One of the joys (with joys being PC speak for “challenges”) of living in Thailand is the recurrent necessity of updating your visa. Previously the Thai government took a more casual approach to foreigners overstaying their visa terms or, frankly, not having a visa at all. To quote Bob Dylan: “the times they are a changin.”
In the interest of full disclosure first, let’s discuss why and when you would end up making that time-honoured “run for the border.” Thai Embassy.com outlines seven types of visas that will allow you to live in Thailand. A brief highlight of the options are;
- The Tourist Visa. This is the most common visa for foreigners to enter Thailand and will grant you a 30 or 60-day stay. Depending on your country of origin, it must be done before your arrival in Thailand or it can be obtained on arrival through a visa exemption or a visa on arrival. According to the website, it can be either a multiple or single entry, although in my experience it’s been a ‘one and done’ affair since whenever you leave the country, the 30-day “clock” is reset. The tourist visa can be extended for up to another 30 days by means of a local extension or a visa run.
- The Non-immigrant Visa. Generally, a single entry visa to Thailand is valid for 90 days which allows you to obtain a work-permit and open a bank account. Like the tourist visa, a visa run across the border is required for an extension.
- The One Year Non-immigrant Visa. This visa offers the flexibility of multiple entries to Thailand during the period of one year. The length of stay permitted is 90 days, however, so expect to visit your border “peeps”–aka immigration officials at the nearest border–every 90 days to have your visa stamped.
- The Marriage and Retirement Visas. If you’re the marrying kind or just all about smelling the roses, then there’s a marriage and retirement visa (respectively) just for you. Simply meet the special financial requirements, fall for the Thai of your dreams (ladies if you’re taller than 1.6 metres, good luck with that!), or be 50 or older and you’re set to apply for either the marriage or retirement visa. Please note that you will be applying for a non-immigrant visa initially that will later be converted to a marriage or retirement visa.
- The Business Visa. Additionally, if you’re the next startup genius with that billion dollar idea to crack the next Asian ‘unicorn’ bubble, then there’s a Non-immigrant Business Visa–which also requires a 90-day visa run–in your future.
- The Permanent Visa. This visa is only granted after an accumulation of consecutive yearly extensions of a Non-immigrant Visa.
As you no doubt deduced from perusing all the visa types, doing a visa run is a way of life if you’re living in Thailand and there is practically no way to escape the required run to a border. With Malaysia being the most accessible–and at times the most affordable–option, Kuala Lumpur (KL) has become one of the best “border hop” recourses.
The Accidental Tourist
Since this is a Content Castle blog I will assume you’ll be taking your mandatory vacation to KL from Koh Samui. If that is the case, things can become a bit tricky. There are several avenues to assist you in making your way to KL and depending on your budget, time-constraints and–in all honesty–your tolerance for discomfort, some may seem more feasible than others.
The simplest route would be to fly to KL. Of course, if it was that easy there would probably be no need for alternatives. The issue is, while being the most effortless option it can also inflict the most pain on your wallet. Thanks to the Samui Airport becoming a monopoly market for Bangkok Airways in September of 2018, ticket prices for the hour and 45 min flight from Samui to KL–both directly and via Bangkok–typically run around the $300 USD mark and up. To put this in perspective, my 15-hour transatlantic flight from the UK to Bangkok wasn’t even double that price, so budget accordingly if you intend to take that route.
There are other less expensive flight options (around $200 USD) that include taking a ferry ride from Koh Samui over to Surat Thani and flying out from there to KL (usually via Bangkok). Honestly, the amount you’ll save is minuscule compared to the hassle of getting up early to take the ferry out and/or having to stay overnight in Surat Thani–with the additional expense of accommodation–in order to catch the flight out.
There are other options for getting to KL besides flying if you have time on your hands and prefer a more scenic route. Taking the train or bus to KL after a ferry ride from Koh Samui to Surat Thani can be a welcome treat to your wallet–but probably not so much for your endurance. The trip by train ($45 to $115 USD) is a whopping 10 hrs–with two train changes, and 18 hrs with two transfers by bus ($35 to 40 USD). On the other hand, the scenery and cultural experience of travelling with locals may make it a once in a lifetime experience–well actually, twice in a lifetime if you count the return trip. Please note that new visa regulations (which will be discussed below) may make these options null and void.
KL in the House!
Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia and home to over 8 million residents, boasts a massive amount of traffic, shimmering skyscrapers, colonial architecture, and several attractions. KL’s renowned landmarks include the Petronas Twin Towers–the tallest twin skyscrapers in the world–the Petaling Street flea market, and Batu Caves–which are over 400 million years old. Its principal hub is called the Golden Triangle which comprises Bukit Bintang, KLCC and Chinatown.
