you need a plausible excuse with verifiable paperwork to apply. If you have a letter from a prospective employer the immigration authorities may issue you a single entry visa, advising you to up-grade to a work permit. Obviously a single entry visa will last no more than three months. Make sure you get a multiple entry visa (which costs more).

There are several types of non-immigrant visas, the most common include;

Type B: for conducting business or employment.

Type M: for journalists accredited as press representatives.

Type O: if you are a taking care of dependent or are retired (over 55).

IM: investors who meet the Board of Investment requirements.

ED: education study or observation.

If you're after a non-immigrant B visa, allowing you to stay for three months and renew for a further three months (twice more), you need to go to the nearest Thai consulate. If you are already in Thailand, then the nearest ones are;

Ventiane, Laos - which is notoriously slow and you often need to bribe your way to the front of the queue.

Penang, Malaysia - is so fed up with visa-runners that you'd better make sure you have all your paper work in order to avoid a run around.

Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma) - which isn't a popular option, though most people we've heard of going there have had few problems.

Phnom Penh - which is the closest to Bangkok, but they too are jaded by the many ‘visa application runners’ from Bangkok and aren’t co-oeprative.

Kuala Lumpur - another popular option due to budget flights there from Bangkok, but they are almost as sticky as Penang, demanding a lot more paperwork than usual

The elusive multiple-entry Non-Immigrant visa


The multiple entry visa is the most desirable since it theoretically allows you to remain in Thailand for a full 12 months, with two ‘visa runs’ to the nearest border. However, getting a multiple entry is not that easy. Since a single entry visa is adequate for most applicants who genuinely intend to follow through on getting the right paperwork, embassies and consulates near Thailand see no reason to issue multis. In fact you’ll be lucky to find one anywhere in Southeast or South Asia who will happily stamp ‘multiple’ in your passport, and nowadays you have to return to Eurpope, Australia or the US to get this type of non-imm visa. Even then some have difficulty, such as in London, whereas the consulate in Hull happily dishes them out without asking questions. We suggest you study online forums such as thaivisa.com first before making your trip, to avoid disappointment.

Although there are laws in place and the Thai immigration get tired of all the foreigners invading their city, money lines pockets easily in Thailand and the system is completely porous to those who don't mind entering into 'the system'. We don't encourage it, if your intentions here are genuine, then there are legitimate options open to you.

Visa services


There are many companies offering to help you secure a long-stay visa or work permit (by means fair or foul) and often it's worth paying the fee (about 20,000 baht) to let them 'get on with it'. As we have experienced ourselves, even an honest and legitimate attempt to secure a work permit through the correct channels can be frustrated by unreasonable obstacles (read: 'bribe me'), and these visa services usually know who the right people are to 'buy bottles of whisky' for, saving you the red tape chase.

Work permits


This is first prize for those wishing to stay here long-term, as it doesn't require frequent renewing, nor hefty financial stipulations, but the red tape run around is incredible. Naturally you have to have a job offer from a company that meets the stipulated criteria for employing foreigners. There also has to be a plausible excuse why they can't hire a Thai for the job. It is the company's responsibility to apply, and at least 15 documents (including detailed statements about the company's position) are required, along with a fee and a health certificate from you. This can take up to two months and you need to be in possession of a non-immigrant B visa. Incredibly, once the work permit is issued, you then have to carry out the whole rigmarole again to satisfy the Immigration department before they will give you a one-year visa. In all, the process can take several months and cost more than 10,000 baht in various fees. There are also hefty stipulated minimum salaries set (scaled according to your nationality) in order to qualify.

Because of this, some companies, particularly language schools, are reluctant to offer permanent jobs, complete with work permit (besides, there need to be four Thai employees for each foreigner), and many employees have to resort to three-monthly visa runs, which are widely undertaken.

Be aware that once you have a work permit you will still be fleeced of 1000 baht for a re-entry permit every time you leave the country.

Retirement visas


People over the age of 55 wishing to stay here may apply for a retirement visa, but they need to prove they have sufficient money to remain here. According to the Immigration department this is 65,000 baht per month (on which you can live very comfortably here). You will also have to show at least 800,000 baht in your bank account, but they usually only check this once a year. When they do, at renewal time, the money has to have been in your account for at least three months.

