Border runs are quite common in Thailand. It is not unusual to come across expats who keep their visa ticking by jumping across the border or booking a cheap €20 flight with Air Asia (check Trip.com and Kiwi.com) to one of the many neighbouring countries, all to avoid the daunting visa process, costs and possible deportation.
For the visiting tourist, the majority of countries, especially Europeans, are entitled to 90 days in Thailand, starting with 30 days on arrival. This is under the Tourist Visa Extension Scheme, and if your country doesn’t show up on this list – you may have to pay for a visa on arrival – so always triple check.
This PDF will give you an idea of what visa relationship your country and Thailand has (updated as of 2018) – click on over here for the full list.
Table of Contents
Thailand Visa Explained:
Of course we stupidly neglected to research and ensure that we would receive our entitled 90 day visa when flying into Thailand, and so as we landed in Bangkok, the sound of the stamp! stamp! was met with confused looks as we dumbfoundedly noticed our 30 day stamp, not 90 days.
Broken Thai verses broken English conﬁrmed that to receive another 30 days we would have to renew our visa at the many immigration oﬃces scattered across the country, from Phuket to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi to Chiang Mai.
To reduce the amount of trips you might have to make to immigration, prior to your arrival to Thailand, you can apply for a 60 day visa. And if you wish to extend your Thailand visa for another 30 days, you will have to make a trip to immigration to do this.
Note: You cannot apply for a 60 day tourist visa in Thailand, only outside of Thailand at a Thai embassy.
So, in a nutshell… (for Europeans and especially UK, Irish passport holders)
- Free 30 day Thailand visa on arrival for some countries
- Can extend a total of two times without leaving Thailand but at a cost
- Must leave Thailand when you reach 90 days
- Can apply for 60 days BEFORE arriving to Thailand
- And can extend that 60 day visa one more time for another 30 days but at a cost.
Thailand Visa Costs:
For us, visiting an immigration oﬃce meant forking out the 1,980BHT (€54) fee for an additional 30 days. So it would have cost us, and the majority of Europeans, €108 to spend 3 months in Thailand, that is with two separate immigration visits.
However, to bag the same 30 day Thailand visa for half the price, 960BHT (€26) the easiest way was to head towards the nearest border to us, Myanmar.
Thailand Border Runs Explained:
The reason why so many people do these border runs is because it entitles you a fresh new Thailand visa to which you can extend at immigration in Thailand.
For example, we arrive in Thailand and receive 30 days. We visit Thai immigration twice and reach our full 90 day entitlement; to stay for longer we would then do a border run which allows us a fresh new visa and 30 days that we can then revisit Thai immigration two times until we reach that visa’s 90 day. Meaning we have spent 6 months in Thailand.
We have met people who have been living in Thailand for years and have been able to stay legally due to border runs and visa extensions – no, technically you are not allowed to legally work on these visas but again, we have met many people who have secured jobs despite it being illegal.
There are a number of locations around Thailand where you can successfully do a border run. We have only done a border run into Myanmar and so will share how we did that but until then, here are your options and possible costs (all costs are subject to change since Thailand does frequently change their visa entry requirements).
Something to remember regarding OVERLAND border runs is that you are only allowed to attempt two border runs within one calendar year. Yep, that means that even if you were to leave Thailand and return months later with a wish to do a border run, you can’t – two in total within one year only.
However, should you want to fly in and out of Thailand to receive a fresh 30 day Thailand visa you can, easily. And as many times as you like, so keep an eye out for cheap flights to neighbouring countries. We would suggest weighing up costs and trying to secure cheap return flights into Malaysia as you do not have to pay for a visa into Malaysia (always check your country but Europeans are OK) whereas you will have to pay for a visa for Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia (in addition to flights).
Border Run Options:
Based on our own experiences travelling Thailand, we wanted to include as many overland border options as possible but with a breakdown of costs (up to date as of November 2018) to make sure that it is worthwhile. We will start from north to south, which includes a little piece on how we successfully completed two overland border runs to Myanmar.
#1 Thai Visa Run To Laos:
From north east of the country a simple jump across to Laos will suﬃce, although bear in mind that you will need to factor in Laos visa costs (€30) as well as any added transport costs to and from the border. Calculate it and see if it is worthwhile.
