Posts for Tag: thailand

The contraband

You hear Thai voices outside and you know that the van it is here. The larger immigrant community in Johor have their own ethnic hangouts, but the smaller ones have to make do with such mobile stores. The van has stuff from all over Thailand - condiments, snacks and food. Half a dozen Thai women are around the truck, grabbing the best stuff. I know better not to join the raid - I won't stand a chance.  These ladies are from the neighbourhood Thai spas. They get stronger by the day, squeezing, stretching, and manipulating out of shape, big car driving neighbourhood clientele. I let them have their pick. I concentrate all my mental gaze on that box of pad kra pao gai (minced chicken), hoping that I can make it invisible till the ladies leave. 

Thailand visa on arrival for Indians, Chinese and others. The procedure, the documents and frequently asked questions

Last updated on 9 June 2017

Since 1997, I have used the visa on arrival (VOA) facility at several Thai airports and land border crossings. I am hoping that this guide will help fellow travellers. I made this as there is a lot of misinformation on the ad-filled forums and blogs.  Also please read the FAQs below, I have answered the most common questions there. 

A. What documents do you need for the Visa

A1. Completed visa form.You can get this form at a desk near the visa on arrival area, or you can download it from the Thai immigration website at https://www.immigration.go.th/download/ - The page is in Thai, but it is the first download link on the page. 

Fill the part until the signature. Fill in everything that I have marked in the image below.
Make sure that you fill in the section that asks for the address in Thailand. They are very particular about this. Write In the name of the hotel you are staying at. If I am staying in multiple hotels in various cities, I will write in the hotel where I am staying first (or the hotel where I am staying the longest). If I am staying at a friend or a relative’s place, I will fill in their address. 

A2. Your Passport – Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months from the day you enter Thailand. If you have less than six months validity left on your passport, the airline counter at your home airport (and the immigration guys in your home country) may not allow you to board the flight. Thai visa and the immigration stamps take up one full page, so you need at least one empty page.

A3. Your boarding pass stub – This is part of the boarding pass that has your seat number and flight details etc. The stub also has your flight number (you need this number to fill in the Arrival/Departure card). The boarding pass is issued to you at your home airport when you check in for your flight. When you leave your home airport, the airline staff at your boarding gate will tear a part of you boarding pass and return the rest to you. 

A4. Arrival-Departure card

The flight attendants will distribute this card before the plane lands in Thailand.  The first page is the Arrival Card. Fill all the areas except the part that asks for the visa number. The visa officer who grants you the VOA will write in the visa number later. 

The back leaf of the first page has additional questions. The From/Port of Embarkation is the city where you started your journey. Next City is the immediate next destination after Bangkok. So if you are going to say Phuket after Bangkok, write Phuket. If you are only staying in Bangkok and going back to your home city (or the city you started your journey from), then write in that town.

The second page of this form asks for your departure flight. 

Sometimes, they run out of this card in the plane. You can find this card at the Visa on Arrival counter. At the Thai immigration counter later, the officer will keep the arrival part of this card, and staple the departure part to your passport.

A5. Your return or onward ticket or e-ticket printout.

Your return date must be within 15 days from the date of entry (visa on arrival allows 15 days, including the date of entry and the date of exit). So say if you enter Thailand on 1 June, you must return no later than 15 June.

A6. One recent photograph

Thai immigration website recommends that the photo is 4 x 6 cm.  I have used a photo that is similar in size to the photo in Indian passports; they are fine with it. There is a photo booth nearby that will take your photo for a small fee. Make sure that the picture that you use resembles how you look now (don't use photos from some years back).

A7.  The visa on arrival fee

Visa fee is 1000 THB ( see http://www.consular.go.th/main/th/news/1341/73242-A-temporary-tourist-visa-fee-exemption-scheme-and.html). If you do not have Thai currency, you can get it at the 24-hour money changers near the visa on arrival counter at most Thai international airports. If you are crossing into Thailand by land, better get the money exchanges at the shops in the border towns of the neighbouring country.  

A8. Proof of ability to stay in Thailand

You will have to show money equivalent to 10,000 THB (about 340 USD) per person (if you are a solo traveller) or 20,000 THB per family (people travelling together in one party). They will not take this money. They just want to make sure you have enough money. This can be in any currency as long as it is equivalent to the Thai currency above. They do not acknowledge credit or debit cards. In Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) airport there are ATMs before the immigration where you can withdraw cash if you have to. 

A9. Hotel reservations print out -  They do not list this in the official requirement, but I got some emails from travellers who said they were asked to show hotel reservations. I have never encountered this request, so I think they are inconsistent about this. If you have already booked your hotels, just take a print out and keep it with you, just in case they ask to see it. If you are planning to stay with your relatives or friends etc., keep their phone numbers and business cards ready.

