Phil Roeland

The visa run

One man and his trip to Penang


This is the story of my visa run to Malaysia to get a non-immigrant B visa. It's not a comprehensive survey of all neighbouring countries and visa prices. There are many other websites (including this one) that give more detailed information. I just hope newbies can pick up some interesting information. This is just about one man and his visa…

The price of a non-immigrant “B” visa : about 10000 baht !!!!

What? Are you joking?! That much? But they told me it only costs about 2000 baht…This might be the first reaction of would-be visa runners when seeing the above heading. This piece will give you an idea of how much you are really going to spend to get one.

Indeed, two thousand baht is more or less the price a Royal Thai embassy will charge you for this kind of visa, and it will be probably issued in two or three working days. To be perfectly clear, I’m talking about the three months, single entry non-immigrant B visa. If you plan to work in Thailand, this is the one to get. It is also the only visa you can get quite easily in the Thai embassies around South-East Asia if you plan to work in Thailand. Multiple entry non-immigrant B visas valid for one year are virtually impossible to obtain. If you really plan ahead, you could apply for one of those in your home country and get it fairly easy if you have already a job lined up in the Land of Smiles. When you are already in Thailand, flying back home is not an option. You’ll go to Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia or any other Asian country instead. Although the visa fee is about 2000 baht, I think there is more to it than just that. This is what I did and what it cost me.

I entered Thailand without a visa, as most people do, and got the free 30 days on arrival. I had travelled extensively in South-East Asia before and this time I came to Thailand to look for a job. I was living in another neighbouring Asian country, but I knew it was impossible to get a non-immigrant B visa without the necessary documents from an employer. I gave myself a month to look for a decent job and planned to get the necessary paperwork done later, i.e. a long-term visa and a work permit. I thought finding a job and getting a work permit would be a piece of cake, as I have both a Master’s Degree and a TEFL Certificate (real ones, to be perfectly clear) and seven years teaching experience (I had been a full-time corporate instructor in a previous life). It was.

By the way, in order to get a work permit, one needs at least a Bachelor’s Degree. If you haven’t got one you won’t get a work permit, which means you’ll join the perpetual visa run carousel every month or every few months. Having a TEFL Certificate is not mandatory, but if you’ve never taught before or you haven’t got any experience in education, getting one might be a VERY good idea.

After a week I found a suitable job and I started working as an English teacher for a respectable language school. Three weeks later my tourist visa expired and the school gave me the necessary documents (a letter from the school stating they employed me full-time and a copy of the manager’s credentials) to get my non-immigrant B visa. I chose to fly to Penang in Malaysia. Laos (Vientiane), Cambodia (Phnom Penh) or Singapore are other popular destinations. An AirAsia round-trip Bangkok-Penang cost me 2640 baht, including regular taxes and Malaysian airport tax. Not the 500 baht “Service Fee” one has to pay at Don Meuang airport in order to leave the Kingdom by air. This was the cheapest fare I could get at the time.

Going to Laos or Cambodia by bus might have been a bit cheaper, but unfortunately one needs a visa to enter those countries. Not so for Malaysia. Anyway, I heard from a few colleagues that the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane is staffed by frequently obnoxious personnel (however another colleague told me he didn’t have any problem at all there). In Cambodia there is no Thai embassy near the border, so one has to travel all the way to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. This is a very long bus/pick-up truck journey overland and flying to Cambodia is a bit more expensive than flying to Malaysia.

So Penang it was. Upon arrival I noticed to my discontent that there was no airport bus into Georgetown. Travellers were gently coerced into using the taxi service. Luckily I met another traveller at the taxi counter and we shared a taxi to Georgetown (prices at the end of the article). He was also on a visa run and was planning to go to a visa agent in downtown Georgetown. After about half an hour, the taxi dropped us in Chulia Street, the main backpacker’s area. Although I had planned to go to the Thai embassy myself, I decided to check out the visa agent.

The employees were a bunch of friendly Indians and were all too happy to offer their services to the two foreign cowboys. They could arrange the non-immigrant B visa in two days for the regular fee plus a small commission. The Thai embassy charges 200 ringgit (2200 baht) for this visa and the agent wanted a 10 ringgit (220 baht) commission. It was 1.30 in the afternoon and I decided I didn’t want to go to the embassy myself if these guys could do it for a mere 220 baht. It would save me the hassle and two taxi rides.

Unfortunately my flight back to Bangkok left two days later at 1.25PM, just too late to get my visa in time. I needed one-day service and got it. Unfortunately, it cost me an extra 70 ringgit (770 baht), which went straight into the Thai embassy’s coffers. Mai pen rai. Never mind. I checked into a modest hotel and enjoyed my two days’ holiday. I had visited Penang before and I can confirm that the island has lots of beautiful sights to offer to fill two days. Historical Georgetown with its Heritage buildings, Penang Hill Station and a famous temple somewhere in the hills are really worthwhile exploring.