In our experience, we paid €15 to travel from Chiang Mai to the Laos border (one way) so take all these costs into consideration if you have yet to visit the Thai immigration office.
If you are in need of the Thai embassy, you will need to continue onto Vientiane, just take the local bus from the border straight into the city. Ignore the taxis and vans and head for the bus stop across the road. On the right hand side, next to the market stalls you should hop the #14 bus or a Songthaew for 8000 kip (€0.80) or 40 Baht (€1).
- $35 (or 1,500BHT but to pay in dollars works out cheaper because of the exchange rate), make sure that, should you change to dollars, that all the notes are PRISTINE as in no rips or creases. The Laos border officials are super strict on this and will refuse a note with the slightest imperfection.
- 1 x passport photo (although they might not even take it but handy to have)
- Pen, seems silly but make life easier for yourself and bring a pen to fill out the visa card.
If this is the border run for you and you are now in need of a detailed travel guide on how to cross the border from Chiang Mai to Laos via public transport, click here.
#2 Thai Visa Run To Cambodia:
This is a popular border run and has calmed down over the years from its reputation and nickname Scambodia. The main issue with this border run was the Cambodian border officials who enjoyed squeezing the naïve and intimidated border-running tourist for an extra few bob, as well as the ready scam artists who promised transport, assistance with visas, the sun, moons and stars.
While such instances do still occur – it isn’t as terrifying as it once was, just be sure to ignore all the touts and false promises of an easier border crossing or help with a visa. The main thing to remember is to trust no one and do your research beforehand so you are confident you know what you are doing here.
We haven’t done this border crossing so we have no guide for you but what we do know is that you will need to take the bus from either the Mo Chit Terminal (Northern Bus Terminal) in Bangkok or the Ekamai Terminal (Eastern Bus Terminal) to the border town Aranyaprathet.
There are a lot of companies that run both bus and minivan services throughout the day from both stations. Prices vary depending but start around 200 BAHT-250 BAHT (€5- €7). The advice we were given was to make sure that you specify to the driver that you want to reach the actual border (mention Rong Kluea). This way you won’t be dropped off at the Aranyaprathet bus terminal.
If you need to hit up a Thai embassy, look into the full border run service from Bangkok as it may prevent a headache. You will need to continue onto Siem Reap from the border and to do this may cause a nuisance from taxis and tuk tuks. Check the train times and maybe look at sharing a tuk tuk to the station which is around 6 km from the border. You could also look at flagging down a coach or bus.
We did this when crossing from Vietnam into Cambodia. We literally stood at the main road and waved down some buses and haggled for a price there and then with the bus driver, so we think this could be a good option.
- $30 (or 970BHT) but to pay in dollars is better as Cambodia prefers this currency. They may even try to charge you more and to be honest, if doing a border run it would benefit you to just slip them the extra $5 (making the visa cost $35 in total) so they don’t ask questions.
- 2 x passport photos
- Pen, for obvious reasons!
#3 Visa Run To Malaysia:
If you are nearer to the south of Thailand then a border run to Malaysia will be your best bet. You can easily travel from Bangkok to the Malaysia-near border town – Hat Yai – but we suggest booking an overnight bus as it will take around 12 hours to reach Hat Yai. Trains also run south but are slower and more expensive than the bus. Buses leave Bangkok from the Southern Bus Terminal starting around 650BHT (€16).
When you reach HatYai you will need to take a minivan to immigration also known as Pedang Besar. The minivan services start 6am until 8pm and cost 50BHT (€1.40). It takes a half an hour and you can buy tickets from Window #43.
If you need a Thai embassy you could take the local bus from the roundabout after you pass through the Malaysian border to Kangar for 5 MYR (€0.30) where you will then need to transfer to a bus heading to Buttersworth. Alternatively you could take the train since the train station is located to the right of the Malaysian border and speed on down to Buttersworth or Kuala Lumpur.
