Update August 28: I just had my first extension after three months. There are lots of things that can be confusing and sitting in line for 11 hours made me realize that this definitely needs a follow up post.
OK friends, bare with this long and boring post about my visa. It’s not fun. But I will try to make it colorful and sarcastic so you don’t find yourself snoozing mid-read through.
If anyone reads this and sees inaccurate information, please inform me! I am still learning, but this is all just from my own personal experience. I am also not adding any links to Thai immigration or language classes to keep this blog post “more” private.
HOW DO YOU GET A THAI VISA!?
I actually don’t know. The answer still confuses me because I hear different stories all of the time.
- You should just fly in and out of the country every 30 days.
- You should get a tourist visa and extend and renew every 90 days.
- You should just cross the borders, crisscross the borders, and hope they let you back in.
- You should get a job, make no money, and get a work permit/visa.
- You should take self-defense classes.
- You should marry a Thai.
- You should get an education visa.
I went with that last option. When I was planning my move to Thailand I knew two things. I wanted to work online so that I could make enough to save. As much as I love the idea of teaching in a school, teaching online allows me to make about twice the salary working half of the hours. My boyfriend teaches in a school (work permit and visa included) and I am freelancing online as an ESL teacher, writer, and work for my friend’s company remotely. This allows us to make enough to live, save, and travel.
I came to Thailand on a 60 day tourist visa in hopes of figuring out how I could stay for a year or so.
Many digital nomads will leave and come back multiple times to do their “visa run,” but I was a bit hesitant about having to do that every few months and risking the chance of not being allowed back in. I don’t really know enough about “visa runs” but I just wanted to reassure myself that I am legally living here and don’t HAVE to worry about risking any sort of immigration issues. I began researching how I could stay in Thailand beyond a tourist visa.
The day before my 60 day tourist visa was up, I went to immigration at Promenada to extend for an additional 30 days. They granted my request for 1,900 Baht (bring exact change). You can extend your tourist visa for 30 days while in the country.
I had heard of the education visa so looked up some classes that I could take in Chiang Mai so that I could stay here long term. However, it’s actually ILLEGAL (says a random source that I trust) to apply for an education visa while on a tourist visa. So in order to obtain my education visa, I needed to leave Thailand and apply at a Thai consulate in another country. I know, it’s all a confusing hassle.
There are multiple options for an education visa. I was a bit overwhelmed with the choices but I chose to enroll in Thai classes for a year at Manna Thai Language School in Pantip Plaza. The fee was 27,000 baht which is pretty standard for similar classes. I have Thai classes for two hours a day Mon, Tues, Thurs, and Fri. It’s a family run school with a very nice staff. The location is just on the southeastern side of the old city near the night Bazaar. It takes me 20 minutes to ride my bicycle from my house in Santitham.
The school is laid out into four week sessions. This means that each book will last for four weeks. After those four weeks I typically have five days off and will be traveling around Asia during that time. I went to Vietnam after book one, will go to Malaysia after book two, and then off to Hong Kong after book three (and so on and so on). Because the education visa is single-entry only, I will need to apply for a multi-entry visa at the airport before my trip to Malaysia which costs either 1000 baht per trip or ~3,500 for unlimited entry.
Before enrolling, I asked my school about missing sessions if friends or family come to visit or if I wanted to head out for a week. They did tell me that I could leave for a week or two. But if I leave for over a month, I will need to retake the book that I missed the following month. Obviously, they don’t want people just enrolling for the visa, but they are also not going to lock you into Thai Language prison. They are very friendly and accommodating, but they also do want to make sure you attend classes. I feel that I have learned a lot and the classes are really informative.
My 90 day tourist visa was up at the end of June. So I headed to Vietnam to apply for my education visa. There are Thai consulates all over, but I chose Vietnam because it was a fast and direct flight. I had been to Vietnam before, but I was really craving some banh mi sandwiches and good coffee. The school prepared all of my paperwork so that I could go and request my education visa. I was considering heading to Vientiane, Laos where most travelers go to get their visa, but I was not feeling the 10+ hour bus ride and the headache that I had heard about at the consulate there.
How did this visa process work in Vietnam?
When submitting your paperwork, you typically need two days for the processing time (maybe three, depending where you go). This has to be done during office hours so you have to go midweek. I flew from CM to HCMC on a Tuesday afternoon and arrived that evening.
The consulate opened at 8:30 am on Wednesday and I wanted to be there as the doors opened in case of long lines. I love walking so walked the 40 minutes from my guest house to the consulate while dodging the craziest traffic I had ever seen.
I showed up just after 8:30 and was the first in line. By the way, there were no lines. The consulate is a breeze if you don’t want to wait. I gave them my passport, paperwork, passport photos, and application form and they said all the paperwork was set. So they asked me for the fee and I realized I needed to have US dollars on me. I did not. So the woman told me it was about a kilometer away to the nearest currency exchange. Since the lines were short I decided to walk there. It took me about an hour until I was back in the consulate.
I reached for my wallet and gave the woman the $18 she had requested and she said that I needed to pay $80, not $18. I was shocked. When she had told me to go get $80 I had heard incorrectly and brought back $18. I had never felt more stupid, hot, sweaty, tired, and annoyed. But I was also laughing to myself how I literally just didn’t pay attention and was so flustered.
I remembered I had a $100 bill at my guesthouse so called a Grab motorbike (like uber for those who are not familiar) and had him take me back home. I did some miming and Google translating asking him to let me run up and come back down. We sped off and I made it to the consulate (for the third time that morning) 15 minutes before they closed for their two hour lunch break.
I gave them the money, laughed it off, and they told me to return for my visa and passport at 1:30 the next afternoon. I was thrilled.
The next day, I showed up to the office promptly at 1:30 and they had it all sorted. I now have my education visa and am legally living in Thailand. I am on a single entry visa – which freaked me out, but I can apply for multi-entry at the airport any time I leave the country.
I do want to travel a lot, but I do need to attend my Thai classes. I am not just taking Thai classes for the visa (even though that is a huge part of it). But I have plenty of free time, can travel every month, and really do like that I can live somewhere and learn the language. Also, since I work online, going to classes is a great way to meet people and force myself out of the house so that I don’t become a hermit.
That’s that! All my own personal experiences. I am in no way a visa expert. But if you want the education visa, Thai classes are fun!
**I will keep this post updated whenever I leave the country so that the visa process to leave and come back can be a bit more clear.**