An important question many tourists to Thailand ask about tourist visas is “How many back-to-back tourist visas am I allowed to get?” A back-to-back, or consecutive, tourist visa is just as it sounds. You apply for one tourist visa to Thailand and use it, staying in the country for the allowed three to six months. When the visa finally expires, you leave the country and go to a second country for a couple of days to apply for a second tourist visas at a Thai consulate, so you can spend longer in Thailand. Hundreds of thousands of people apply for back-to-back tourist visas in Thai consulates and embassies all over the world. But, in reality, how many back-to-back tourist visas does Thailand actually allow you to have?
What Technically Classifies a Tourist Visa as a Back-to-Back Visa? – For many Thai consulates and embassies (not all, and this is where it gets sticky), a back-to-back tourist visas means there are hardly any days in between you using one tourist visa in Thailand and applying for a second one outside the country after the first has expired. If however you apply for a tourist visa, use it, leave Thailand and reapply for another tourist visa two or three months later, most Thai embassies and consulates do not classify this is a back-to-back tourist visa, so there’s rarely a problem getting one.
Why Are Thai Authorities Concerned About Back-to-Back Tourist Visas? – For many years, foreigners in Thailand who work illegally as they either can’t get a work permit for the job they’re doing or don’t want one, have been using back-to-back tourist visas as a means of legally remaining in Thailand.
About three years ago, Thai authorities decided to put a stop to this and back-to-back tourist visas became much more difficult to get. Whereas before, your passport could have 10 back-to-back tourist visas in it (allowing you to stay in Thailand as a ‘tourist’ for up to three to almost six years), the Thai government rightfully decided most people doing this were likely not ‘tourists’ and a crack-down began on back-to-back tourist visa applicants.
How Many Back-to-Back Tourist Visas Are You Legally Allowed? – Although there have never been any legal rules actually set down on paper, there are ‘perceived rules’ many of Thailand’s embassies and consulates seem to live by. Unfortunately, the ‘perceived rules’ vary by Thai embassy or consulate, depending on which country you’re in.
At the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Thai Consulate early in the year, I asked one of the visa officials how many back-to-back visas someone was allowed to have. She told me, under the KL consulates’ rules, only three back-to-back visas will be issued from the KL consulate, giving you up to 9 months travel in Thailand. After that, I was told, if someone wanted to stay longer in Thailand, as long as it was only for tourist purposes, they were advised to go to another Thai consulate in Indonesia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. to apply for a fourth tourist visa.
Once they did this and received a fourth visa, after that expired, they were welcome to come back to KL for another one. Odd, I know.
But, at other Thai consulates, such as the one in Penang, Malaysia, they are very strict and more often than not turn away people who are applying for only their second tourist visa ie: first back-to-back one.
In Europe, Australia, Canada and the US though, if you can travel that far, most consulates and embassies are lenient, and seem to give you as many back-to-back tourist visas as you ask for with hardly any questions asked. My guess is that’s because you’re more likely to look like a legitimate tourist if you’re traveling all the way back to one of these countries to apply for another visa, rather than an out-of-money backpacker who can only afford to take the bus to neighboring Malaysia.
How to Ensure You’re Approved For a Back-to-Back Tourist Visa – On the Thai immigration website and at various Thai consulates, you’ll find information telling you what documentation may be asked for if you apply for a tourist visa. Although I’ve never been asked for any of it, other than a photo, my passport and a photocopy of my passport, when I did apply for two back-to-back tourist visas two years ago, I made sure I took all the paperwork with me, so I could prove I was a tourist and not working in Thailand.
Paperwork includes proof of a flight out of Thailand within the three month tourist visa you’re applying for, and proof of funds coming from outside Thailand (ie: proof you’re not making money in Thailand and are living off money from overseas). I bought a second flight on Air Asia from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and also took photocopies of my bank account ATM withdrawals over the last few months, showing I was regularly withdrawing 100,000 baht ($3,000) or more every month from my US bank account, so obviously I wasn’t working.
Don’t be too worried when you apply for a back-to-back tourist visa, Thailand really doesn’t want to decline you as they love tourists and, of course, want your tourist money. All they’re trying to do is stop the people working here illegally from continuing to do so and you can’t blame them for that. Really.
Photo – Sunset over the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, just one of the millions of sights you can experience with back-to-back tourist visas – copyright mckay savage, Creative Commons License