Chiang Mai’s chilled atmosphere, attitude of anything goes and beautiful women are among the reasons foreign tourists who arrived on short holidays are still here a couple of decades later. Unfortunately, Thailand’s visa regulations are not really designed for long-stay tourists. Even those who are married to Thai nationals or have work permits often find they still have to do visa runs.
Foreign visitors have to leave Thailand or apply for a visa extension once their 30, 60 or 90 day ‘admitted until ____’ stamp expires. Those who wish to stay longer in Chiang Mai and don’t want to travel back to their home countries can go to a land border with a neighbouring country and come back into Thailand with a 30-day visa exempt entry.
The nearest land border crossings to Chiang Mai with official immigration checkpoints are at Mae Sai, Mae Sot and Chang Khong. These can be used for out-and-back-in visa re-entries, but not to get new visas. Land border crossings are also good for people who need to activate the second or subsequent parts of multi-entry visas.
The other visa run choice is going to an embassy in one of the countries neighbouring Thailand and applying for a new tourist or non-immigrant visa. The easiest choices for people doing visa runs and who need new visas are Vientiane, Savannakhet, Yangon and Kuala Lumpur.
The following listings give details about each of these visa run options. Please note these are not the only choices, but are the most convenient for people staying in Chiang Mai. The What’s Up guide to visas for Chiang Mai and Thailand has additional information about the different visa options available.
Last Updated: December 2018
Options of Thai Visa Run from Chiang Mai:
Chiang Khong – Huay Xai | Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) | Mae Sai – Tachilek | Mae Sot – Myawaddy | Mukdahan – Savannakhet | Vientiane (Laos) | Yangon (Myanmar) | Thai Visa Forum | Travel from Chiang Mai to Laos | Further Reading
Note: Visa costs do change, we recommend you to check with the embassies and consulates for the updates.
MAE SAI – TACHILEK
Around 245kms from Chiang Mai, Mae Sai is the closest choice for a visa run and also the cheapest. Green Buses from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station take around five hours to reach Mae Sai Bus Station. From here it is a 10 minute motorcycle or songthaew ride to Thai immigration and the Friendship Bridge to Tachilek and Myanmar. A daypass to Myanmar currently costs US$10 or THB500. There is a market on the Tachilek side of the border at which vendors sell counterfeit brand name articles. There are duty free shops in Tachilek too. When re-entering Thailand, customs officers carry out random searches and will confiscate items over the duty-free limits and fake goods. Find best rate hotels in Mae Sai
MAE SOT – MYAWADDY
Mae Sot is also a town on the border with Myanmar, but is in the opposite southern direction to Mae Sai and about 100kms farther. The Friendship Bridge here crosses over to the Myanmar town of Myawaddy. The cost of the Myanmar visas at Myawaddy’s immigration checkpoint are the same as listed above at Tachilek. Green Bus operates services from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station to Mae Sot. These only run twice day in each direction and offer journey times of six hours. The bus station and the Friendship Bridge are six kilometres apart and the easiest means of getting between the two is to take a motorcycle taxi. Due to the schedules of the direct buses, doing a visa run via Mae Sot requires an overnight stay here. Find best rate hotels in Mae Sot
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CHIANG KHONG – HUAY XAI
Chiang Khong faces across the Mekong River to the Laos town of Huay Xai. Visas for Laos are available here and cost between US$20 and US$42 depending on the applicant’s nationality. Paying in Thai baht costs more. There is also a US$1 surcharge, or its equivalent, for processing any tourist who arrives outside regular office working hours. Ferry services between Chiang Khong and Huay Xai are not now an option for foreign tourists and they have to cross via the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge 4. The bridge is 10kms south down the Mekong. The most direct route from Chiang Mai is bus to Chiang Rai and then change to a Chang Khong-Bokeo service. Huay Xai is the main town in Bokeo Province. Find best rate hotels in Huay Xai
Vientiane is by far the most popular option for tourists in Thailand who need to obtain new visas. The Laos capital has no direct flights from Chiang Mai. The best options are to fly via Luang Prabang with Laos Airlines, or fly or take a bus to Udon Thani. Udon Thani is in northeast Thailand and 60kms from the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge 1. After crossing the bridge, it is another 25kms to Vientiane. Visa costs for Laos vary between US$20 and US$42. The consular section at the Thai Embassy in Vientiane accepts visa applications between 08:30 and 11.30 on weekdays. Processing takes one day and passports are available for collection on the following afternoon. Fees are payable in Thai Baht. The embassy closes on Thai and Laos holidays and all visa services are therefore unavailable. Find best rate hotels in Vientiane
Due to a choice of direct flights, Yangon is slowly gaining popularity as a location for Chiang Mai’s long-stay tourists and expats to do visa runs for new Thai visas. Standard visa turnaround time is one working day for applications submitted between 09:15 and 11:30. Visa collection is from 13:30 onwards the next afternoon. Only crisp US dollars are accepted for payment here. The Thai Embassy in Yangon is located on Pyay Road in Dagon Township and is 12kms north of downtown. Bangkok Airways and Myanmar National Airlines both fly the Chiang Mai-Yangon route. Find best rate hotels in Yangon
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
AirAsia offers twice daily flights to Kuala Lumpur with flying time of three hours. This means the capital of Malaysia is a viable place for visa run and new visa. The main drawback to applying for a Thai visa in Kuala Lumpur is that consular staff have restricted the number of applications they process to 130 a day. Application time is 09:30 to 11:30 and pickup from 14:30 to 16:30 the next day. Visa fees are payable in Malaysian ringgit. The Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur is located on Jalan Ampang and is a 10-minute walk from Ampang Park LRT Station. Find best rate hotels in Kuala Lumpur
MUKDAHAN – SAVANNAKHET
Savannakhet is an alternate destination in Laos for a visa run and new visa. Although it is a long way from Chiang Mai, getting there is fairly straightforward. With Phetprasert Bus Company it is possible to travel from Chiang Mai to Mukdahan with just one change in Khon Kaen. This is a 14-hour trip. Flying to Ubon Ratchathani and then switching to a bus for Mukdahan reduces the journey time to around five hours. At Mukdahan bus station there are buses for Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge 1 and Savannakhet. Laos entry visas are US$20 to US$42. The Thai Consulate in Savannakhet is 10 minutes’ walk from the town’s bus station. Find best rate hotels in Savannakhet