B. The procedure 

Look for the Visa on Arrival signs. They will lead you to the Visa on Arrival area.

If you arrive on a plane from China or India, most people will be going to this area. Note the money-changers just before the Visa on Arrival Counter.

Visa on Arrival process. Shown below is the process at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the process is similar or simpler (fewer steps) at other airports or land borders.

Walk to the visa on arrival desk. (point "A" in the figure). Collect and fill the Visa On Arrival form. This counter is open 24 hours. The official at this desk can usually speak some English and Chinese. Give your photo to this official, and she will staple it to your form.

Next, proceed to the queue (B) 

While you are waiting in the queue, make sure you have the following documents 

  1. Boarding pass stub
  2. Passport
  3. Completed visa form (with photo attached)
  4. Return ticket printout
  5. Completed Arrival/Departure form

Procedure 

  1. The officer at (B) will check your documents, collect the fee, and issue you a token with a number on it.
  2. Sit down at the waiting area (C) until an officer calls your number. The office will come to the waiting area and return your passport with the visa stamped on it. Collect your passport, and proceed to (D)
  3. At (D), the officer will stamp the entry date on the page that has the visa, staple the departure card to your passport, and return your passport. They will also ask you to stare at a small camera for a photo for their immigration records.
  4. Once done, you will find the baggage area just behind the immigration counter. (E)
The procedure at Don Mueang airport 

As a precaution, I always take a picture of the Thai visa and the stapled departure card as soon as I get them back. It helps to have this information if you lose the stapled departure card or passport etc.

The above photo shows the visa on arrival stamp. Note that it takes up one whole page on your passport.

Frequently Asked Questions
 
Q1. How long does the visa on arrival take?
A. My wait times have ranged from 10 minutes to 2 hours. (Though in recent times – in 2017- they have become faster at this). It all depends on how many flights from India and China arrive at the same time as yours. Check web services such as FlightAware for arrivals at the airport you are landing at (example: here are flights arriving at Suvarnabhumi  https://flightaware.com/live/airport/VTBS), If you find flights from China/India/parts of Africa and Central Asia landing just before your flight then be ready to wait longer.  

Q2. How long is the Visa on Arrival queue in Don Muang (Bangkok), Phuket, Chiang Mai and other international airports?
A. Faster compared to Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang unless you arrive around peak seasons (long holidays in China). The process is also much simpler. There is often just one or two counter(s) that handles all the process.

Q3. My ticket is from Dubai (or some other city) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and then to Phuket (or some other Thai city) from the same airport. Should I take the visa on arrival at Bangkok or my destination airport?

As a rule, now you have to get the Thai visa at the first Thai airport you alight at. 

See these two links.  


 
Some domestic flights such as Thai Air Asia leave from Don Muang airport. If your next flight is from Don Muang, then you will have to get a visa on arrival before you exit the Suvarnabhumi airport. Getting to Don Muang airport from Suvarnabhumi via shuttle bus or taxi will take you 2 to 3 hours, so keep that in mind when you book your domestic flights.
 
Q4. Is it better to take a visa on arrival or should I apply for a visa at a nearby Thai embassy? 
A. If you have smaller children or senior folks in your party, I would recommend getting the visa in advance. Otherwise, visa on arrival is excellent. You can only apply for a Thai visa at the embassy if you have a residency permit in that country. For example, if as an Indian citizen, if I want to apply for a Thai visa from their embassy in Tokyo, I would need a residency or work visa card issued by Japan. The exceptions are neighbouring countries - you may be able to get a Thai visa in Cambodia. 
 
Q5. Are there other options for getting the Thai Visa in India?
A. You can contact the Thai embassy or consulates in India. VFS Global is also able to assist a resident of select cities. See http://www.vfs-thailand.co.in/
 
Q6. Is it fine if I show my bank statements, instead of the spending money?
A. It purely depends on how strict the visa officer that is handling you is. Often, they do not even ask you to show this money, but don't take chances. My adage is always to do exactly what they say on their official visa on arrival rules mentioned at their Visa on Arrival page https://extranet.immigration.go.th/voaonline/voaonline/VoaonlineAction.do. If you check that page, you will notice that they do not mention bank statements. If the visa officer ignores your bank statements and insists on seeing the spending money, you will spend time arguing with her, and the people in the queue behind you will get angry. I am sure you are planning to take some USD (or INR etc.) to spend in Thailand, just show this money. Having said that, I guess there is no harm in carrying a bank statement printout. 

Q7. My travel agent or someone told me that you have to show 1000USD (or some other amount) Is it true?
A. You only need the documents that I listed in the section A5 on top. If your travel agent does too much drama, show them the official Thai Ministry of  Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival (link at the bottom). 