Permanent residence


This is granted to people who have been living here for more than five years or have a wife and family to support, however the one-off fee of 195,000 baht is rather ridiculous and renders this option largely unreasonable to most. In addition, you have to show you have an income of at least 40,000 baht per month and a bank balance of 400,000 baht, not to mention a mountain of paper work. It does however save you the ongoing hassle of renewing your work permit of spousal visa each year — which isn’t straightforward we might add.

Business owner


As a business owner, you have the right to secure a work permit or 1 year, renewable non-immigrant B visa. Quite a few foreigners choose this option if they are serious and have the money required. Thai law states that a company cannot have more than 49 per cent foreign ownership. Furthermore, the founding charter must bear the signatures of seven directors: these can be of any nationality as long as the share agreement places the majority of ownership in Thai hands. The benefits of a company are that it can own property (land) and it overcomes several of the obstacles concerning rights of foreigners here. However, you need to find a trusting partner and for many this is usually a Thai wife or husband. Strangely, foreign women married to Thai men enjoy more rights than their male counterparts. Since mid-2006, the government has been rigorously scrutinising foreign owned companies trying to buy land. Amendments to the Foreign Business Law have also been tabled, further restricting the loopholes previously abused in this regard. Business that don’t seem to conduct real business are vetted closely, and this avenue has become unrealistic in recent years. Furthermore, you have to make large investments under Board of Investment status to really gain the benefit of getting the right visa.

Several companies around town specialise in setting up companies. The main stipulation is a minimum capitalisation of two million baht, although this is only 'on paper' and there are ways to afford yourself a one year grace period to meet this financial entry qualification. For every two million baht capital and four Thai employees, your company may employ one foreigner, provided you have a good excuse. The paperwork for securing the work permit and accompanying visa is quite daunting, so arm yourself with patience and a good accountant who knows who to 'speak to' in the manpower department.

Pattaya visa runs
 


For those whose 30-day tourist visa for Thailand will soon expire, there are several options. If you need only a short extension, just go to the Immigration Office on Soi 8, and you can get a 10-day extension for a fee of 1,900 Baht. You will also need copies of certain pages of your passport, and a passport sized photo. However, you can only do this once, and then you will have to leave the kingdom

For those who want to stay longer, a visa run to the Cambodia border is another option. There are two popular border crossings near Pattaya where you can leave Thailand, and return with a new 30-day visa. These border-crossing points are at Trat - Koh Kong, and Aranyaprathet - Poipet.
There are several tour companies that conduct 'Visa Runs' from Pattaya. They are widely advertised, and you can get information on them from almost any travel agent. Typically they leave around 06.00 or 07.00 in the morning, and return to Pattaya around 17.00. The fee can range from 1,800 Baht to 2,500 Baht. They are all quite similar, but there are differences. For example, some will pick you up, some include breakfast and lunch, some use 6 or 9 passenger vans, some use tour buses, some have daily departures, while others leave only on specific days. It is good to do a little investigation to find out which one is best for you.

Usually they all include the visa fee for Cambodia (1,000 Baht), and assistance in crossing the border. You will need your passport, and one passport sized photo. Some also require a copy of your passport.

There is another alternative, and that is to take public buses to the border. However, be warned that this is not for those who are used to travelling in comfort, and is only recommended for the serious do-it-yourself traveller. The buses are air-conditioned, but they are not VIP or express busses. They stop along the way to pick-up and drop off passengers, and can be very crowded with standing room only.

There are also vans, or minibuses to both border crossings. They leave about 06.00 or 07.00 in the morning, and are 700 to 900 Baht one-way, and 1,200 to 1,500 Baht round trip. But if you are going on a one-day trip to the border just to get your visa and come back, you would be well advised to take one of the commercial visa runs. You will save yourself time, money and hassle in the long run. Besides, there is a common scam at the border among Cambodians who prey on na?ve visitors and convince them to pay non-existent crossing fees.

CHANGES TO THE RULES (since 2010)

Changes have been made to the rules where only a 15 day visa will now be granted to anyone wishing to extend their original 30 day visa they received on arrival in Thailand. The only way now to extend it by 30 days is to re-enter Thailand via an airport. This is certainly a more expensive option and many people who wish to stay longer in the Kingdom may feel it is still cheaper to do two 15-day visa runs to the border than fly out to a neighbouring country and back again.

It should also be noted that for anyone arriving in Thailand for the first time and who are not in possession of a tourist or other visa, that unless they now enter through an airport they will also be restricted to a 15-day stay on entry through a border crossing.

