Visa runs are an avoidable fact of life for anyone who wishes to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time. I’ve just completed a visa run from Khon Kaen to Vientiane, so here’s my hard-earned wisdom for those who need to go down the same path.
This is just one way of doing a visa run in Vientiane. I’m sure others have different approaches, including simply applying for a visa on arrival in Laos. I’m just providing details on the way I prefer to do it, but it’s by no means the only one. My approach is by no means the cheapest or the quickest, but it minimizes hassle and can be done in three or four days.
Thai Visas Explained
The reason why you might want to get a Thai visa from a consulate such as the one in Vientiane is because these will last you much longer than visas on arrival. Overland visas to Thailand last only 15 days, while flying in will grant you a 30-day visa. If you apply for a visa at a consulate or Embassy abroad, however, you can get multiple entries, each lasting two months.
The best visa to get in this manner is double entry. This means you can enter Thailand twice, and each time will be allowed in for two months. This period is extensible to three months at an immigration office, meaning a double entry visa will last you six months with only one re-entry required.
The “enter before” date is why you don’t need to bother with triple entry visas, unless you need to leave Thailand outside of the required visa renewal periods. This date is 90 days from the day you get the visa, and is the latest date you can enter Thailand. With a double entry, you re-enter Thailand immediately, extend your first entry visa after two months, then leave and re-enter before the “enter before” date. Three months after that, you wouldn’t be able to exit and re-enter on the same visa, making the third entry useless.
In other words, because of the “enter before” date limit, the longest you can stretch a Thai visa is six months as long as you have at least two entries on it.
A Note on Timing and Attitude
Getting your visa in Vientiane involves a lot of waiting. Arm yourself with patience, and never lose your temper. Getting visibly angry will get you nowhere fast. I’ve seen people get upset at immigration officials at the Thai consulate, and all it gets them is contempt.
I recommend that you don’t plan your visa run too tight. Leave room in your schedule for unforeseen events. Maybe you’ll go to the consulate one morning only to discover it’s a Buddhist holiday, or maybe you’ll be missing a crucial piece of information on the day you apply. Vientiane is a laid-back city that invites elastic planning. Go with the flow, and take it easy!
With time to spare, you should be able to do your visa run in four days:
Day 1: Arrive in Vientiane
Day 2: Apply for visa
Day 3: Pick up passport
Day 4: Leave for Khon Kaen
You can do it in three if you leave on the same day you pick up your passport, but I prefer to go out for a celebratory Beerlao in the evening before I go.
Make sure you check the Lao and Thai holidays before you plan your trip, because the consulate will not be open for either. If you’re going the day before or after a national holiday, expect huge crowds. You can find a list of holidays observed by the consulate on the Embassy’s website.
Step 1: Preparation
You’ll need a few things to get your visa application in order. You can get them at any step along the way, but it’s better to have everything ready from the get-go. For one thing it will cost you less money this way.
What you should get in advance is:
– Passport, valid for at least six months
– 3 passport-sized pictures
– Thai visa application form
Passport, valid for 6 months
This is a requirement of both the Lao and Thai consulates. If your passport expires within six months, they will most likely turn down your application.
You can get these pretty much everywhere in Thailand and Vientiane. You’ll need one for the Lao consulate, and two for the Thai consulate. I recommend just having a bunch done when you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, and carry them with you.
The Thai visa application form
There are copies of the form at the consulate, but it doesn’t hurt to have it already filled out ahead of time. You can download the form from the Thai consulate homepage. Stick two of your passport photos as indicated in the upper right corner, and you’re ready.
Got everything? Let’s go!
Step 2: Getting your Lao visa in Khon Kaen
Getting your Lao visa ahead of time isn’t absolutely required, but it makes entering Laos a lot simpler. If you don’t have a Lao visa, you’ll have to get off the bus on the Laos side of the bridge, apply for your visa, then find a bus or minibus to get you into town. I find it’s much less of a hassle to get it ahead of time in Khon Kaen.
You’ll need your passport, one passport-sized photo, and the appropriate fee in Baht to get your visa done in Khon Kaen. The fee depends on your nationality; as a Canadian, I pay 1900 Baht to have it done the same day. Americans pay less, and the Swiss pay nothing.
As of this writing, the Lao consulate in Khon Kaen is located on Mittraphap Road, the highway going north to Udon Thani, about 8 kilometers out of the city center. It is no longer on Pracha Samoson Road. The cheapest way to get there is by songthaew: catch songthaew #4 (green), headed north. You can catch it from the non-AC bus station (make sure it’s headed west then north), or on Na Muaeng road, one road west of Klang Muaeng. It’ll cost you 9-10 Baht for a ride.
Note that some songthaew stop before reaching the consulate, especially if they have too few people. If yours does, you can either negotiate a fare to reach the consulate, or pay, and get the next one headed north. On my second visit, my partner and I had to pay 40B total to reach the consulate, which is still a fair price considering the distance.
