I've seen a lot of misinformation here lately about tourist visas to Thailand, so I decided to write this. Hope it helps some.
The Thailand Tourist Visa FAQ
Written by US-Farang
While I am NOT a lawyer, a travel agent, or a visa expert, I have done extensive research over the past several months about Thai visas. I hope that you will benefit from the information I've gathered during my research. The information in this FAQ applies ONLY to people visiting Thailand as tourists and who do not plan to work/retire/marry/etc. in the kingdom.
Q: Do I need to get a visa before travelling to Thailand?
The short answer is, "probably not," but please read on because that answer doesn't cover every situation.
You do not need a visa to enter the kingdom of Thailand for tourism if ALL of these apply to you:
1) Your passport is from one of Thailand's visa-exempt nations. This includes the U.S., Canada, most of Europe, Australia, etc. You can view the current complete list at http://www.mfa.go.th/web/2482.php?id=2490.
2) You will leave Thailand within 30 days (29 nights)
3) You will arrive through an international airport
Technically, you also need have adequate finances (10,000 baht per person or 20,000 baht per family), a flight out within 30 days, and you cannot be ineligible for entry (HIV-positive, deported from any nation, etc.), but it's unlikely that an immigration official will ask or care.
If you meet ALL of the above criteria (as most westerners will), then you can come to Thailand without a visa and at no charge. When you arrive, you'll go through immigration at the airport and will be stamped in on visa-exempt status for 30 days. This is NOT the same thing as a visa-on-arrival. Instead, it's a permission to stay in the kingdom for up to 30 days without having to bother with getting a visa at all. This is most short-time (heh) vistors need.
Q: What if I arrive overland (not through the airport)?
If you enter the kingdom overland (bus, train, car, bicycle, roller skates, etc.), all of the above applies BUT you will only be permitted 15 days (14 nights) to stay.
Q: Can I extend my stay if I entered on a visa-exempt stamp?
Not very long. Officially, the visa-exempt entries cannot be extended. If you have a hardship, you can visit immigration and beg, though. They may give you an extension (up to 7 days), but it's up to the immigration official you talk to.
Q: What if I want to stay more than 30 days, but less than 90 days?
If you want to stay continuously (strictly for tourism still) for longer than 30 days, you will need to get a tourist visa ahead of time from an embassy or consulate outside of Thailand. Check your country's Royal Thai Embassy website for specifics, but generally you'll need to present your passport, application form, 2 passport-style photos, round-trip ticket copy, and evidence of finances. Processing times can take from a couple days (if you do it in person) to several weeks (if you use the mail), so get it done early. Not too early, though. Once the visa is issued, you'll usually only have 90 days to enter Thailand.
You'll get a tourist visa, which grants you 60 days in the kingdom. If you want to stay up to 30 days longer, though, you can get it extended without leaving the country by visiting an immigration office (it MUST be the immigration office in the province where you are staying) with a passport-style photo and 1900 baht. You can do this whenever you want. The extension is 30 days beyond your current permission to stay, not 30 days beyond when you apply for it.
Unlike the visa-exempt entries, tourist visas are not free. They cost about 1000 baht (per entry, see below) in local currency. Between May 11, 2010 and March 31, 2011, these fees are waived for single-entry tourist visas, though.
Q: What is a "multiple-entry" or "double-entry" tourist visa?
If you plan to stay mostly in Thailand, but will leave the country at least once during your stay, you might be able to get a "multiple-entry" tourist visa. This is essentially the same as getting two (or three) tourist visas (as described above). You still have to leave the country before your first entry expires, but you are allowed to re-enter Thailand on the same visa. You MUST activate your second entry before the visa expires! This may be as short as 90 days from the day the visa was issued, to check your visa to be sure! Technically, on a double-entry tourist visa, you can stay (with an exit) in Thailand for up to 6 months if you extend both entries, but keep the following in mind:
* When you pay your visa fees, you pay per entry (a triple-entry visa, if you can get it, would be about 3000 baht)
* Exiting the country for any reason closes your current entry (but see below about re-entry permission)
* You MUST use the second entry before the visa expires, and this may be less than 90 days before you first arrived.
* Some consulates (Penang, Malaysia, for example) will deny you any future tourist visas if you've extended one
Remember that you cannot apply for a tourist visa of any kind from within Thailand. You MUST apply outside of the kingdom. Technically up to triple-entry visas are allowed, but I haven't heard of anyone recently who got one. And double-entry visas can be hard to find. Generally, the further you are from Thailand, the better your chances of getting a double-entry visa. You'll probably get one if you apply at Washington, D.C., Perth, or Hull, but you probably won't if you apply at any consulate in southeast Asia. Though it's completely subject to change, the embassies at Vientiane (Laos) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) seem to be friendlier than some other consulates. Avoid Penang, Malaysia for visas at all costs.
Q: Is there a limit to how many times I can get visa-exempt permissions?
No. There used to be a limit, but you can currently get visa-exempt entries as often as you like. Keep in mind, though, that overland visa-exempt permissions are just 15 days. This is a fairly new rule, designed to weed out folks who are working illegally in Thailand.
Q: What if I stay longer than my visa or permission allows?
Go IMMEDIATELY to your nearest immigration office, and don't break any traffic laws on the way! You will have to pay a fine of 500 baht per day (up to a maximum of 20,000 baht), but you can probably get a 1-7 day permission to leave. If you're picked up for any reason on an overstay, well, plan on some time in jail. You will not enjoy this.
Q: What if I want to go out of the country while my visa is still good?
You can get a "re-entry" permit if you go to an immigration office. This basically "suspends" your visa while you're out of the country (it does not extend it). Bring a passport-style photo and 1900 baht.
Q: Can I extend my tourist visa?
Yes, you can. A 60-day tourist visa can be extended by 30 days at any immigration office. Bring 1900 baht and a passport photo.
Note that visa-exempt entries CANNOT be extended, and visas that have been extended CANNOT be extended a second time.
Q: Can I scream at you if my visa issues don't go the way I want?
Feel free to vent. I really can't help you, though.
Q: Are tourist visas free?
There has been lots of discussion about this (thanks to unreliable reports from one website that shall remain nameless), but yes, tourist visa fees will be waived between May 11, 2010 and March 31, 2011. Consulates may still charge an administrative fee.