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This is a specialised post that will only be of interest to expats in Thailand but it does give others a taste of the fairly minor bureaucracy hurdles we expats have to schedule into life here in order to continue to enjoy the very generous Thai hospitality.

We have some friends visiting us from Chiang Mai and Bob had to complete a visa run to extend his permission to stay in Thailand based on an OA Retirement Visa. This allowed him to take advantage of the two year stay option based on the original one year visa. See HERE and HERE for more information.

Bob was kind enough to detail the process and I thought it was worth sharing with others. As always do your own research but this is a real-life example with a positive result so that’s about as good as it gets.

Bob’s words:

Thailand – Laos 2 hour Border Run with Retirement Visa (no stay in Laos)

 I have non-imm O-A retirement Visa. The 12 months was almost up, so I did a border run at the Nong Khai ‘friendly bridge’ border with Laos, while visiting friends near Udon Thani.  I now have another 12 months permission to stay stamped in Passport and on Departure card. I found some good advice here and on other sites on how to do it – here is my experience and more details that may help some others.

Drove to Nong Khai in my own car, so those that get a bus from Udon Thani can skip step one.  There is a parking site 100 meters on the left just before the border crossing station at the bridge and it was 50 baht for the time I parked it (2-3 hours). Apparently there are more secure/undercover parking places further away for those wanting to stay in Laos for a day or two at about 100 Baht per day, but I wanted to be close (and not need a tuk tuk to border station).

A map showing the relationship of Nong Khai to Udon Thani.

A map showing the relationship of Nong Khai to Udon Thani.

When I arrived there was a huge number of trucks backed up and I started thinking I was too late – arrived at 11.30am. I had decided to avoid the early morning horde of Visa runners in buses.  After noticing a few cars drive around the trucks (on other side of road) I followed suit and was able to then squeeze between two trucks (following another car) and get into the side road where the carpark was located. I noticed that all the trucks were lined up and went into the left side of the border crossing – whereas cars went through on the right lanes. The cars went through OK, but I reckon the trucks would take several hours just to get to the border station.

At the border station (literally a 3 min walk from carpark), there are facilities and ATMS and even photocopying and photo services.  There are several touters offering ‘private’ transport to take you across the bridge, but I had already decided to follow the herd and get on the 20 baht regular bus. There are also touts hanging around that can provide details of taxi drivers on the Laos side if needed to visit Vientiane (lunch and back?) – not for me on that day.

At the checkpoint, there are a few tables where you can complete your departure card if you have not already done so – and friendly advisers if you need to ask questions or get a new one.  After sorting that out, I went to the immigration stands and was quickly stamped out of Thailand by the immigration official it only took a few minutes as there was not a big queue at the time.  At busy periods there are apparently many other visa runners and tourists, so you might be forced to queue and wait – not an issue for me (and it was Monday).

Once your passport has been stamped, you go through another gate/post and security and then immediately on the left is a window where you can buy a ticket for the bus that runs between the Thai and Laos sides of bridge (you cannot walk across and it is several kilometres anyway). There appears to be several  types of buses (old and newer) – I was lucky to get a new air-con one and a seat immediately. Once full the bus will leave – the trip to the other side and the Laos border station took about 10 mins including wait.

 At the Laos immigration and customs post, a 30-day visa on arrival will be given automatically (unless from wrong country – check their web site). You get an application card/form from window 1 and complete at the provided tables. PS –pens provided, but take a pen with you anyway.  You then go to window 2 and pay 1300baht and hand over passport and form/card.  You then wait at windows 3 – about 10 mins and passport with Visa is handed out – dont go away from the area – they seem to just hold it out till someone takes it. This is where I met a nice guy from Germany doing the run – he had done it many times and didn’t have all the unnecessary khrapp/bags I had brought with me (everything he needed was in his shorts). That will be me next time – cool and unflustered – not the newbie carrying everything but a kitchen sink – totally not needed.

After you collect your passport, you continue on and walk past the immigration booths through the left side. The immigration booths to the right are for others, not you in this process.  You then continue on through the security check and gates – they will open side and let you though – the ones that open/close with cards are for others.  It there is unlikely to be any checking carried out, but you never know, so be prepared to be searched.  There is a one last desk where you show your passport again, and after that you have crossed into Laos.

To exit Laos, simply turn left immediately after passing the last desk.  Join the queues waiting at the immigration booths just around the corner.  Unlike on the Thai side it is not indoors and no fans were working –the 15 minute wait was not comfortable – take water with you.  Show passport and your departure card (complete if not already done so) and get stamped out of the country. There is yet another a security checkpoint, and this is where you need to have got a card to use to pass though those automatic turnstyle type gates.  Again – there are helpful friendly officials – just be careful to only talk to those in uniform or helping people complete their documents – touts are everywhere and on the Laos side are a lot more ‘aggressive’.  Don’t get aggressive/annoyed – just smile and say no thank you and they will leave you alone.

Immediately  after security, and on the left, is the window to buy tickets on the next bus to take you back across the bridge.  There was a large queue of people waiting, and I later found out that this was because the bridge becomes jammed up with trucks and cars by early afternoon. I was fortunate enough not to be able to get on the first old hot bus that arrived as I was late. It had people jammed in and hanging on like a songthaew when it left. Not long after it left, a bigger more modern bus arrived (curtains and fans that worked but no air-con). I suggest you dont ever jam yourself into an old bus – wait for the next one.  And the reason I was ‘late’ was because I walked across the road and bought some water – and there was my German mate sitting back having a beer (talk about having it all sorted out).  The shuttle bus takes you back over the bridge to the Thai customs checkpoint. This trip took about 20 minutes because the bridge was blocked several times by cars trying to get passed the trucks.

Back at the Thai end of the bridge, pick up a new arrival/departure card, and complete that and then join the queues (inside) to the immigration booths – the ones on the right with signs in Thai only are for the Thais only.  Took about 15 minutes to get through – tip: avoid the queue with young backpackers, they seemed to take the longest and this is probably because they have not completed their forms properly. The Thai immigration official will stamp your passport and departure card – good to be back in the land of smiles!  Before you leave the booth, open the passport and take a look at the stamps on both passport and departure card. They had stamped my passport arrival date and the date of departure for Nov2016, but they had not stamped the departure date on my Departure card. When I asked, he said it was not needed, but I smiled and asked if he would please do so and he did – all good.

About 2 hours (plus the drive there and back) and I now I have another 12 months in Thailand, and with the original 12 months (less one day), that means 2 years in Thailand on the one Visa. Next year I will go back home and get a new ‘retirement’ Visa and do the same process again to get 2 years from it too. There are benefits in being over 50!!  For those thinking it, my 12 month retirement Visa has not been extended, what has been extended is my permission to stay in Thailand. If I leave before November next year, without getting a permission to leave and re-enter document beforehand (1900 baht), my Visa is automatically cancelled and I will need to get a new one (or accept the automatic 30 days Visa when I return).   And I must still ‘report’ every 90 days too of course – no one escapes that little gem of ‘bureaucrazy’.

Thanks again for the information Bob.