The Lao consulate is located on the east side of the highway (right side), across from Raja City. It’s a big gated building with a Laos flag out front. Look to your left for a Tesco Lotus Extra. When you spot it, you’re about 500m south of your destination. You’ll see Rajah City on the left a bit further. Get off, and carefully cross the highway. (It’s not as crazy as it sounds, but be careful still.)
Once inside the consulate, fill the form and hand it over. Ask to have it done express; you’ll have the visa within 15 minutes unless there’s a line. Voila!
Head back into town catching the #4 songthaew going south.
Step 3: Bus to Vientiane
As of February 2014, the Khon Kaen-Vientiane bus leaves from Bus Terminal 3, south of the city. There are two buses for Vientiane daily:
The ride takes approximately 5 hours. Personally, I prefer to catch the morning bus and be in Vientiane early, but to each their own. You can only buy the ticket on the day of departure. If you want to leave in the morning, the counter opens at 7 AM. The bus usually leaves 15-30 mins late, and costs 180 Baht. Good deal!
The bus will stop on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge for Thai immigration. It will park a little ahead of Thai immigration and wait for passengers. You must climb back, cross the bridge on board the bus, then disembark again on the Lao immigration side. Once you get your passport stamp, you can get on board the bus again. The bus will drop you at the southern bus terminal, just east of the city center.
Step 3b: Get Photocopies
One essential step that will save you time and a bit of money, and which you couldn’t do before entering Laos, is to get the following photocopies:
– Photo page of your passport
– Current Laos visa stamp
You’ll need to join one copy of each to your visa application. Look around town for places that make copies; you should be able to find a cheap place. If you wait until you’re inside the Thai consulate, it’ll cost you somewhere in the viscinity of 20B. Won’t break your budget, sure, but it’s an outrageous price for two photocopied pages.
Step 4: Apply for Thai Visa
The Thai consulate is located east of town. Tuk-tuk drivers usually know about it. You want the Thai consular section, not the Thai Embassy itself. The Embassy proper doesn’t issue visas.
The Thai consulate opens at 8:30 AM Monday to Friday (except holidays) for visa applications. Your best bet to avoid long delays is to get there around 8:15 AM. Alternately, if your schedule isn’t too tight and you can risk a day’s delay, you can try going at 11 AM, as the majority of people get there early and the queue will have cleared up by then.
If you’re applying for a visa during the high season or around Thai and/or Lao holidays, you should plan on getting to the consulate even earlier.
If you get there early, queue outside the consulate, and ignore anyone who offers to change money for you or process your visa.
Once the gates open at 8:30 AM, go straight inside the compound to the open-air area. There will be a man, or a machine behind a window, where you can get a number ticket. Get one, then finish anything else you need, such as photocopies, filling out the form, etc.
When your number is called, go to the window, and turn in your form. The official will look your form over, and if everything is in order, they’ll give you a receipt.
Next, go inside the building next to the open-air area. You’ll be rewarded with… more waiting! But at least you’ve got AC now. When your number is called, step up to the counter and pay the fee. As of this writing, the fee is 1000B per entry for a tourist visa.
When I did my visa run, I got to the consulate at 8:20 AM, and was slow at getting my queue number. As a result, I waited a total of two hours: one hour outside for form check, then one hour inside to pay. The payment is especially frustrating, as it seems like they’re doing things slow on purpose. Just breathe, read a book, or chat with your neighbors.
Hold on to your receipt, and head back into town. You can catch a tuk-tuk outside the consulate; it’s cheaper if you share it with other travelers also heading into town. They usually charge 40-60 Baht per person when shared. For some reason, they charge less in Baht than in Kip.
Step 5: Pick Up Your Passport
Passport pick-up takes place between 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM. You can get your queue number ticket starting at 1 PM, but in my experience the process is fairly quick and getting there early doesn’t help much. Expect a 30-minute wait. Even on busy days, if you arrive early, you can get your passport at around 2 PM at the latest. I went on a hectic week and got my passport at 2:05 PM.
Get a queue number outside, where you got one the day before. Then, head inside where you paid your visa fee. Wait for your number to be called, and voila! You have your visa!
Step 6: Head Back to Khon Kaen
Buses back to Khon Kaen depart from the bus terminal twice a day:
The ticket costs 50,000 Kip. Same deal as the bus to Vientiane: arrive early on the day of departure, and purchase your ticket.
Note that you might have to carry your luggage yourself through Thai immigration. When I came back to Thailand, the bus assistant took my backpack out on the curb. I just carried it through without being searched, and put it back on the bus on the other side.
It’s possible to leave on the day you receive your visa (at 2:45 PM). You’ll need to arrive before 1 PM to make sure to be one of the first to get a queue number, then get out as soon as you have your passport, and catch a tuk-tuk to the bus station right after.
And if you miss the bus, there’s always that Beerlao.
Any questions? Any other tips or updates to this visa application guide? Please share in the comments below!
Thai consulate image source: Travelfish.org