The matter of visas take the most time and research for those planning a mid to long term stay in Thailand.
First of all, if you want to vacation in Thailand for less than 30 days, have a passport valid for at least six months issued by one of the countries on this list (US and UK are on it) and a ticket to leave the country (within 30 days from the date of arrival), then you won’t need a visa.
If instead you want to stay longer, you first need to understand why you need a Thai visa and what type of visa you need to apply for.
Why you need a Thai visa
Just as in (almost!) all Asian countries, in Thailand too you need a visa for longer stays. The purpose is to allow you to stay in the country legally so as to also allow the Thai government to monitor those staying in their territory.
No foreigner, unless at least one parent is a Thai national, can ever apply for citizenship and a Thai passport, for any reason – not even in the case of marriage!
Citizens of the land of smiles are characterized by a protectionist culture, not only regarding acquiring citizenship, but also concerning owning land and other goods.
By law, in fact, no portion of territory within the borders of Thailand may ever belong to a foreigner. This law has more than a little effect on the real estate market: as a foreigner, you can buy a house, but not the land it is built on.
Types of visas and necessary requirements
There are five types of visas, each of which refers to a specific situation.
Tourist visa for Thailand
The least complicated visa to get (and also the cheapest), is the Tourist Visa. The tourist visa is divided in turn into 3 categories:
30 day tourist visa (Visa on Arrival)
This type of visa last for 4 weeks: if you arrive on Friday your visa will last until the four Fridays later.
This is the best type of visa for those intending to stay in Thailand, usually on vacation.
With an Italian passport, the tourist visa is easily obtained directly at the airport in Bangkok, for free. Unlike other types of visas, they are issued directly on Thai soil upon landing in any airport in the country.
If after a 30 day stay you decide to extend your vacation, by going to one of the various immigration offices found in the major cities, you can extend the validity of your visa for another 30 days, paying 1,900 THB.
A really important thing to keep in mind is that no visa (obviously excluding the Business Visa, of which I’ll speak later on), but especially not a tourist visa, will allow you to work on Thai soil; an activity that is even considered illegal and punishable by a fine, prison, and deportation with a prohibition to re-enter the country for very many years.
Tourist visa valid for 90 days (with maximum stay of 60 days during the first entry in the country)
This type of authorization can be obtained in any Thai foreign embassy. It isn’t possible to get this type of visa on Thai soil. If you really need it, I recommend that you leave Thailand and go to one of the Thai embassies in one of the surrounding countries, such as Laos.
One of the peculiarities is in the fact that the visa you’ll be issued is valid for 60 days, after which you are can get an extension for other 30 days.
With the death of the Thai king in the autumn of 2016, the kingdom suffered a drastic drop in tourists, who, frightened by the cancellation of events and closure of tourist activities, cancelled their flights and hotel bookings. To give incentive for people to return to the land of smiles, the Thai government in December 2016 decided to offer tourist visas for free.
Tourist visa valid for 180 days (with maximum stay of 60 days for each entry)
Apparently this is the most difficult visa to get, among tourist visas. Its issue is at the discretion of the embassy itself, but theoretically if you have all your documents in order, it usually shouldn’t be too complicated to get one.
The procedure for getting one is similar to the 60 days visa, this means that after paying for the initial visa which will allow you to stay on Thai soil for 180 months, every 60 days you’ll have to leave the country to then re-enter, and so on.
Student visas for Thailand (Non Immigrant Visa – ED)
Here you’ll find our article dedicated to student visas in Thailand.
Summary: the student visa is issued to those who intend to come to Thailand to study, whether at a university or a school to learn Thai.
The difference between these two types of students are minimal; the visas issued by a university last for a year without any type of extension, its cost is cheaper than those who want to attend a Thai school, who are obligated to pay 1,900 THB every 2 months to renew their visa.
Another possibility (much more expensive), is to enroll in a school of Thai martial arts, the so-called Muai Thai School. This category of institutes also offers visas from 6 to 12 months, with the obligation of renewal every 2 months.
