What is a Visa Run?

This article is part of a series that answers basic questions many have about travel. If you have a question you’d like to see answered, please send me an email with your question.

When you’re traveling, visas are as essential to entering a foreign country as your passport. Yes, your passport is the single biggest factor to leaving the country, but that allows you to exit your own country—you still need permission to enter your foreign destination. That permission usually comes as a visa that has a specific time limit, meaning you may need to exit the country to stay within the rules!

So, What is a Visa Run Exactly?

A visa run is a short trip over an international border designed to reset the visa in the originating country of the trip. Many countries which have visa-free travel or grant visas on arrival have a set amount of time that you can be in the country.

A classic example is Thailand, which allows passport holders of many countries a 30-day stay in Thailand without a visa. If you fly out of the country and get an exit stamp in your passport, you can reenter the country to reset the clock and get another 30-days.

In 2010, I was staying in Bangkok for several months and I did a visa run to Singapore. I found a $100 ticket on a discount airline and flew to Singapore for the day. I didn’t even leave the airport in Singapore. I got back on a plane immediately and returned to Thailand for another 30-days.

There are rules you need to research before you try doing a visa run because not all border crossings are the same. In the past, Thailand has given different length visas based on how you entered the country (land vs air). You could have flown into Thailand, but if you left over a land border and crossed back, you might have only gotten 14-days on your return. Make sure you do research on the current rules before you do a visa run.

How to Do a Visa Run

First, know the rules about visa runs in your chosen destination! Many countries do not allow for visa runs at all. If you enter the United States as a visitor, going to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean does NOT reset your visa. This is done specifically to prevent people from doing visa runs. If they allowed visa runs, someone in Detroit or San Diego could stay in the country indefinitely by just doing short hops over the border. Even if you were to fly to Europe and back, if it seems obvious you are just trying to reset your visa, you might be denied entry.

Other places like the Schengen Zone in Europe, have a total amount of time you can be in the zone over a set period. In the case of the Schengen Zone, you can spend 90-days there out of any six month period. Going back and forth over borders doesn’t reset anything. It just pauses the clock on your 90-days. If you used up your 90-days, you have to leave the Schengen Zone for 90-days before you could come back.

3 Quick Tips for Visa Runs

Before you try and do a visa run, do the following:

  1. Check the rules for the country whose visa you are trying to reset.
  2. Do research on other travelers who have done similar visa runs recently—blogs are a great source of up-to-date information on each border crossing around the world.
  3. Research on what the cheapest method of doing a visa run. There might be cheap flights available, or it might mean getting on a bus.
  4. Investigate to see if you can renew your visa inside the country. This might end up being the easiest solution of all, which would negate the need for even doing a visa run.