I never thought I would ever need to figure out the best way to get a visa in Thailand, or really, any other country for that matter. Most people have no issues or need for a special visa, as most people don’t opt to travel for more than a couple of weeks. For us, buying a home in Thailand has been a wonderful decision, but now we find ourselves in need of documents that will allow us to stay here!
Navigating the Visa Laws In Thailand
A lot of people would call us expats now. First, I hate that word–expat. I wish more people felt the way I did. What does it mean, exactly? An expat is defined as someone living in a country other than their homeland. Well, what is an immigrant? The same thing. The difference is that an expat tends to be white, speaks English, and comes from a (semi)affluent background. Humans are humans. So let’s ditch the word expat, and call us all immigrants.
Now that the vocabulary lesson is out of the way, what are we? Well, we are neither immigrants nor expats. Wait, what? But we live in Thailand. Sure we do, part time. So, are we on permanent vacation? No. On vacation you do things like swim with whale sharks, zipline through the jungle, and spend $100 on dinner. We just live. We have a routine, just like all of you, it’s just a little different. Instead of getting up at 7am, rushing to the nearest Starbuck’s, and sitting in horrific traffic to get to a place that we really don’t like that much, we get up, have watermelon and go to the pool. Sorry, not sorry! Seriously though, we live here, just like you live at your home. And by now you’ve read about what we do here, if not, click here, you’ll love it.
Back to our topic, HOW we do it? I am not going to list all the ways we saved money and cut corners so that we could live the way we do, that’s already been hashed in a previous post. We live in Thailand, but we aren’t citizens of the kingdom, we aren’t on a work visa, and we are too young to get a retirement visa. So what do we do? Well, being citizens of the United States of America, we are allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 consecutive days, free of charge, with our blue passport. Some countries charge citizens of the USA for this tourist visa, Thailand is not one of them. For a complete list of free countries to visit, click here.
This leads to another question, how are we staying for more than 30 days? There are three ways around the 30-day rule in Thailand.
#1. Leave the country for a day (or more) and return. If you do this via air, you get a fresh 30 days. This is not a bad way to go. Originally, this was our plan. We were going to book a short trip to Singapore (another free country for USA passport holders), and get a fresh month of stay in Thailand. However, after doing some cost analysis and trying to figure out, “why are we going to Singapore,” we decided against it. Although, I’m sure in the future we may book a small trip to somewhere, be it Singapore, Sri Lanka, or Malaysia, it just wasn’t at the top of our list for these two months. To the geography whizzes (I’ll raise my hand) that are asking, “why not just drive to the Cambodian border,” I have an answer. These border runs are quite common, but only give US citizens an extra 15 days, AND Cambodia charges $60 for USA tourists. These runs are very popular with the British community in Thailand, because the Brits get to realize the full 30 day extension and the Cambodians don’t charge them–a win-win for the English.
#2. Go to the immigration office and apply for a 30 day extension. This is the cheapest option by far. For $60 per person, you get a fresh 30 days. However, be prepared to wait, and wait, and when you are done waiting, wait some more. The immigration office is a circus, and to be honest, I’m not sure if we ever could’ve done it.
#3. Go to one of the plethora of offices that are near the immigration office, and have them do it all for you. We stumbled onto these businesses by pure happenstance, and it was the best thing ever. We gave them our passports, a copy of the deed to our apartment, and $120 each, $60 for the immigration office and $60 for this business to take care of everything. The next day, we came back, and voila, done! We are now legal tourists for 60 days. I struggle with the fact that we paid $240 when we could have put that money toward going somewhere else, but let’s face it, a vacation isn’t cheap. We probably saved $700 by doing this, so I’m happy with our choice.
Now, we can stay 60 days. Well, that’s hardly living abroad, that’s more like a very long vacation, isn’t it? Actually, we can stay another 30 days if we leave and re-enter, but that’s it. 90 days is the most we can stay in Thailand out of any 180 days. Of course, we can apply for a year long visa and renew every year. That must be done at the Thai Embassy in the USA, but there is really no need. We plan on bouncing around the globe and carefully planning our stays. Europe has the same 90/180 rule as Thailand, but it’s worse. Thailand is just one country. If we really wanted to live in SE Asia full-time, we could buy another place in Cambodia, and just bounce back and forth. In Europe, most of the countries have joined together to form a conglomerate called SCHENGEN. In terms of tourist stays, this group acts as one country. So, we can’t just go to Spain for 90 days, then France for 90 days. NOPE! We can only stay in SCHENGEN for 90 out of 180 days. We plan on being there in the fall for a couple months, with a week stay in the UK. And her majesty’s kingdom is not part of SCHENGEN.
The bad part of all this is that there really is never a vacation. It’s just life in a different place, mostly in Thailand because we own an apartment here, but it’s just living. Don’t cry for us too hard though, I’ll take going to the pool and markets over driving on a freeway every day of the week! Join us, please! Seriously, join us. If you want to know about buying a place in our complex, reach out to us! We would be happy to help, and to have new friends.