Q8. Where do I pick up my bags? Before visa on arrival or after?
A. After. The baggage area is immediately after the immigration counter where you get your visa stamped. If you find that your baggage belt is already assigned to a more recent flight, check the floor near the belt for your bags. Usually, the airport crew will unload the unclaimed bags and place it next to the belt. Thailand is warm, and it is much cheaper to buy clothes locally, and there are laundromats a plenty everywhere. Avoid bringing a big bag; it will slow you down. 

Q9. I am going to Cambodia/Lao/Malaysia or other neighbouring countries from Thailand and returning to Thailand for my return flight back home. Can I get a multiple or double entry visas? Can I leave Thailand and enter again in a day or two with a new VOA? How easy is it to get the visas for neighbouring countries?

A.  Thailand no longer issues a double/multiple entry tourist visas. You will only get a single entry visa, valid for 15 days. You need to get a visa on arrival on every entry to Thailand. Get your first visa on arrival at the Thai airport where you enter the country. Exit Thailand to visit the neighbouring country. Then get your next Thai visa on arrival when you re-enter Thailand. I have applied for a visa on arrival at several border posts and airports (often within one or two days of my last exit from Thailand), and it is not a problem as long as you can show a  flight ticket out of Thailand to another country (and pay the visa fees, etc.). A list of border posts where you can get the visa on arrival is at Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival.

For Lao, Cambodia, and Indonesia, you can get the visa on arrival at most international borders and airports. For the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia, it is better to get the visa in advance. Malaysia offers visa on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Philippines offer visa-free entry to Indians and Chinese citizens who have long term visas (or a yet unused visa) from the US, Japan, EU and a couple of other rich countries. 

I have had Indian travellers tell me that they have had trouble getting the Cambodian Visa on Arrival while crossing into Cambodia via land border at Poipet (if you are taking the bus from Bangkok).  To avoid the hassle, get the Cambodian e-visa in advance from https://www.evisa.gov.kh


Q10. Do we need to show a marriage certificate to prove that we are a family
A. You do not need any documentation to demonstrate that you are a family. Thailand is not that fussy. 

Q11. Are the counters open 24 hours?
The counters are open as long as they have international flights at that particular airport (or as long as the land border is open).

Q12. Is there any particular procedure or forms to fill while flying out of Thailand?
Nothing, just get your boarding pass from the airline counter, and head to the immigration. The officer here will detach the stapled departure card, stamp the exit date on your passport and return you the passport. You don't need to fill any forms etc. on the way back. 

Q13. What happens if I live and work in Malaysia, Singapore or Cambodia and plan to travel to Thailand via land?
The process is similar. Show your work or resident visa issued by the neighbouring country in addition to rest of documents. You have to fill in the bus number or your car number on the arrival-departure card. It is also advisable to carry a photocopy of the first page of your passport and the work/resident visa of the neighbouring country. If you are driving from Malaysia into Thailand, there are some other documents that you need to fill in - related to car insurance, and certifying that you are not importing the car in Thailand.

Q 14. Do I need to book hotels? What if I am staying with relatives or friends?
As I mentioned before, I have never been asked to show the hotel reservations in my 19 years of travels to Thailand. But once in a while, I get an email from some tourists stating that they were asked to show the hotel reservations.
These are my suggestions
1. If you have already planned your trip in detail, just book the hotels and print out the confirmation and keep them with you.
2. If you want to be super flexible backpacker who wants to travel without a plan, better get the visa in advance from the Thai Embassy in your home country (If you still want to use the VOA, better book the first one or two hostels and print out the booking confirmation)
3. If you are planning to stay with friends or relatives, ask them to email you a scan of their Thai ID cards and business cards. Print these and carry them with you. Have their local phone numbers ready. 

Q15. Can I enter Thailand via one VOA location and exit at some other location?
Yes. You can enter from any VOA post. You can exit from any border crossing point, same as your point of entry or different, even if the exit port does not have VOA. 

Q.16 Do I need to take VOA for kids below a particular age?
Yes, every member of your party, irrespective of the age, needs a VOA.  Each traveller, even minors need to have the VOA form filled. You can sign on behalf of younger children. 

Any other question? Email me at smarterbysharing@gmail.com. I will try to reply within a day or two. Have a safe trip.

Links: 
Thailand's Embassy in Singapore, page that shows Visa on Arrival requirements  http://www.thaiembassy.sg/visa-matters-/-consular/visa-on-arrival






What are good SIM cards and data SIM cards for tourists in Thailand

Where can I buy the SIM cards? Is it better to buy at the airport or in the city? 

You will see the telco sales counters in the arrivals area of Suvarnabhoomi airport (once you exit the the customs area). DTAC and AIS are next to each other. If you walk another 200 meters or so you will see the less busy TRUE. You can also buy the SIM cards from the 7/11 counter in the basement (same level as the train station to the city). At the Don Mueang and other international airports, check the arrivals area or any convenience store like the 7/11s. 

