Before I moved to Bangkok, Thailand I’d never heard of a ‘visa run’ but, after my first three months in the country I, like many of my fellow expats, had to do my first visa run. An annoying part of life for any foreigner living or traveling in Thailand for more than a few weeks, the dreaded visa run is a fact of life you have to get used to and must remember to do every time one is due. But, for the uninitiated, what is a visa run and how do you actually do one?
What is a Visa Run? – A visa run requires traveling to a neighboring country from Thailand via land to either activate an existing travel visa in your passport, or to get a new one if yours is due to expire.
Any foreigner who travels to Thailand is given a 15-day stamp if they arrive at a land border, a 30-day stamp when they arrive at the airport, or one of a variety of visas allowing them to spend up to 90 days in the country. But, when their 30 or 90 days are up, they must leave Thailand to get another visa and that’s where the visa run (also known as a ‘border run’) comes in.
All a visa run means is you leave Thailand by crossing the border of a neighboring country. Once across the border, you turn around and come right back. You’re given another 15 day stamp at the border or have a second part of your existing visa activated for another 90 days, and you’re allowed back into Thailand immediately, until your new visa expires. Then you travel back to the border and do it all over again.
How to Do a Visa Run – There are two ways to do a visa run, by yourself or with an agency.
Doing a Visa Run by Yourself
Doing a visa run by yourself requires taking a public bus or boat from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chiang Rai – wherever in Thailand you might be living – to the border of a neighboring country and crossing yourself. Once across, you will turn around and come back, dealing with immigration agents and visa payments alone.
Some westerners do the visa run alone as they swear it saves money. But, from the few people I know who have done it, not only did it only save them around 200 baht ($7), the time it took them to find the correct buses, boats, arrive in the right spot, get through immigration by themselves, deal with any border problems alone etc. and, for the savings of $7, it really isn’t worth it.
Don’t forget too, if you do a visa run alone and have a problem at the Cambodian, Laos or Malaysian border, as you’re by yourself, if the problem is serious enough, you could get stuck on the other side.
This is why, if I’ve had to do a visa run, I’ve always done them through an agency and they’ve always been problem-free.
Doing a Visa Run with an Agency
Doing a visa run with an agency is a breeze. You show up at a designated point (usually early in the morning, 5am or 6am), pay the agency your fee (around 2,000 baht or $66.50 from Bangkok and more expensive from Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui etc) and then climb into a mini van or bus with a group of other expats also doing a visa run. The agency takes you to the closest Thai border, with a stop along the way for a snack or a bathroom break. Once at the border, you go through Thai immigration and cross the border where the agent is waiting for your group to take you to a local restaurant or casino for a meal.
While you’re eating, the agent takes your passports and gets a Cambodian visa put in them (this service is all perfectly legal and above board – you’re basically just paying someone to do what you’d have to do yourself and with a lot less hassle). As they do this daily and know everyone at the border, it rarely takes more than an hour. Then they pick you up at the casino or restaurant, drop you off at immigration, give you your passport and you walk back across to Thailand.
Back on the bus, another stop for a snack and a bathroom break and you’re back in the Thai town you’re staying in by early afternoon. The 2,000 baht fee pays for all transportation costs, the cost of the Cambodian visa, and lunch.
I normally do a visa run with a company called Jack Golf. We leave Bangkok at 5am, arrive at the Cambodian border at around 10am where everything is processed while I eat my lunch and then I’m back on the bus and heading back to Bangkok. Arrival back in the city is between 1:30pm and 2pm and, with that quick trip, I’m legally allowed to stay in Thailand for another three months,
Every major Thai town has visa run services. Just check on the internet for what’s on offer and for reviews from expats who’ve used their services before.
In Bangkok, I recommend Jack Golf. They’ve been in business for more than a decade and are professional, courteous and friendly and, in around 10 visa runs over the years, I’ve never once had a problem with them and neither has any one else on my visa run bus.
Photo – Thailand-Cambodia border, where you’ll do a visa run from Bangkok – copyright Viajar24h.com – Creative Commons License