A Little Debacle…How NOT to Do a Visa Run

I’m not exactly sure why I was so woefully under-prepared for my seemingly easy visa run to Malaysia last week, but let’s chalk it up to sheer laziness and a touch of travel arrogance.

Thailand gives visitors from the United States (among other nationalities) an easy 30 days on-arrival visa if you enter the country by air. Coming into Thailand, that was simple enough. And rather than apply for a Thai visa from the US, I figured I’d just do a visa run in Southeast Asia once I was settled into Chiang Mai, and apply for a double entry visa (that enables about six months in Thailand with some extensions and requirements).

Colorful street corner in the historic Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

So my planned visa run was all shiny, happy rainbows and puppies in my mind. Travelers rave about Penang, Malaysia; the city is a melting pot of culture and food from all over Asia, perhaps moreso than any other single country in Asia. With dreams of South Indian dosas in my near future, I booked my ticket, hopped on the plane and assumed all would flow seamless from there.

I mean, I’m a pro at this right?

Huge sigh from over here. Especially when I met my friend Paddy in Penang.

I slugged into our Penang hotel late in the evening and after our hugs of hellos (she’s a fellow Chaing Mai expat, also on her visa run) she shoots me a beseeching look:

“Hey, Shannon, I didn’t realize Malaysia has different power outlets, did you remember an adapter for our laptop cords?”

Blank stare from me.

“Uh, no. Crap. They have different outlets?!”

A delicious masala dosa for breakfast in Penang, Malaysia.

An innocuous start to the visa run, we searched out an appropriate adapter, entered into a hilarious bartering debate with the man running our hotel reception; our receptionist brokered the deal in hushed tones in the back corner of the hotel, as if we were attempting a shady transaction of an entirely different kind!

A mere 5 Malaysian Ringgit later (at 3 Ringgit to the USD), we procured a cord adapter and began plotting out our trip to the Thai consulate in the morning.

Paddy: “So, I know I’m super lame, and you’re all prepared, but I forgot my passport sized photos for the visa, so can we stop and take photos before the consulate tomorrow?”

Of course, not me I had a neat stack of 18 nicely cut passport photos…sitting inside my house in Chiang Mai.

Every question out of Paddy’s mouth had me kicking myself in the rear.

Nope, I didn’t print out the application. I have no idea what time the consulate opens. Nor how many days a visa takes. (Same day pickup  in Penang for a Thai visa, by the way).

And my plan of a double entry visa?

Foiled. Penang doesn’t issue double entry Thai visas.

This is the point where I deserved a public flogging from the Universe. I had, literally, hopped onto a plane to Penang with no plans, no research, and just a smile on my face and, thankfully, my passport in my pocket.

Tools for a visa run: Passport, money, converter, photos, and a pen!

It all worked out in the end (except, I only got a single entry visa, there was no getting out of that mistake), which does say something for spontaneity. Because of this snafu, however, I will likely leave Thailand a month sooner than planned. Rather than do another visa run, nearby countries, like Sri Lanka, are calling my name!

So with the debacle of doing it wrong in mind, below is a quick and simple checklist for visa-runs, visa applications, and really any plans involving the appropriate and easy procurement of a visa. Every country has different rules, as does every type of visa so please don’t take my word as gospel. Learn from me and do your own research too :)

Quick Tips: What you Need When Applying for Thai Visas

  • Your passport
  • Two passport sized photos
  • A black or blue pen
  • Print out the application online ahead of time if possible
  • Research the consulate or embassy’s opening hours
  • Confirm they are authorized to issue the type of visa you want
  • Know the exchange rate in the country you’re entering so you’re not rolled over by touts at the border
  • Research plug converters, currency and a place to stay in the city.

All I have to say is that my Malaysian visa run is a cautionary tale about what happens when you get lazy and think you have this travel thing “totally down.”

It’s always some sort of travel adventure over here in Shannonland.

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16 Responses to A Little Debacle…How NOT to Do a Visa Run

  1. Anonymous April 24, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Blimey – Thanks for this timely blog – I was on my way from Bangkok next week to Penang – I didn’t know Penang doesn’t issue double entry Thai visas…Thanks for experiencing this…I guess for my benefit!

    • Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Glad it helped just in time! They definitely don’t, but there are others
      that do (Vientiane, laos is an easy place to get it done) :) Good luck!

  2. Gray March 5, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    I imagine this must be one of the biggest hassles of long-term travel: Managing the visas. I’d be surprised if you never ran into some snags in the process.

    • Anonymous March 5, 2011 at 5:51 am #

      The visas are definitely one of the trickier areas, consistently, esp when
      you decide to just stop researching and wing it! :)

  3. My Kafkaesque Life March 3, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    How to apply visa to Shannonland? :P

    • Anonymous March 3, 2011 at 6:18 am #

      Hahaha! I like it; how much should I charge?…or how about, entry is free
      of charge but you have to come Shannonland with some cool food from your own
      country…or just ice cream. Ice cream is always welcome! Okay, now I’m off
      on tangents.. ;-)

      • My Kafkaesque Life March 3, 2011 at 6:29 am #

        Sounds tempting. If you come to Taiwan again, I’ll treat you shaved ice :)

        • Anonymous March 3, 2011 at 6:49 am #

          Deal! :)

  4. James Clark March 1, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Always check for the latest visa requirements. I’m not saying this in a “wagging my finger at you” way, but in a “note to self” way. I have been denied entry into 2 European countries because I didn’t check the visa status. And now, here I sit, in Penang, having just found out that India are no longer issuing visas to Australians in Malaysia.

    Great tips for the Thai visa as well, at the rate they are changing the visa laws always best to check the most up to date source.

    • Anonymous March 3, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      There’s a little bit of finger wagging in there James! ;-) But yeah, I
      suspect you know the feeling since you had to change all of your plans just
      this past week because of a visa issuing problem – not that I can say I’m
      too sad since it means you come back to CM! :) Thanks for weighing in and
      for the additional tips!

  5. Andi Perullo February 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    It all works out in the end, yes? :) Gotta love the crazy misadventures!!!

    • Anonymous March 1, 2011 at 3:00 am #

      It definitely all works out some way or another, no matter how wacky the
      adventure :-)

  6. soultravelers3 February 27, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Wow! Funny, we recently did a visa run from Penang to Thailand and it was soooo easy and we didn’t need any of that except our passport. Penang is less than 2 hours drive to Thailand so we took a taxi walked over and walked back and were back to Penang mid day with 3 more months to stay..no consulate, no hassle, no bother. ;) We did talk to our expat neighbors who had done it before so knew the drill except they drove.

    • Anonymous February 28, 2011 at 5:12 am #

      Perhaps I should be living in Malaysia then! :) I will say that crossing
      the border was easy, I flew into Hat Yai and then bussed it into Penang
      without any issues on either side. Really amazing though that Malaysia gives
      you such a long entry on arrival – didn’t realize that…hmmm. Sorry to have
      missed you when I was there, your tweets indicated you three were out of the
      city traveling with your mum! :)

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