If you’d like to come to Thailand for volunteer activity, an internship, or to meet up with your wife or husband, you’ll be required to apply for a specific visa, classified under the category Non Immigrant ED.
Retirement visas for Thailand (Non Immigrant Visa – O)
As the name says, this type of visa is for those who are retired. The Thailand government considers retired those over an age of 50 years. The visa is good for a year.
On the list of O category visas, there are also visas for those who come to Thailand for medical reasons, such as plastic surgery, something quite popular in Bangkok’s international hospitals.
Work visa for Thailand (Non Immigrant – B – Business Visa)
This is one of the most difficult visas to get.
Let’s start by saying that this is the only type of visa that allows you to legally work in Thailand.
Despite the conflicting opinions going around the Web, only with a work visa can you carry on a for-profit business in Thai territory, it doesn’t matter whether you work part-time, from home, or as a volunteer, you’ll need a “business visa”.
But why is it the most difficult visa to get?
There are many reasons:
- First of all you need to be aware that if you want to move to work (legally) in Thailand, you need to be considered a person that can bring a skill to the country that is not found among the Thai people. This means that a company will hire and sponsor your work visa (spending quite a bit of money) only if you can bring an added value not found in other Thai candidates. This is one of the reasons why the majority of foreigners in Thailand teach English.
- Another important characteristic is the fact that many types of work are forbidden for foreigners, to protect local workers. Some examples are working as an architect, clerk, waiter, hairdresser, and many other jobs. Here you’ll find an exhaustive list.
Besides the innumerable documents that a person deciding to open a business in Thailand will have to provide to the immigration office to get a work visa (including photos of all hired staff, with official uniforms and intent to carry out the duties for which they’re being paid), the main problem is in finding a Thai partner to go into business with you.
In fact, according to the law, no foreigner can possess more than 49% of a for-profit business inside the kingdom. This means that if you want to open up a restaurant for example, not only do you have to find a Thai partner that owns 51% of your business, but also four employees with a Thai passport for every foreigner you hire. If therefore you decide to open a business with your Italian friend or relative, the minimum number of Thai employees you’ll have to hire and pay dues for, is eight people.
Permanent Resident Visa
The last option is the so-called Permanent Resident Visa, or a visa for those seeking permanent residence.
This type of visa is issued to those who have lived for 3 consecutive years in Thailand, carrying an annual visa (usually a work or retirement visa). Another criteria to respect is a minimum monthly salary of 30,000 THB if you’re married to a Thai national for at least 5 years, or 80,000 THB.
How long does it take to get a Thai visa?
The timeline for getting a visa is rather short. If there’s no snag within one or two weeks, your visa will be ready for use within 3 months time. After 3 months the visa becomes unusable and you’ll have to apply for a new one.
How much does a Thai visa cost?
The cost depends on the type of visa you apply for.
Starting from the least expensive, there’s the 30 day tourist visa, which is free; which have to request a tourist visa in one of the Thai embassies (before arriving in Thailand), to get a 30 day tourist visa.
A 60 days tourist visa costs 40 USD.
Student visas cost 80 USD, with an obligatory extension every 2 months of 1,900 THB, for a total of about 300 USD a year. If you decide to attend a university, the visa will only have the initial cost of 1,900 THB, without needing to extend it every 2 months and without having to leave the country at the end of the first year.
A retirement visa costs 80 USD, and gives those over 50 years old the possibility to leave and enter Thailand without needing to pay 1,900 THB each time.
The price of a business visa is 80 USD for three months, with the usual renewal cost of 1,900 THB.
Where do I apply for a Thai visa?
Visas are issued exclusively at Thai embassies and consulates (if you’re abroad) or from the immigration office (if you’re already in Thailand and looking to renew your visa). You can search for the embassy or consulate closest to you in this webpage.
Concerning US in particular, the Thai embassy is located in Washington, while various consulates are spread around the country: Boston, Chicago, L.A. and New York.
What documents are necessary?
Depending on the type of visa you apply for, you’ll be asked to attach different documents (more or less the same for all visas), besides the classic form with you personal information.
