In the past week I have heard from two people who have been refused entry into Thailand at a border crossing. The reason given by the immigration officer was having too many in/out border runs.
This can be a distressing situation, particularly if you have a loved one waiting for you inside Thailand, or all your belongings are in a condo you've rented.
In light of this, I thought I'd publish a guide to the visa exemption stamp rules and what you can do to avoid ending up with a dreaded refusal.
What Is a Visa Exemption Stamp?
If you are from one of 55 lucky countries, when you enter Thailand you will be given a stamp in your passport. If you arrive by air or land, this stamp permits you to stay 30 days inside the country. Simple.
If you stay beyond this number of days, then you are overstaying your visit and will be fined.
The exemption is granted a maximum of twice in a calendar year when entering over land or via a sea border, but there is no limitation when entering by air.
For Malaysians entering by land border, there is no limitation on crossings. Korea, Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Chile all get 90 days at both airport and land borders.
What happened to the unlucky people mentioned at the beginning of this post was that they exceeded their land entry crossing quota and were refused entry.
The Six Stamp Limit Rule
Despite the official law stating that there is no limitation to the amount of times you can enter by air in a calendar year, you may have read elsewhere that there is six times limit rule.
This is not actually set in law, but rather a quota that triggers suspicion. An immigration officer will be alerted when you reach six in/outs in a year.
That doesn't mean that the officer will refuse you entry, but it does mean that they will look deeper into your travel history and may question your intentions.
I personally would not advise reaching this limit, because you may risk refusal. In fact, I personally advise people who intend on visiting more than a couple of times a year to enter on a tourist visa, which is easily obtainable from an embassy or consulate in your home country.
The 55 countries allowed under the visa exemption rule are as follows:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- Slovak Republic
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States
Requirements for the Visa Exemption Stamp
- The visit is strictly for tourism purposes.
- The person must have a confirmed return ticket to show that they are flying out of Thailand within 30 days of entry, as appropriate. Open tickets do not qualify. Traveling over land out of Thailand by train, bus, etc to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia (including en route to Singapore), Myanmar, etc may be accepted as proof of exiting Thailand.You may be asked to show your flight ticket on entering Thailand. If you do not possess a flight ticket to show you will be exiting Thailand within 30 days of entry you will be most likely refused entry.
- It will also be necessary to prove that you have funds of at least 10,000 THB per person during your stay in Thailand.
A fee may be levied on persons entering Thailand under the VISA EXEMPTION RULE especially when entering through a land border in Southern Thailand.
A Word on These Requirements
Most people reading the above requirements won't recall ever having been asked to show a return ticket, or to prove that they have funds of at least 10,000 Baht for their stay.
And this is where people can get caught out. Because in Thailand the rules are set but not always applied.
You might come across an immigration officer who is a stickler for the rules and works to the absolute word, and you might come across an officer who is less strict and actually smiles!
Moreover, sometimes rules get changed and the change doesn't filter down through the ranks for a long time (we've seen this in the case of requirements for marriage), meaning that some government officials are applying old rules and confusing foreign nationals.
Regardless of what you've heard from other people, or what's happened to you in the past, always read up on the requirements for your type of visa before you travel.
If you are entering on a visa exemption stamp, then make sure you are doing so for tourism purposes only, and that you have a confirmed return ticket to show that you are flying out of Thailand on a specific date.
And it's worth carrying that 10,000 Baht, or the equivalent in foreign currency, to prove that you have the funds required for your stay.
=> Your Next Read: The A-Z of Overstay (don't get caught out)
Extending Your Stay by 30 Days
If you enter Thailand on an exemption stamp, you can extend your stay for 30 days at an immigration office for a fee of 1,900 Baht. Of course you must do this before the 30 days expire.
You should set aside a whole day to get this completed, though it will be far quicker if you get to the immigration office as close to opening time as possible.
What Happens When You're Refused Entry?
So what happens if you exceed the permitted (2) number of land crossings and are refused entry, or perhaps on your seventh in/out air crossing of the year an immigration officer decides not to let you in?
There are two things you can do:
- Return to your home country.
- Go to the nearest country and get a tourist visa from the Thai embassy, and then enter Thailand again.
The first option probably isn't the one you're going to want to take. The second option will usually rectify the situation.
However, if you have a dubious travel history and you've been flagged on the system, it is possible that you will be granted a tourist visa and then be refused entry again. In this situation, your tourist visa will be stamped with a “void” stamp.
This is certainly not a good situation, and in such a case you would have to try and obtain another tourist visa and try your luck again with another immigration officer.
I have heard, albeit anecdotally, of situations where a little greasing of the palm at border crossings can remedy such a situation. However, I can't comment on this because I have never done it myself nor directly seen someone do it, and I'm certainly not going to advocate corruption.
A Last Word of Advice
If you are coming to Thailand on holiday for a specific number of days and you know that you have no choice but to leave on that day because you need to get back to work, then the exemption stamp will work perfectly for you.
However, what never ceases to amaze me is the amount of people who enter on an exemption stamp but end up either paying to extend their stay at immigration, or overstaying and paying a fine.
So many travellers do this, yet they knew full well that there was good chance they'd probably want to stay on in Thailand for a lot longer than 30 days. Sure, you can extend, as explained above, but this hassle can be avoided by simply obtaining a tourist visa
Moreover, if you are travelling in the region and you know that there is a good possibility that you may go in and out over a land crossing more than once in a given year, then you should certainly consider the tourist visa.
*Please note: I do my best to keep these posts as factual and current as possible. However, if you spot an error in my writing or you know of a recent update to the current requirements, please leave a comment below or contact me via the contact form on this website.
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