#4 Thai Visa Run To Myanmar:
When it comes to Myanmar, border runs are more of a business and you need to research your point of entry to ensure they allow it at that particular crossing. This is all down to the fact that Myanmar doesn’t allow tourist entry visas on arrival, only e-visas, but thankfully for us the Thai guys saw an opportunity in making a few bob and offering a visa run service.
A border run to Myanmar, however, is cheaper than one to Laos and Cambodia due to the fact that it is a “DIY” service and the transport costs are nice and low. We did two border runs from Thailand to Myanmar via the Phu Nam Ron border crossing near Kanchanaburi – the starting point for this border crossing.
Step 1: Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
From Bangkok you will need to take a bus from the Southern bus terminal to Kanchanaburi, 3.5 hours west of the Ban Phu Nam Ron Thailand-Myanmar border. Buses (and minivans) run every half hour charging 150BHT (€4).
Step 2: Kanchanaburi to Phu Nam Ron Border
There are a number of bus services that run from Kanchanaburi to Phu Nam Ron, and onto Dawei in Myanmar (for those interested!). The larger buses (with no aircon) leave at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm and 5pm.
The smaller minivans (with aircon) leave from the main Kanchanaburi bus terminal at 9am, 11am and 12pm. Although these are the advertised times, we noticed there were even more buses running, so we’re thinking there is one every hour – check the B7 gate.
We recommend catching an early bus, the latest bus being 2pm as the last returning bus leaves the border back to Kanchanaburi at 5pm. So do leave yourself some contingency time. The journey is 1.5 hours and both the bus or minivan cost 50 BHT (€1.40). The border run itself will take max one hour, if even.
Step 3: Phu Nam Ron Border
From the Phu Nam Ron bus terminal, exit and follow signs that point right. About 100 metres before the closed barriers (next to the cafe/restaurant) there is a small white box oﬃce on the left hand side. Here is where you will need to ask for assistance with visas.
Hand over your passport, 960BHT (€26) and then sign the slip as required. They will ask you to include an address in Thailand, just write your hostel address, so do have that handy. The kind ladies will then hand you your new visa entry card.
Next, a gentleman will guide you towards the Thailand – Myanmar immigration oﬃce where you will receive an exit stamp. Flash the passport, visa slip and pose for a photo.
The first time we did this, the same gentleman took our passports and basically did the run for us i.e. entering and exiting Myanmar. He brought us to a small seated area and here is where we waited for about 30 minutes, so don’t panic, he will return with your passport.
The second time we went, he brought us with him. We jumped in his van and drove to Myanmar not once exiting the car. So it may just depend on the day and his mood.
When he (or you!) returns, you will have two Myanmar stamps. To finish up, you need to cross the road and stamp back into Thailand. Again flash the passport, stamp, pose and boom – fresh 30 days.
Note that at this border you cannot continue on to a Thai embassy unless you have already arranged a visa as Myanmar does not offer tourists visa on arrival (at the moment anyway!) This border is purely for a border run only.
- Address in Thailand (just use your hostel address!).
Step 5: Back to Kanchanaburi and/or Bangkok
Head back to the bus station and jump a bus back to Kanchanaburi and onto Bangkok. Unless you plan to visit Kanchanaburi that is, something we deﬁnitely recommend. It is such an intriguing little city with plenty of natural parks, hot springs, waterfalls, and of course the famous River Kwai, Death Railway and World War II museum. You can read more on our blog here.
Buses back to Bangkok leave Kanchanaburi bus terminal every 20 minutes from 4am to 8pm with fares costing either 110BHT (€ 2.70) or 120BHT (€3.30), again depending on what bus/minivan and time. There are services to all Bangkok bus stations, South Terminal, Victory Monument and the Northern Bus Terminal.
You can also catch buses to Chiang Mai from Kanchanaburi at 9am, 6pm and 7pm. It takes 11 hours and, depending on seats and times, costs 594BHT (€16) or 820BHT (€22).
And there you have it!
We wish you a smooth Thailand visa renewal, a safe and speedy border run and hope you enjoy another month in the land of the smiles! Also, we are well aware that border rules and regulations are constantly changing and so if you have attempted any of the above and have other information to add – we would really appreciate your help in keeping this blog up to date.
Any questions, just drop us a comment or shoot us an email!