The next day I went to pick up my visa at 2.30 PM. I realized they hadn’t even given me a receipt and had some trouble finding the right place. Indeed, there are many visa agents in Chulia streets and their offices all look alike. They themselves also look alike. They’re all Indians. Cousins probably… Anyway, I got my passport with the visa, as promised, no problem at all. Decent and efficient chaps really. I’ve put the name at the end of the piece, just in case. I don’t get any commission whatsoever, if you wonder. I was satisfied, but then again, I’m just one man with one visa.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in Georgetown. I had some delicious food and a few drinks. Alcoholics beware! Alcohol is expensive in Malaysia. Beer and spirits are readily available, but at a price. A big bottle of beer (all imported, from Heineken and Carlsberg to Tiger and Chang) costs between 11 and 15 ringgit (120 to 160 baht) in the cheaper tourist hangouts or at the 7-Eleven.

The next day I took a taxi back to the airport and landed in the early afternoon in Bangkok. I could stay for three more months in LOS. Now I just hope my work permit gets processed "quickly" (6 to 8 weeks) so I can get an extension without leaving the country. By the way, when you apply for a work permit, there have to be 60 days left on your visa. The detail of my expenses follows. I almost spent 10K baht. I suppose you can knock off a few baht if you live like a monk, but for most of us, that’s probably not an option…

What did it really cost ? - Prices

Minivan to BKK airport : 15 baht

Bangkok airport service fee : 500 baht

Round trip Bangkok-Penang : 2640 baht

Taxi airport-Georgetown (shared) : 150 baht

Visa fee (incl. Agent’s fee) : 3190 baht

Accommodation (2 nights) : 500 baht

Food, drink & various (2 days) : 2500 baht

Taxi Georgetown-airport : 220 baht

Bus BKK airport-home : 8 baht

Grand total : 9723 baht

The visa agent I used :

N.J.

Books centre – Arranged Thai visa – Licensed money changer

Haji Jabar/Muhammed

425, Chulia Street

10200 Penang – Malaysia

Tel: 604-2616113, 2642033

Email: njbookscentre@hotmail.com

A few tips for those wanting a visa and a teaching career...

· Inform yourself as much as possible before going on a visa run. There is plenty of information available : visit relevant websites (e.g. www.thaivisa.com), go to forums, read discussion boards and talk to your colleagues (if you have any).

· Try to get a visa in your home country before coming to Thailand if possible. The chances of getting a long-term multiple entry visa are much better than in nearly all Asian countries.

· If you go on a visa run, check out the low-budget airlines. The deals and promotions they offer are sometimes too good to be true (e.g. fly to Singapore for 15 baht...). The fares are often as low as a bus or train ticket.

· Don't forget to check out the airport departure tax (if any), you don't want to spend your last money on the eve of your departure and subsequently get stranded at the airport...

· Make sure you have a decent set of clothes when you plan to apply for the visa yourself. Appearance matters to Thais. No need to buy an original Armani suit and matching Jim Thompson silk tie. Just don't wear your faded, dirty jeans and matching "I love cannabis" T-shirt when going to the Royal Thai Embassy...

· Take enough money with you, depending on where you go. There are no ATMs in Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar (Burma). An ATM (or credit) card will do fine in most other countries to obtain cash from the readily available ATMs.

· Plan ahead. I mean make up your mind about what you want to do. Do you really want to be a teacher? Have you ever taught before? If the answers are no, it might be a good idea to give it a try first (for instance by taking a TEFL or looking for a part-time job at a language school) before getting yourself a non-immigrant B visa and applying for a work permit. It's just not worth the hassle it if you plan to be a teacher for a few months.

· Know what you're getting into. Inform yourself about salaries and work conditions. Don't compare them to your home country. This is Thailand. You can have lunch for 20 baht and rent a room for as low as 3000 baht a month. Nobody gives a shit that "you're worth 3000 dollars a month" where you come from. You should have stayed there then. In Thailand you'll probably make somewhere between 25000 and 45000 baht a month (600-1100 USD), like most teachers do. That's about five times more than your average Thai colleagues...

· Consider your visa run to be a city trip. There are most likely some interesting things to see where you are going. How can you go to Phnom Penh and not visit the Tuol Sleng museum, to Penang and not see the historical centre or visit Penang Hill etc.? I think it sounds fairly stupid when you tell someone where you've been there and then have to admit that the only things you saw where your hotel room and the closest bar...




Comments

Phil,
Maybe it's a bit late but just to say 'thank you' for a very useful post. I appreciate the trouble you took to write and share your experiences.
Thanks again!

By Gerard, Zhuhai, China (23rd January 2010)

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