As someone who has lived in Thailand for years and applied for and received a huge number of visas, I have lost count of the number of westerners who have asked me if it is possible for them to change their tourist visa into a non-immigrant B visa within Thailand, or will they be forced to leave the country to do so?
This usually happens when they have accepted a teaching job while in the country and want to apply for a work permit.
As the work permit requires a valid non-immigrant B visa stamped into their passport before it can be fully processed, they have usually been told by the school they will be working at that they must leave the country in order to get one.
That means traveling to a neighboring country like Malaysia or Laos and applying for a non-immigrant B visa at the Thai consulate there. A huge outlay for travel costs and a hotel room, as well as a mandatory at least three days stay outside Thailand.
Are schools telling the truth, though, when it comes to needing to leave Thailand to apply for a non-immigrant B visa? Or is it possible to convert a tourist visa into a non-immigrant B visa within Thailand if you have the correct paperwork to do so?
How to convert a tourist visa into a non-immigrant B within Thailand – Let me start by saying I can absolutely guarantee it is possible to have your tourist visa converted into a non-immigrant B visa at an immigration office in Thailand. I know because I have done it. Twice.
That being said, it is not as easy as it may sound, but with the correct paperwork, the applicable fee and, as always in Thailand, a big smile on your face when you arrive at immigration, just about anything is possible.
You must, however, still have at least 21-30 days left on your tourist visa in most circumstances as, if you don’t, Thai immigration will usually tell you there isn’t enough time to process your application.
Apply for a work permit first – Although this might sound a little backwards, if you do want to convert your tourist visa to a non-immigrant B visa, you must first apply for a work permit at the labor office in your area of Bangkok or, if outside Bangkok, in your area of Thailand.
This application will require a packet of information from the school or university you will be working for and, without it, the labor office will not process it any further.
If the school isn’t willing to get your paperwork ready in time then, yes, unfortunately you will have to leave the country and get your non-immigrant B visa at the Thai embassy or consulate in Laos, Cambodia or Malaysia instead.
What you will need for a non-immigrant B visa – Once your application for a work permit has been accepted at the labor office, they will give you a form that you must then submit with the rest of your application paperwork for your non-immigrant B at the Thai immigration bureau.
Your application paperwork should include everything that is mentioned on the Ventiane, Laos embassy website and, if it doesn’t, you will be turned away until you your application package documentation is complete.
You will also have to submit a copy of the Application for Visa form (form number TM87), a copy of which can be downloaded here, as well as pay a fee of 2,000 baht or approximately $65.
Once all of this paperwork has been handed in and certified to be correct, you will be given a receipt and told when to return to pick up your non-immigrant B visa. My last one took just four days, so it is often not very long.
Finally, once you have picked up your non-immigrant B visa, you can then pick up your work permit once that is ready, and you are now ready to start working in Thailand. Legally.