You can also buy SIM cards from the mobile shops in the city. I would recommend buying the SIM at the airport, as the counter staff will be able to set up your phone and advise you on top ups. The convenience stores in the city tend to be busy and the staff will not configure your phone. The phone shops are all right, but the staff may not know enough English. Having said that, the SIM cards do not need any configuring. I have found that the internet access works as soon as I slot the SIM card on my iPhone. On my Android phone, I had to reboot the phone to get the data connection to work.

What are the data enabled SIM card options for Thailand? Following are the data SIM cards you can purchase

DTAC’s happy SIM card. More details at https://www.dtac.co.th/en/prepaid/

AIS 12 call is another option. Again, this SIM card is available at shops all over the city. See http://www.ais.co.th/roaming/visiting/sim-for-traveller-en.aspx

True is the third option. http://truemoveh.truecorp.co.th/3g/sim-truemoveh/prepaid/entry/2258?ln=en

True's SIM card for tourists.

Most of these SIM cards will allow top-ups that will increase the validity beyond a week. Just let the sales person at the counter know how long you are going to spend in Thailand, and they will recommend a suitable plan to you. You can request them to show you the recharge steps.

I have used SIM cards from all the networks. Coverage on all these networks were good ,though there were some areas with slow or no connectivity -  for example the outskirts of cities, on highways etc.

FAQs

Do I need to show the passport or any other papers to get the SIM card? 

Some places ask for you passport, some don't. Better be prepared with some sort of ID.

Will the SIM work for a SIM locked phone or a CDMA phone? 

No, your phone has to be SIM unlocked. The SIM cards will only work on unlocked phones from Japan, South Korea and some US networks. If you are unsure, please call your network provider before you leave your home country. They might have an inexpensive data roaming plan that you can use for short trips. The networks run on GSM technology so the SIM cards will not work with CDMA phones.

Will they have nano SIM card for iPhone 5s, micro sim card for iPhone 4s and others? 

Of course, they have. If not, they will cut the SIM card for you.

DTAC's SIM card in regular and nano size.


Thai mobile users are ahead of the curve. They are heavy users of latest smartphones and the phone shop staff are familiar with latest phone models. Back in 2007, Thai schoolgirls were one of the first demographic in Asia to use the iPhone. Suvarnabhoomi airport is one of the most instagrammed building in the world.

What is the best place to buy a new, unlocked phone in Bangkok? 

Try MBK Centre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MBK_Center or Phantip Plaza http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantip_Plaza. Thai mobile users are always experimenting with new phones. So you can always find newer phones in the second hand market too.

Is it easy to get free wifi at cafe and restaurants in Thailand? 

You hotel or hostel will surely have wi-fi. The more upmarket the hotel, the more stingy they are with wifi. The number of cafe and food places offering free wi-fi has gone down in recent years in Bangkok. Either they don't offer wifi, or the network does not work.  Chiang Mai and smaller cities are much better with respect to free wifi in cafes.

If you have questions, email me at smarterbysharing@gmail.com.

Good to be a monkey in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Somehow I wandered into the town of Praphuap. The idea was to keep traveling north from the Thai border but I guess this is the northernmost I will go to this time round. The sea side here hosts couple of mobile bars in the night. There is a night market with good local food. I spend the time learning Thai from some students, talking to a food vendor who loves her dog deeply, and trying lots of local foods. 

To make a little girl smile

You can travel half the world but.

I often meet fellow travellers who lament that they have not travelled to many countries. It is often the complaint of those of us who come from less wealthy countries and less welcome passport -  we always lose out on the exchange rate and have to go through extensive visa process before we can travel.

I tell them about this one time in Bangkok.

The Korean enclave at Sukhumvit is one of my favourite places. Whenever I am in the city, I often end up here for a bowl of cold noodles. This time around, I was at a travel agent’s, looking to find a way to Pyongyang. There were some raised eyebrows; not many go to the North. The travel agent looked for a book for the airport code. With a knowing smile, I said, “try FNJ.” The travel agent was probably now convinced that I was a spy or a nuclear weapons dealer.

Through the glass door, I could see a little Korean girl with a giant water gun. It was the second day of the Thai water festival, and kids all around Thailand were spraying people with their water guns. The little girl looked up expectantly at people walking by — mostly serious looking neighbouring Korean shopkeepers. She was hoping to get their approval to soak them. Most just glared at the little girl. She gave up and sat down in a corner with a sadding face.

I excused myself from the travel agent. I walked out to the little girl. I raised my hand in surrender and called out to her. “Chingu” (chingu = friend). She looks at me stunned, but soon enough her face turned happy. With a loud shriek and fierceness of a North Korean secret agent, she emptied the water gun on me.

You can travel half the world. But, there is no point if you can’t make a little girl smile.