Visa Run

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 4 pm.

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 it’s really a stupid policy. I understand the need for countries to set a limit on their tourist 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 beforehand. 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 roadblocks 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.

20 thoughts on “Visa Run”

  1. My question is are visa runs illegal in Malaysia? If i leave every 90 days and come back a week later is this against the law?

  2. i have a question~ i did visa run from malaysia to indonesia every three months for over a year on Australian passport by land boarder.

    i m just wondering is it compulsory to get indonesia’ visa stamp ? i mean could one just check out in malaysia boarder and turn around enter into malaysia again without check in into indonesia ? would save me alot of money since i never really stay in indonesia any way. thanks

  3. I live in San Juan del Sur near Surf Break Maderas and we rent out our house to groups on visa runs from Costa Rica. We will pick you up at the border or the San Juan del Sur. Email me if you need help

  4. here in david panama close to the costa rican border at pasoa canoas near the pacific side, we run a hostel that caters to the 72 hour visa run, we are new with a pool and tropical gardens stop by and have a cold beer buy the pool, free breakfast wifi and computers..

  5. Hi Gary,
    Interesting post. I live in India where several people used to make visa runs to Sri Lanka or Nepal (unfortunately new tourist visa rules mandating a 2 month wait-out period for tourists don’t make staying long-term possible anymore).
    I hold an Indian passport, and I agree with Ocman. The restrictions are migration-related, which sucks if you genuinely want to travel for tourism. I’ve never been refused a visa, but I can tell you I’ve been subjected to intense scrutiny at borders. The worst was entering Italy. The officer refused to believe I was traveling as a tourist, despite showing him my return ticket, and (pre-paid) hotel voucher. After much questioning he stamped me in. I had the most pleasant experience in the US, with a very chatty officer!
    But its getting easier for Indians — we can now travel to several non-club countries fairly easily.
    I hope your travel brings you to India soon — even if it means applying for a visa.

  6. I am quite familiar with the visa run concept. I lived on a tourist visa in Chile for almost a year. Fun times. Once I got to the airport on the day (so I thought) that my visa expired and was informed that it had expired two days ago. I-ve heard that when that happens you have to pay a fine downtown so I was nervous that I would miss my flight. However, I told the international police that I was a stupid tourist, who was bad at math, oh and that I loved Chile and they were all “What? You love Chile?” Okay! They let me pass.

  7. Visa runs, my old friend! My last effort was 31 hours non-stop travel, by bus, to spend roughly the same amount of time in Montañita, Ecuador, before turning around and heading right back into to Peru with a shiny new tourist visa. The worst part for me is the nagging fear that I won’t be allowed back into the country where all my possessions are – I get awful border nerves. A life of international crime / arms smuggling is definitely not for me.

  8. Hey Gary, it’s not entirely related, but I just wanted to say: I hope you’re still travelling the world and doing visa runs and blogging about it in two and a half years time when I finally get going on the road myself; maybe I’ll see you on the road.

  9. Spectacular Gary, thank you to share. Sometimes, we regreat than the metro doesnt go so far away….

  10. In Costa Rica, you have to leave and come back every 90 days, but on your visa run you have to be out of the country at least 72 hours. It ends up being a forced weekend vacation in Bocas del Toro, Panama or Manague, Nicaragua for most people.

  11. I initially did a double take when I read that people from Indonesia had to show proof of ticket and have USD$500 on hand, but I believe captain made note of that.

    Also, from what I know, people from countries that are members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) do not need to apply for a visa if they’re traveling to other ASEAN nations. It is when traveling to a country that isn’t part of the ASEAN where visa applications become an issue.

    Then again, as captain says, there is the possibility of random background checks, but thankfully I haven’t experienced this yet.

    On another note, the photo that you inserted for this post had me nostalgic. I used to live in Singapore, and I remember Chinatown rather fondly. I hope that in your next journey to Singapore, you get to experience Chinatown.

  12. Hi Gary! Nice to meet you, I just discovered your blog yesterday and find it great. I’m from a don’t-know-how-developed-country we like to call Mexico. I can tell you, from an economics perspective, that countries requiring a visa do it to avoid massive migration. As you know, my country has historically had trouble keeping things running smoothly in many senses, which has made millions of people look for a more stable and better life. This scheme applies, I’m sure, for dozens of countries with problems alike. With only tourism in mind I’ve had no real trouble getting a visa to travel, but I’ve heard of lots of cases where traveling was necessary and because of really odd reasons it was denied, not being able to proof owning an X amount of money, for one. I guess there’s the difference, when it’s about income (tourism) the paperwork is only a matter of good planing and time. But any other case becomes a political one and falls victim of “the system”.

  13. Hi Gary,
    I’ve been reading your blog for 1 year or so and used it as an inspiration when planning my own world trip. So now I’m on the way and in Bangkok now – and so are you! Funny. Now finally I had to leave a message. Hi! from Bkk to Bkk.
    About your visa run story, I have to say, it’s not a very environment-friendly one! Flying to Sing. and back just to get a visa…. ts ts
    Anyway, enjoy your travel… cheers Karina

  14. We tried to sneak into Zimbabwe (we didn’t want to pay the visa fee…) and after we were extremely unsuccessful (but took enough photos at the “Welcome to Zim” border) we had to go back. Explaining the reason that we needed our visa “un-canceled” because we were too cheap to pay for the Zimbabwe visa was a lot harder than you’d think…

  15. Middle Easten visa information is always sketchy too. All the info I found on crossing from Turkey into Syira said I should have my visa arranged prior to my crossing. When I got there I was given the go-ahead but they only accepted US dollars…it took my longer to find a money exchange than anything else.
    Crossing from Lebanon into Syria during the religious holiday of Id was one of my craziest travel experiences. I love the mood and the excitement of these experiences :)

  16. I’ve contemplated the thought of applying for a Peruvian visa to give me opportunities where a USA passport makes it difficult to enter/stay in a country. That is if the future Mrs. Aesop will have me…and I ask so that I can use her peuvianess to my advantage. @(^_^)@

  17. thank you for the post! I was searching answer for ‘Thailand visa’ today and what a coincidence – you are writing blog post about it :-)

  18. gary, a correction please. indonesians dont need visa to enter singapore. only return ticket needed. minimum money check is random case only.

    • Thank you. I will make note of that. I remember seeing the signs on the boat from Bintan. They seems far more strict for Indonesians than they did for me.

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