Some of you – hi, Grandma! – may think it’s an absolutely idiotic life plan to pack up your belongings and board a one way flight to a country you’ve never been to with the full intention of living there for the next 6 months, but I have an entirely different point of view on the matter. In fact, I’ll start by telling you the same thing a lady I was once handcuffed to in jail told me… this ain’t my first rodeo.
It really ain’t. As of May 2018, Peter and I have officially been traveling full time for the past 5 years in 6 different countries, 3 of which we never stepped foot in until the day we called it home. So yes, we have attended many’a show at the damn rodeo, y’all. And because we were fairly busy with other travel priorities directly prior to this move (see: living in a van), and the added weirdness of Peter moving to Indonesia for work, I admittedly didn’t bother to prepare for my move to Thailand as much as previous moves. Then again, there’s a certain amount of confidence you gain after repeating the same basic moving process over and over again, so I wasn’t particularly worried about my lack of general Thailand travel knowledge either.
All of that said, I realize the majority of you likely haven’t spent the last half a decade making giant leaps of travel faith and having it (miraculously, and mostly) work out, so I’m here to provide a little insight, useful advice and tips on moving to Thailand when you just don’t have a goddamn clue what you’re getting yourself into.
Moving to Thailand: The Clueless User’s Guide
Where to Move in Thailand
First off, you should know that moving to Thailand was different than previous moves in terms of two things: 1) I was completely spoiled when choosing where to live in Thailand – a massive decision on its own, though an easily changeable one – as my decade-long friend and Texan gem, Erin, was already living on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta and I knew I wanted to live as close to her as possible, and 2) I already had (mostly) enough remote copywriting work to sustain my relatively low cost of living in Thailand, and therefore didn’t need to base my location around any kind of particular employment-related need, or even a landscape preference.
As I do for everywhere we move, I’ll eventually write a post about where you should live in Thailand if you don’t have the burden of a dear friend awaiting your arrival on a tropical island paradise, but for now, where you move remains entirely up to you, dear reader. Though if I do say so myself, after having spent time in Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Phuket, Koh Tao, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai, Koh Lanta is still my favorite of all.
Thailand Visa Details
The most fascinating travel topic in the world! Just kidding it’s the worst.
Visas in Thailand are honestly one of the larger sources of general confusion for me. As much information as I’ve read about them, whether from fellow expats or the Thai Visa Advice Facebook group or otherwise, most of the visa options for living in Thailand – let’s say for a length of 6 months to a year – is vague, out of date, requires proof of things I simply cannot prove (namely onward travel out of the country and proof of accommodation for the entirety of your stay in Thailand), or just plain doesn’t work for my purpose of travel, as I am not a student and don’t intend to get a job in the country, for example.
Also keep in mind that this advice is for residents of the U.S. only, as I cannot possibly be interested in tedious visa details enough to look beyond the requirements of my own country, and even those should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe even a pinch, now that I think of it.
First off, the following is true as of fall 2018:
- Upon arrival at the airport, U.S. residents can enter Thailand – completely free of charge – on a 30 day Visa Exempt Entry. Note: Unlike other countries, a 30 day Visa on Arrival or a 30 day Tourist Visa do not exist in Thailand, so use the proper ‘Visa Exempt Entry’ terminology, as you technically don’t have a visa at all.
- The day you arrive counts as day 1 of your 30 day stay.
- You could be asked to show proof of your ticket out of the country within 30 days – a plane, train, boat or bus ticket to one of the many surrounding countries should count – as well as proof of 10,000 baht per person (roughly $300 USD). We have now entered Thailand through airports in Bangkok, Krabi and Phuket, however, and have never once been asked to show this information.
- You can apply for a 30 day extension of your 30 day Visa Exempt Entry at the nearest Thai immigration office for 1900 baht (roughly $60 USD), bringing your total stay allowance to 60 days.
You can then leave the country – most people go to Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam or Indonesia, as they’re all close – and either:
- 1) Come back and get another 30 day Visa Exempt Entry, which you can extend yet again for another 30 days through the same method (what we do), or 2) apply for a 90 day single entry Tourist Visa from a Thai consulate in the country where you make your visa run.
- Personally I recommend traveling by plane, as a 1 to 2 hour flight is way more appealing than a cramped 15 hour minibus ride, and you can usually find cheap airfare deals on Thai AirAsia, Thai Lion, VietJet or a number of other local airlines. Because you are limited to two 30 day Visa Exempt Entries per year if entering Thailand by land, I think flying is the easiest all-around way to go, as there are currently no limits when arriving by air.
- **NOTE: Requirements to receive a 90 day single entry Tourist Visa vary by country. After applying for this type of visa in Siem Reap, Cambodia, through a popular hostel known for its prompt visa processing, I was told I needed to show proof of 20,000 baht ($600 USD) and an address for my return to Bangkok. Though I was able to provide both easily, I was still denied due to an odd new requirement for something called a ‘bank book’ – which I was told was a physical version of my debit card (they already had a detailed bank statement to look at, but whatever), causing myself and many other expats to no longer meet the requirements at that specific consulate and thus return to Thailand on yet another Visa Exempt Entry. Sigh. Apparently the most lenient place to go is Vientiane, Laos, though I can’t speak from personal experience.
- Keep in mind that a 90 day single entry Tourist Visa is initially granted for 60 days with an extension period of 30 additional days, so you will need to go to an immigration office and pay the 1900 baht fee sometime before your initial 60 days to avoid being fined for overstaying your visa (currently 500 baht per day).
- If you read anything that says you are limited to a stay of 90 days in every 6 month period, ignore it. It isn’t true.
And finally, if you have the foresight to plan ahead and and meet all the requirements, you can apply for a 90 day Tourist Visa from within the United States, thus saving you at least one unnecessary visa run. The U.S. Embassy website currently states:
- “If an individual wishes to remain in Thailand for more than 30 days, he/she may wish to obtain a tourist visa at the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate in the United States, prior to arriving in Thailand. The tourist visa must generally be used within 90 days from the date of issue and allows an initial stay of 60 days. After arrival in Thailand, a tourist visa may be extended at the discretion of an immigration officer once for an additional 30 days with the total period of stay no longer than 90 days. There is a 1,900 Baht fee for the extension.”
Eww. Are we done yet?!
Expectations, and a Lack Thereof
My Thai-living Texan friend and I have discussed this topic in great detail, but especially when you move somewhere in Asia, you cannot have expectations. Or rather, you can have them, but you really shouldn’t in order to avoid minor – and major – disappointments.
Thailand, as with most places in Asia I’ve traveled, is just a super strange place sometimes, man. To put it broadly and bluntly, it is humid as hell, you can’t drink the water or flush the toilet paper, trash is a huge issue, there are large populations of snakes and rats and monkeys and bugs, food standards are pretty much nonexistent, and dengue fever is rampant. Peter got his second case of dengue fever – the first was during our first move to Costa Rica – only 3 weeks after arriving in Thailand, and had to spend 2 nights in the hospital.
But it’s also wildly gorgeous, and funny, and has some of the sweetest and most interesting locals I’ve ever met, and the best swimming beaches I’ve seen in years, and delicious food for a fraction of the price it would cost anywhere else. The travelers I’ve met here are mostly devoid of the douche-factor, the cost of living is absolutely doable on a budget, and there are thousands of options for inexpensive accommodation and transportation anywhere you look.
Go with no expectations, and chances are you’ll come out pleasantly surprised. Or with dengue. It could really go either way.
Best of luck out there in the Land of Smiles, humans. You’ll do just fine.