What is a Chiang Mai Visa Run?
Time was when doing a visa run from Chiang Mai was as common as booking a room. Vans to the Myanmar border would fill so quickly you needed to make bookings several days in advance. In response, the Thai government made it easier to extend a standard multi-entry tourist visa or visa-on-arrival (exemption) at Thai Immigration. This served the purpose of allowing the government to collect the bulk of the fees from longer-term visitors. It also provided the officials with an opportunity to keep a closer eye on exactly who was in the kingdom.
A typical overland visa run from Chiang Mai, Thailand, consists of walking across a bridge into Myanmar via the Thai city of Mae Sai. By exiting and re-entering the country, you re-set your multi-entry visa.
The second most common visa run from Chiang Mai is crossing the border from the Thai city of Nong Kai to the capital city of Vientiane, Laos.
It should be noted however, that a visa run from Chiang Mai is not limited to these two destinations. Provided you have the time and budget, any international flight from Chiang Mai will serve the same purpose for re-setting a multi-entry visa.
Special Visa Run Considerations Due To Covid
NOTE: The border crossing from Mai Sai, Thailand was closed in 2020-21 due to Covid. The border was re-opened on June 1st, 2022 for local trade and business with restrictions including proof of vaccination. When this article was written it was still not possible to do a normal visa run at this border crossing.
NOTE: Do not use the Mai Sai border crossing with a visa on arrival. At best you may receive two weeks for a land crossing.
Who Needs to do a Visa Run from Chiang Mai?
A typical reason for doing a border run from Chiang Mai, Thailand would be to re-set a multi-entry tourist visa or multi-entry 1-year non-b visa. The multi-entry tourist visa must be received from a Thai Embassy before arriving in Thailand and can be used to stay for up to 6 months. The following breakdown explains the steps for extending a multi-entry tourist visa.
Visa Run to Mae Sai Border
- 60 days upon entry
- 30 days extension at Chiang Mai Immigration
- 1900 thb (can apply in advance)
- 60 days upon re-entry after border crossing
- overland or by air before visa expires
- 30 days extension at immigration (second visit)
- 1900 thb
At this point, you will need to apply for a new tourist visa at a Thai Embassy outside the kingdom.
PRO TIP: When you apply for your initial tourist visa for Thailand, be sure to check the multiple entry box if you plan to stay longer than three months – and of course pay the additional fee required.
NOTE: Check to see if the Mae Sai border crossing has been re-opened since Covid.
Visa Run to Vientiane, Laos
The advantage of doing a visa run to Vientiane, Laos from Chiang Mai is the presence of a Thai Embassy. This means you can not only re-set a normal multi-entry visa by crossing a border but you can re-apply for an entirely new visa. Another advantage is the comfort and food available in the city.
How to do a Chiang Mai Visa Run to Myanmar
The easiest way to use your multi-entry Thai tourist visa to get a full six months to stay in Thailand from Chiang Mai is to take a van to the border town of Mae Sai to cross the border and re-enter Thailand. Crossing this land border and re-entering essentially re-sets a multi-entry visa to the original 60 days on arrival. Use the following steps to do a Chiang Mai Visa run to the Burma border. This can only be done one time per multi-entry tourist visa and multiple times per one-year Non-B Visa.
NOTE: Border crossings are subject to closure and restrictions due to Covid. Check for updates and restrictions before departing.
Book reliable round-trip van service to Mai Sai: approximately 600 thb round trip.
- To save money (or enjoy open-air windows) book bus from Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai
- Bus will drop you about .5 Kilometers from the border at bus station
- Catch local tuk tuk last 1/2 kilometer to border
- It is also possible to rent a car or drive a motorcycle
- If riding a motorbike, we recommend doing the trip over two days.
- Arrive early (or arrange van pick up at residence)
- PRO TIP: request seat behind driver for 50thb for extra leg room and window that opens
- Trip can take 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 hours
- After arriving at border, check with driver for exact departure time
- Walk across border and pay fee to Burmese Immigration ( 10-15 US Dollars )
- Return and receive updated stamp as you pass through Thai checkpoint
- PRO TIP: Show immigration officials your current multi-entry visa to avoid confusion. Check accuracy before moving away from checkpoint.
- Alert: Thai immigration officials have a great deal of leeway to enforce the strictest codes in their books. One such code is proof of income. The proof of income is 20, 000 thb. Immigration officials at land crossings rarely enforce the income requirement but if you present as a suspicious character or have been relying on visa runs for years, they can enforce it at their discretion. It should also be noted that the Burmese town of Tachilek is a long drive from anywhere.
- Be sure to be efficient to catch your return van or bus service.
How to do a Chiang Mai Visa Run to Vientiane, Lao?
A visa run from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, Laos has a full range of options depending on your time and budget. Most people do visa runs to Laos to apply for a new Thai visa at the Thai Embassy in the capital Vientiane. The options for transport include:
- Fly to Udon Thani in Thailand
- NOK Air
- After disembarking, proceed immediately to transport counter for van service to border.
- Tickets are first come – first served. The van will depart when full.
- Fly to Vientiane in Laos
- About 12-14 hours
- Drops at Nong Kai Bus Station
- Tuk Tuk to Friendship Bridge Border Crossing
- PRO TIP: Don’t allow transport driver to misdirect you to an expensive visa processing center
- Car parking with security on Thai side of border
- Van Service
- Less common and expensive
- Better option for group visa run
When you are making a visa run from Chiang Mai to Vientiane. Laos, plan for several extra days to be sure you have enough time. The Thai Embassy only accepts visa applications until noon and then disperses visas in the afternoon. The normal process is to submit in the morning and pick up your new visa the next day in the afternoon.
Lao Visa Runners PRO TIPS
PRO TIP: Firstly, check to see if the Thai Embassy in Vientiane is requiring appointments. Also, download and complete the application, take photos and make and sign copies before departing to make things easier. If you are not in a position to do this, the Thai Embassy does provide all of these services.
PRO TIP: The Thai Embassy hands out stamped visas in the afternoon. Be efficient and arrive on time if you plan to catch a flight back to Chiang Mai on the same day.
How Many Visa Runs From Thailand Can I Do?
Technically, there is no formal limit to the number of visa runs you can do from Thailand. Having said that, the immigration officer handling your entry into Thailand has the discretion to enforce restrictions on a subjective basis. A typical reason an immigration officer may cite for restricting access would be if they suspect you of working in Thailand without a work permit or because of too many years of border crossings.
What Paperwork Do I Need for a Visa Run to Laos?
To simply activate the next part of an existing multi-entry visa, you will only need your passport and photos. If your visa run to Vientiane, Laos is to visit the Thai Embassy – and apply for a new visa, the paperwork depends upon whether you are applying for a Thai Tourist Visa or a Non-B Visa.
To ensure you have all of the appropriate paperwork in order, we highly recommend you contact a Chiang Mai Visa Service such as SANS.
SANS will carefully prepare each page of the necessary documents and make sure you don’t leave without everything you need.
If you run into any problems, one of our visa agents will be available for you to contact for follow-up support at any time during your journey. Contact SANS to find out why we are the most trusted Visa Service in Chiang Mai.