In particular, you’ll have to provide a passport valid for at least 6 months, a photocopy of it, 2 passport photos, your flight itinerary (not the ticket) and a confirmed hotel reservation.
Besides these documents, you’re required to show proof of enough financial means to cover your entire stay in the country. Specifically, you’ll be required to show a minimum of 700 USD for a 60 days tourist visa, retirement visa and student visa, or 25,000 USD for a yearly retirement visa.
The list of documents grows if we look closer at student visas, work visas, and even those for retirees.
For the student visa for example, you’ll be asked for an official letter from the school you’re enrolled in, your certificate showing your status as a student and your weekly schedule of classes you’re participating in.
For work visas it is necessary to show documentation issued from your employer that attests that you’re working for them for a certain time and also your yearly salary.
For those over 50 years old you’ll be required to present a health certificate showing that you are in good health and your criminal history that certifies that the person applying for the visa has not been accused of a crime.
How to apply for a multiple entry visa
Something to important to add is that student, work and even retirement visas offer two choices upon being issued.
The first is to apply for a single entry visa, this means that your visa will last a full year (with renewal every 2-3 months, depending on the visa, without leaving the country). If however you wish to leave Thailand for any reason, you’ll have to apply for a visa that allows you to leave without your annual visa being annulled.
The single entry visa is convenient for those who are already traveling or foresee not leaving the borders of Thailand more than four times a year.
For what reason? The simple reason is that you can also get a multiple entry visa. In this case the initial cost for the visa will be higher, but you’ll be allowed to travel without limit outside the country without paying anything extra or needing to apply for another entrance visa.
The cost for this visa is 3,800 THB a year (or 200 USD), so if we calculate the cost of an entrance visa at 1,000 THB each time, we see that you can recover the cost of a multiple entry visa starting with the fourth time onward.
It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation; to keep your visa you have to pay to get one that allows you to leave without your initial visa being annulled!
This type of “permission” can be obtained both with immigration offices in the various cities, and directly at the airports. The cost is 1,000 THB an exit, but if you decided to get a multiple one, you can do so for a sum of 3,800 THB.
Besides payment you’ll be asked to fill out a form called TM8, attach 2 passport-size photos and also a copy of your passport.
How to extend your visa and the 90 days report
For everyone residing in Thailand for more than 90 interrupted days, you’re required to fill out a 90 days report. This form is nothing more than a declaration of your address in the country. Whether you change your address or not, every 3 months you must report (with a penalty of 500 THB for every day you’re late) at the immigration office in the city in which you are staying, and hand over your passport and required form.
On the official page of the Bangkok immigration office you can find all the various documents to print and fill out. Note that the visa may also be extended in other cities, not only in Bangkok.
Unlike a visa, the 90 days report is free.
Once you first arrive in Thailand, and report at the immigration office after the customary 3 months to renew your visa, a small sheet of paper will be attached to your passport, on which will be written that within 90 days you’ll have to report again to the immigration office to notify them of your stay in the country.
If instead you leave the borders of Thailand within 90 days, it isn’t necessary to notify them of your home address, but the count of 90 days starts when you re-enter Thailand, regardless of what is written on your card.
If for example you enter Thailand on October 7th, renew your visa January 7th, and your 90 days report is set for April 7th, but on April 6th you leave Thailand and return July 12th, then the start of your 90 days report will automatically be postponed (by you yourself) to July 12th and no longer April 7th.
What happens if I stay in Thailand after my visa expires?
Immigration laws in Thailand are becoming increasingly severe, especially when the military took power in 2014, and the death of the king in winter of 2016. I recommend that you review which visa suits you best and strictly respect the rules imposed by the Thai government, especially regarding laws against illegal employment (very widespread), and failing to renew a visa or 90 days report.
In the majority of cases, when failing to show for the 90 days report you’ll simply be asked to pay a sum that won’t exceed 5,000 THB on the spot.
The failure to renew a visa is different. Once you leave the country and pass through an immigration office whether at the airport or on land, your passport will be checked and your stay without a visa could cost you the payment of a fine, imprisonment, and even deportation with the prohibition to enter the country for 5 years or more.