Visa Run

Posted: April 7, 2010    Categories: Singapore, Thailand

Chinatown is one of the many parts of Singapore I didn't see on Saturday because I never left the airport

Chinatown is one of the many parts of Singapore I didn't see on Saturday because I never left the airport

One of the things you have to deal with when living a globe hopping nomadic lifestyle is the issue of visas. When you enter into a country you only have a set amount of time you can stay. As an American, for most countries I enter as a tourist I get 90 days. In Thailand, unless you applied for a longer visa through an embassy before your arrival, you only get 30 days. The only real way you can extend the 30 day visa on arrival is to leave the country and come back. Making a border crossing for the explicit purpose of renewing your visa is called a visa run.

I’ve done glorified visa runs before. My trip to Papua New Guinea was really just to renew my Australian visa which was expiring after 3 months in the country. I decided to make a real trip out of it, so it was more than just getting a passport stamp. Likewise, last month I went to Singapore because my Thai visa was running out, but I also spent 10 days there with my college roommate Dave and met with people in Singapore.

Last Saturday I flew to Singapore and back to Bangkok in one day. In fact, I never even left the airport in Singapore. That, my friends, was a real deal, in-out, quickie, good old fashioned visa run. My flight arrived in Singapore around noon and I was checking in for my flight to Bangkok at 4pm.

It was a very odd experience flying without baggage. I had my backpack with my laptop and a book, but that was it. The entire airport experience was really different when you didn’t have anything to carry.

The entire cost of the round trip was about US$100, which isn’t bad for a round trip ticket, but its really a stupid policy. I understand the need for countries to set a limit on their tourists visas, but so many people stay in Thailand for more than 30 days, they would be better off just allowing for in-country extensions of the visa for a fee (say $50). It would be easier for tourists and it would bring in cash for the government.

On a related issue of visas, it is the biggest reason I hear from people who don’t live in developed countries for why they can’t travel more. If you are from the EU, US, Canada, Japan, Australia, etc. you can go to most countries on Earth without applying for a visa before hand. There are some big exceptions like Russia, China and India, but for the most part the visa system isn’t so bad if you are a member of the club.

If you are from a country like the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. it sort of sucks. There are all sorts of road blocks which prevent you from traveling. Take Singapore for example: As an American I can show up at the airport unannounced and stay in the country for 90 days with pretty much no questions asked (so long as you are not smuggling drugs or something). If you are from Indonesia which is right next door, you have to have a visa proof of a ticket out AND US$500 in cash on you.

I have met travelers from places like Congo and Ukraine, but not many. Yes, money is a big and obvious impediment to travel if you are from a developing country, but even if you have the means to travel, there are still many legal barriers which make it difficult.

Let me know your visa run stories. Also, if you are from a country that doesn’t get easy visa access to other nations, let me know how you’ve dealt with the rules.

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