Pattaya visa run to Trat - Koh Kong


Anyone spending more than 30 days in Pattaya or Bangkok on a tourist visa will need to make a visa run to the Cambodian border to renew their tourist visa and the border post at Aranyaprathet is the closest option.

Most people opt for the convenience of the direct visa run services from Pattaya, but if you insist on the adventure of doing it yourself here's how.

To catch the blue and white air-conditioned bus from Pattaya to Trat, go to Sukhumvit Road, and wait at any of the main intersections (Naklua, Pattaya Nua, Pattaya Klang, Pattaya Tai, or Thepprasit Road). Wait on the East Side of Sukhumvit Rd. in the direction going away from Bangkok. Buses will stop after they go through the signal.

The bus you are waiting for, is the bus from Bangkok to Trat. Buses will come approximately on the following schedule: 06:00, 06:30, 07:30, 11:15, 14:15, 18:30. As you are waiting, buses to other destinations will stop, and the conductors will ask you where you are going. No matter what they say, just wait for the bus with Bangkok - Trat on the side.

The fare as of is about 130 Baht per person, but be aware that fares constantly change. Keep your ticket, as it will be checked later. It will take about five hours to get to Trat, and you will be let off on the main street of Trat, next to a bright blue building. Remember where this place is, because you will have to come back here to get the bus back to Pattaya. There is no bus station as such in Trat.

Go to your right on the main street, and walk for about 300m, looking for a 7-11 and a Bangkok Bank. Across from the bank, you will see some green/gray vans parked along the street. The vans wait until they have 9 or 10 passengers before they leave for Cambodia, so you may have to wait for awhile. The fare is 100 Baht, and the ride to the border takes about an hour and a half. The last van to the border leaves about 18:00. The border closes at 20:00.

The van will let you off at the border crossing which is called Hat Lek on the Thai side. There is nothing at the border except a few stores selling souvenirs and food. As you take the short walk to the border, you will be accosted by touts asking if you have a visa, and offering to 'assist' you. Ignore them. Walk to the Thai Immigration office on the right side of the road, and get stamped out. Then walk across the border to Cambodia. You will again be set upon by various motorcycle and taxi drivers wanting to know where you are going, and offering to 'help' with your visa. Ignore them, too, and just go the Cambodian Immigration office on the left. The checkpoint here is called Cham Yeam.

Go in the immigration office, fill out the form, and give them your passport, 1000 Baht, and a passport-sized photo. You MUST have a passport photo to get into Cambodia. After you get your visa, you have to go out and get your visa stamped at a window in the same building. There are only a few drink and cigarette stalls on the Cambodian side.

The town of Koh Kong is quite a distance away from the border. You can take a motorcycle taxi for 40 to 60 Baht, or a car for 200 to 300 Baht. It is about a 20 minute ride to the town. There is some competition among the drivers, so you can bargain to get the price down. From Koh Kong you can go on to Sihanoukville, or Phnom Penh. There is a casino a short way from the border where you can stay for 1,000 Baht a night.

When you come back to the border, go the 'Departure' window at the immigration building, and get stamped out. Walk back across the border to Thai Immigration, and fill out the form. There is no fee or passport photo needed for the 30-day Thai visa. Then walk back up to a parking lot on the left to get the van back to Trat. Vans leave every hour from 19:00 until 17:00 PM. If the van is not full, it may wait for awhile for more passengers.

On the way back to Trat, you will usually have to change vans at Klong Yai, which is the nearest town to the border on the Thai side. Don't worry about this, just change to the other van, but make sure you take all your bags and belongings with you. When you get back to Trat, the van will let you off on the main street. It's worth a shot to tell the driver that you want the bus to Pattaya. They may let you off there. At any rate, you need to get your bearings, and get back to the 'blue building' to catch the bus. There are also other bus ticket offices along the main street. These busses also go to Bangkok, but they do not stop in Pattaya.

While there probably is a schedule for buses back to Pattaya, but it is not known, and it is advisable to get to the bus before 15:00. If you get there late, there may be no more buses.

Pattaya visa run to Aranyaprathet -Poipet


Poipet is a bustling and crowded border crossing for goods and people. There are often long lines at both Thai and Cambodian immigration posts, and at peak times, you may have to wait in line for hours. There are also many pickpockets working the crowds. Be aware of who is around you, and watch your belongings at all times.