The Thailand “90-Day” Tourist Visa Myth

Many travelers in Thailand call a Thai tourist visa a “90-day” visa. A few years ago, I applied for one and found out the hard way that it’s not really a “90-day” visa. This lesson cost me 16,900 baht! Passport in carry-on luggage pocket ($500 USD).

The so-called “90-day” Thailand tourist visa is really a 60-day Thailand tourist visa, with an available 30-day visa extension. You get the extension by going to a Thai Immigration Office, paying 1,900 baht, filling out the correct form and getting the proper stamp.

A while back, I was between jobs and planned to spend 4 months in Phuket on vacation. I went to the Thai Embassy in K.L. (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia and applied for what my friends called a “90-day” Thailand tourist visa. This was easy to do, and I was able to go back the next day and pick up my passport with what I thought was my “90-day” visa with no hassle at all.

I had scheduled an evening flight to Bangkok. I picked up my passport and quickly looked at the date stamped on the visa and saw a date that was 90 days in the future. I put my passport in my bag and headed to the airport.

“Great!” I thought. “All went well. That was so easy. I have a 90-day tourist visa.”

Wrong!

On 2 counts:

First, the date stamp I had seen on the visa was the “Enter Before” date, not the date that the visa expired. It was the date that I needed to enter Thailand by. I did not have a visa for 90 days.

(Had I not been such in a hurry to get to the airport, I might have noticed the two words above that date: Enter Before. Yes, always pay attention.)

Second, I didn’t pay any attention to the “admitted until” date that was stamped into my passport at the airport in Bangkok.

You get 2 stamps when you arrive with a tourist visa. The one stamped on the visa reads “Used”, with the date of entry below it.

On the next page in my passport was the critical stamp, the one I didn’t read. It was the standard Thailand arrival stamp that clearly shows the date “Admitted” and the “Until” date, which was 60 days after entry.

After leaving Immigration at the airport, I forgot about everything and had a wonderful time for the next 89 days. I then mentioned to a friend of mine that I needed to make a visa run the next day because I was planning to stay in Phuket for another month. After explaining my travel dates, he looked very surprised.

He told me I was supposed to have gone to Thai Immigration within 60 days of entering the country to apply for the 30-day visa extension. I had overstayed my visa.

How could this be? I had a “90-day” visa, right?

Wrong.

I canceled my visa run and went to the Phuket Immigration Office the next day. They confirmed that what I had thought was a “90-day” tourist visa was really a 60-day tourist visa with a 30-day extension. Since I had neglected to renew my visa, I had now overstayed my 60-day visa by 30 days.

Fortunately, at least at present, overstaying your visa in Thailand is not as serious of an issue as it could be in some other countries. Here, you currently have to pay 500 baht per day for each day you overstay your visa. On this occasion, this was possible, but it was still quite painful!

The people in the Phuket Immigration Office were nice and relaxed. This was just a routine transaction. One of the foreign assistants who volunteered told me not feel bad (except for the money, of course), because foreigners made this mistake all the time.

The good news was that I was still eligible to apply for the 30-day extension that I had not yet used. I just had to pay another 1,900 baht!

In the end, my lack of attention cost me 16,900 baht (30 days X 500 baht per day + 1,900 baht for the 30-day visa extension). That took a sizable hunk out of my vacation budget, to say the least. I can think of a million things I would rather have spent that $500 on!

The crazy thing is that all the information I had needed to avoid all of this had been there in my passport the whole time. For some reason, I had just assumed that a “90-day” tourist visa must be for 90 days, so I didn’t check the date on my arrival stamp.

I told this story to another friend on Phuket. He asked me, “So, how long have you been living overseas, anyway?”

Many years. Thanks, rub a little salt in the wound! That’s what friends are for, right?

The Bottom Line

Beware the “90-day Thailand tourist visa” – there isn’t one! There is a Thailand tourist visa, but it’s not for 90 days, it’s for 60 days with an extension. It’s best to  do your homework, always check the dates stamped in your passport, and remain flexible.

Note: Immigration rules in Thailand can change at any time and can actually vary from one Immigration office to another (true). Always check your paperwork and date stamps very carefully. Information you receive from overseas Thai Embassies and Consulates may not always match the current immigration rules enforced in Thailand.

It is also a good idea to read current forums regarding the local office where you plan to get your visa, before you apply. See my Resources page for a listing of suggested Thailand forums.

In my opinion, it’s best not to overstay your visa, if at all possible. (I pay more attention, now!) I plan to stay in or return to Thailand for the rest of my life. Rules change, and they usually become more strict, not less. I think it is probably best not to have a collection of passport pages filled with overstay fines.

Have you had visa troubles in Thailand? Do you have any questions about obtaining a Thailand tourist visa? Do you have any current visa information you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below.

Joe

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