Known as a shopper’s paradise, KL’s extensive shopping malls like Pavilion KL and Suria KLCC are part of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, hosting a wide range of designer labels from all over the world.
However, the main reason you will love your compulsory vacation in KL is, hands down, the food. The slew of gastronomic delights with thousands of restaurants, cafes, and street vendors serving up every conceivable type of delicacy will thrill you and ambush your waistline.
Living the KL Dream
Where to stay in KL should seem like a simple exercise of point-and-click on any accommodation booking website, but with so many options it can be more of a daunting task. The key to selecting the perfect accommodation is to determine what your activities in KL will be and the most convenient or affordable way to get to them. Although with the Go KL City Bus–a free service to the city’s most popular districts, train stations, shopping malls, and landmarks in buses equipped with free WiFi–that is not much of a consideration anymore. KL’s main hub is also easily and cost-effectively accessed through its railway (light rail and monorail transit) which can be taken from the airport.
Recommended areas to stay include KL Sentral, Bukit Bintang ($29 to $55/night USD) and KLCC ($9 to $25 USD/night). KL Sentral ($18 to $32 USD/night) offers numerous reasonable priced hotels, local and international eateries, and access to Malaysia’s largest rail transport hub while Bukit Bintang features extreme shopping, a variety of dining options and nearby public transportation. Landmarks such as Petronas Twin towers and Menara KL Tower are within walking distance in KLCC which also hosts more sophisticated (read: pricey) dining, arts, entertainment, nightlife, and shopping. Of course, if you prefer more swanky lodgings those are also available with the expected heftier price tag.
Get It Done!
The Kuala Lumpur Embassy, known for issuing the one year multiple-entry non-immigrant B visa also processes other types of visas (tourist, transit, re-entry, extension of stay, etc.). Visa applications are done at the Royal Thai Embassy on Monday to Friday during business hours. In most cases, the visa will be ready for collection on the next working day during afternoon hours. To ensure you have all necessary documents, contact email@example.com for verification since visa requirements may vary per country.
Thai immigration has recently adopted new regulations regarding overland entry. Foreigners entering Thailand via land at the Cambodian, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysian border posts without obtaining a prior visa in their home country will now only be granted two 30-day visa exemption stamps per calendar year, from January 1 to December 31.
However, this change only applies to visitors without a visa beforehand who are entering from the border by land. Airport arrivals without a prior visa will continue to receive a 30-day stamp up to 6 times per calendar year. Extension on Visa exemption stamps at local Thai Immigration offices remain at 30 days for a fee of 1,900 baht.
The new regulations will allow visitors to come to Thailand regularly without limiting their stay to a total of 90 days in a six-month period, contingent on them obtaining a 30 day Visa on Arrival at airports and a 15 day Visa on Arrival if they are travelling via land borders. However, immigration officials still advise foreigners to get visas prior to arrival in Thailand, as back-to-back short term visas are not the appropriate way to extend their stay in the country on a long-term basis.
It’s All About the Docs
In general, the documents you should be prepared to take with you to the embassy are:
- A Thailand Visa application form (you should download and complete it in advance)
- Your passport
- One signed copy of your passport photo page
- Two passport-sized photos taken within the last 6 months
- Printed, confirmed flight into Thailand
- Printed, confirmed flight out of Thailand
- Printed confirmation of accommodation for your entire stay in Thailand
- Thailand Visa Fees: 150 MYR (about $35 USD) or the baht equivalent. Have the exact amount since no change or refunds are given. USD is not accepted.
*Be sure to bring paper copies, not electronic documents. The above list is not optional so walk with everything on it.
As of February 6, 2019, online appointments for visa applications will be required. A web link for making an appointment will be available soon.
You can take the Metro to one of the stations–either Ampang Park or Damai–nearest to the Embassy. Depending on where you’re staying it will take between 20 and 50 min by MRT. Of course, you can opt for the more expensive taxi option.
The process typically takes 2 days but it’s a good idea to give yourself an extra day in case of delays or any faux pas.
While You Are Waiting
There are quite a few attractions reflecting the diversity of the city to keep you entertained while you are waiting for the visa process to be completed, from art and cultural events to temples, mosques, and modern amusements. You can also enjoy the many shopping and dining adventures available.
Despite its obligatory nature, a visa run can be a stress-free, pain-free, enjoyable experience if properly planned and executed. KL with its proximity, handy public transport system, budget accommodation, gastronomic delights, and convenient attractions make it an ideal border jaunt for one of Thailand’s best “farang” traditions.