An Overview on Thai Visas

It doesn’t take long for people to fall in love with Thailand, and there is a lot to love. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that so many foreigners decide to make Thailand their home.

When people visit Thailand for the first time, and sample the amazing Thai culture, they notice other foreigners living here. That’s when the dream is first planted in their minds that they could one day live here, too.

It starts with a holiday during which they are “wowed” by everything they see and experience.  Thailand then becomes their default vacation destination, and they spend more and more holidays here.

The love affair with the country is truly complete when they buy or lease a condo or villa in Thailand.

More Visitors Means More Residents

In a film, someone may pick up a travel magazine, fall in love with a photo, then pack their life up on the spot.  That usually does not happen in the real world.  Instead, it typically follows the same familiar pattern:

  • Visit Thailand
  • Fall in love with Thailand
  • Notice that a lot of foreigners seem to live here
  • Dream of that life for themselves
  • Go home, and start to plan
  • Tie up loose ends
  • Come back to Thailand with the goal of staying permanently

When you first decide to come to Thailand it may not be for a short holiday. You may be here to study, to find work, or to start your own business.  You may have already decided to retire here.

Whatever your reason, for any extended stay you will need a visa. And in most cases, it makes sense to apply for that visa before you leave your home country.

This can be done at any of the Thai embassies or consulates around the world.

The Different Types of Visas

It takes a while to get your head around the various types of visas available in Thailand. Even after living here as long as we have, it can still be a bit confusing.

Suffice it to say, there are more different types of visa than those we will discuss here.  Rather than confuse the issue, we will stick with the basic types required by 99% of applicants.

You may read about, or hear people talking about, a change in the visa rules.  Most of the time this only impacts those doing visa runs (same-day exits from and re-entries into Thailand).

For those who wish to stay a while in the Kingdom, the applications, rules and procedures are relatively straight forward.  Longer-stay visa rules have also remained fairly fixed over time.

There are a few different visas for longer stays, and each one has a different purpose.  Here are some of the more common ones.

Non-Immigrant Visa

You will often hear the term “Non-Immigrant Visa” or “Non-Im” for short.

This type of visa is issued to someone who has permanent residence outside of Thailand, but wishes to apply for a visa that will allow them to be in Thailand on a temporary basis.

There are a number of different Non-Immigrant Visas, but the ones you hear about the most are “O” and “B”. (“B” stands for “Business”. “O” stands for “Other”.)

Generally speaking, you’ll need to apply for a Non Immigrant Visa before you can apply for another more permanent visa. This is also the case for a work permit application.

A Non-Immigrant “B” is required before you can submit a work permit application.

A Non-Immigrant “O” is required before you can apply for a retirement visa. The Non-Im “O” is also needed before you apply for a spouse visa.

A “Just Visiting” Visa (i.e. Thai Tourist Visa)

If you come from a Western country, and arrive by air, chances are you qualify for a visa exemption. This allows you to stay in the country for the thirty days.

Thai Tourist Visa


But if you plan to stay longer than a month, you should apply for a tourist visa (TR) in your home country before you fly.

You should be aware that the visa is typically valid from the date of issuance, not the date of arrival.  So don’t think you are “planning ahead” by getting your visa 2 months before you travel.  You may find it is only valid for 1 month when you finally arrive.

With this type of visa, you’ll also need to show proof that you have a ticket out of Thailand.  This could be a plane ticket, or a train or bus reservation.

If you are planning a more permanent relocation, there are a few other options that may be more applicable.

Employment Visa for Obtaining a Work Permit

A number of people who wish to make Thailand their home set up a company here to do business in The Kingdom. Thailand’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs have made it quite easy to form a company and obtain the necessary visas and work permits.

Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Thai economy has plenty of room for growth and its tourist industry seems to be growing exponentially. If you are looking to make Thailand not only your new home, but you also have a sound business idea, then Thailand may be the ideal place to set up.

Retirement Visas

Retirees have been attracted to Thailand for many years, and this trend shows no sign of abating.  And now you can apply for your Thai retirement visa if you are age 50 or above.

The cost of living is generally cheaper in Thailand than the west, which is a draw for people on limited budgets.  But if you enjoy a life of luxury, Thailand has really been making strides to accommodate you, as well.

High-class fine dining restaurants, luxury car sales rooms, a rapidly expanding yachting industry, and an ever-increasing choice of high-end villas and condominiums are all on offer for the wealthier retirees.

If you are concerned about your access to quality health care, don’t be. Thailand has a number world-class hospitals and a broad range of medical centers, most of which are also represented in Phuket.

ED Visa

If you wish to study or do an internship in Thailand, you can apply for an ED Visa – Student Visa.  This is another category of “Non-Im” visa, which permits you stay in the country up to one year.

If you are staying one year, your school or institution in Thailand must provide you with an invitation letter, detailing the offer of study or internship.  They must also request a multiple-entry visa.

An issue which is touched on in the last section below comes up often with ED Visas.  This the difference between “Period of Stay” and “Validity”.  Your one-year multiple-entry visa may be “valid” for 1 year, but you may only stay in the country for 90 consecutive days.

This means you must either visit immigration to extend your period of stay, or leave the country.

Single or Multi-Entry

The visas above typically come as single-entry or multi-entry.

As the name suggests, a single-entry visa only allows you to enter the country once.

If you have a 30-day or 90-day visa, you may not need to (or want to) leave Thailand during the validity period.  A single-entry visa is less costly, and it may be all you require.

A multi-entry visa allows you to come and go from Thailand as often as you like (within the validity period of the visa).

For 6-month or 1-year visas, multiple-entry is recommended because you may need the flexibility to leave the country.  If an emergency compels you to leave, but you don’t have a multiple-entry visa, you will have to apply all over again.

Here is a very important tip:  always check the “fine print” on your visa.

Some visas, single-entry and multiple-entry alike, may not be expired, but they may require an in-person immigration visit to receive the full validity.  For example, a 90-day visa may require you to make a visit to immigration after 60-days in order to receive the final 30 days validity.

On multiple-entry visas, while it is multiple entry, the first time you leave the country you may be required to visit immigration and apply for a “re-entry permit.”  This will effectively activate the “multiple” part of your multiple-entry visa.

See our other visa related articles:

Thailand Visa and Passport Requirements

Starting a Business in Thailand

How to Apply for an Education Visa in Thailand

How to Obtain a Retirement Visa in Thailand