Hundreds of thousands of people do visa runs every year from Thailand to the border of a neighboring country like Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar. In fact, it’s so commonplace I’ve yet to meet a foreigner who lives in or travels frequently to Thailand that hasn’t done one. Something they do bi-weekly, monthly or every three months, depending on their visa, doing a visa run to Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia can be easy or fraught with problems. To make sure your next visa run is safe and problem-free, follow these quick tips on what to do and what not to do while on your visa run, and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Don’t Do Your Visa Run Alone – Some people do visa runs by themselves ie: not with an agency, but I know so many people who’ve had problems while alone and crossing the border into Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar, for an extra $7 (often the difference between paying an agent or paying all the costs yourself), I say go with an agent. On a visa run with an agency, they take care of everything. All you have to do is show up with your passport and a photo and get on the bu s.
Don’t Drink Beer on the Way – The visa run agency leaves for the border usually between 5am and 6am and they’ll make one stop along the way for snacks and a bathroom break. On every visa run I’ve done at least one, usually more, of the western men are standing outside the 7-11 where we’ve stopped, drinking a beer and nursing a cigarette. It’s 7am in the morning.
Consequently, by the time they arrive at the border and have to go through Thai immigration, they reek of booze and cigarettes and look markedly disheveled.
Appearance in Thailand is the most important thing there is. How you dress and how you smell (or preferably, how you don’t smell) can mean the difference between being treated well at the Thai border and being treated like a criminal. Remember, the people who work at Thai immigration can decide if you can leave Thailand and if you can come back. Being clean and not smelling of beer is a sign of respect. Save the drinking until you get back home in the early afternoon. Then you can drink as much as you like .
Don’t Argue Rudely or Shout – I’ve lost count of the number of westerners I’ve seen at Thai immigration, attempting to cross a border, and arguing rudely with the immigration official or, even worse, shouting.
In Thailand, being polite and calm is vital. Losing your temper means you’ve “lost face” and, in every Asian culture, when you do that, what you wanted to get is now pretty much impossible.
If there’s a problem with your passport, your visa or any of the paperwork you’ve been told to bring, ask calmly and politely how you can fix it and, of course……..smile.
I’ve only ever had one minor problem on a visa run and, because I was polite, friendly and cracking jokes with the immigration officer, my problem was solved in about three minutes, my passport stamped and I was on my way. There’s no need to shout. It won’t get you anywhere .
Don’t Smell and Dress Well – It might be 5am when the bus leaves for the airport, but at least have a shower and put some clean, ironed, conservative clothes on.
Thais judge you by the way you look, as do the Cambodians, Laotians or Burmese when you come back through to Thailand, so don’t smell and dress well. Honestly, that should be your motto .
Do What the Agency Tells You to Do – The visa run agencies go to the Thai borders every day and their employees really know their stuff. If they tell you to do something, go somewhere or sign a piece of paper, do it. They’re asking you for a good reason .
Don’t Have Drugs on Your Person – As obvious as this sounds, I once sat on a visa run bus across from a western guy who had just had a couple of tokes of marijuana while we stopped for a bathroom break.
Seriously, if you must do drugs (which in Thailand anyway is just about the stupidest thing you can do, as the Thais have extremely strict drug laws), don’t do them on a visa run where you’re going to be dealing with immigration officers and, yes, Thai police. Thais aren’t stupid. They can smell pot a mile off, just like I can. Leave it at home. Don’t be a wally.
Doing a visa run in Thailand is easy, quick and, often, quite fun. Just be polite, have a shower, dress well, follow the rules and do as you’re told. Honestly, what could be easier?
Photo copyright – Myanmar-Thailand border – photographer, suvajack, Creative Commons License