The Ups and the Downs: All About Thai Visa Exemptions

Spend one week in Thailand and you’ll want to stay for a year. There’s always heaps more to see and do, and the combination of cold beer & hot sunsets can prove addictive! One thing to bear in mind though is that you’re going to need to come into the country legally, and that means either getting a visa or taking advantage of Thai visa exemptions.

Thai visa exemptions are a great alternative to doing a visa run to Cambodia if you want to stay in Thailand just a little bit extra rather than taking a 1 day trip. Why leave the country when you don’t need to?!

Here we take a look at the pros and cons of visa exemptions, and when you could choose to use them.

What are Thai visa exemptions?

Thailand wants you to visit! That’s why they’ve drawn up a list of 55 countries whose residents don’t need a visa to enter. Turn up at the airport with a passport from one of these countries, and you’ll get a free stamp in your passport showing that you can stay for 30 days. This isn’t an evisa or a visa on arrival; no money changes hands and there is no application process.

Sounds great, right? And it is! There shouldn’t be much of a queue to get the stamp, and you can get an exemption at land borders as well as at airports meaning it’s easy to travel overland from countries like Malaysia or Laos.

If your name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in…

So which countries score this travel perk? We won’t go through all 55 but the list includes the United States, the UK, Australia, Canada, most of Europe and most of South-East Asia. You can check the up-to-date list here: Don’t panic if your country isn’t on the list though, you can probably still apply for a tourist visa so you won’t miss out on all the fun.

getting a Thai visa exemption in Bangkok

The Pros of Thai Visa Exemptions

As we’ve already mentioned, visa exemption is great because you don’t have to spend time filling in forms or traveling to embassies before your trip, and best of all it’s free! Gone are the days of having to give away your passport for a few days to get a visa stamped into it, potentially causing problems with other parts of your trip. The queues at immigration have decreased significantly as a result and it makes for a very straightforward entry into the country.

The Cons of Thai Visa Exemptions

As with everything in life, there are two sides to every story so it’s important to understand the limitations of the visa exemption system. If you’re coming for a single trip and leaving within 30 days then great, but if you’re planning on entering Thailand multiple times over a number of months, especially if you’ll be using land borders, then you might run into trouble relying on the exemption system.

The rules state that you can only cross a land border into Thailand twice a year with a visa exemption. Any more than that and you must have a visa. This applies even if the border crossings are months apart; immigration officials will spot the previous trips and may deny you entry.

Next up is the rules around the number of times you can keep using visa exemptions, even when arriving by air. Although there isn’t an officially published limit, it’s getting harder and harder to use multiple exemptions in a row and travelers are starting to be turned away at the border. Some people claim the limit is six exemptions in a row, whereas others say it’s six exemptions in one year; others still say that the limit is even lower. The true answer is that no one really knows, the situation is ever-changing and it’s best not to overuse the exemption system.

What are the alternatives to Thai visa exemptions?

Getting a visa might cost a bit more and be a bit less convenient but it will get you into the country, which is the main aim after all! A single entry tourist visa (SETV) costs about £25/$40 but allows you to stay for 60 days, with the possibility of extending for another 30 days if you go to an Immigration Office and pay a fee (currently £40/$60).

A multiple entry tourist visa (METV) lasts for 6 months, costs around £125/$150 and allows you to stay in the country for 60 days at a time within those 6 months. You’ll still have to hop the border every 60 days but that can be as simple as walking over, turning round and walking back again; no more queues at embassies in Vientiane and KL to re-apply for a new visa.

Many other visa types exist but they’re complicated and we’d need a whole other blog to tell you about them!

What goes in, must come out…

Whether you’re entering on a visa exemption or a proper visa, it’s worth knowing that immigration officials will often ask to see proof of your intent to exit the country within the timeframe of your legal entry into the country. For a visa exemption that means that they may ask to see a ticket out of Thailand within 30 days. Not everyone has one of those, which is where the problems start!

There are as many solutions to this as there are digital nomads in Chiang Mai, and opinions differ as to whether a bus or train ticket will suffice. If all else fails then you may end up having to book the cheapest Air Asia flight to KL you can find; with fares starting from $35 this shouldn’t be make or break for your trip. Try to turn up with a phone that has functioning internet in case you run into problems at the border.   

Check, double check and triple check your visas!

Our final piece of advice is to use the visa exemption with moderation, and to check with Thai authorities before you travel. The Embassy website in your home country should post any updates about changes to legislation, but as long as you don’t abuse the system you should be fine. The visa exemption is a great addition to the list of entry options so don’t go crazy with it, use it wisely and it should remain your friend for years to come.

backpacker guide to Thai visa runs to Vietnam