Visas for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos
When researching visa requirements it is crucial to look at the source of your information. There are plenty of websites out there posing as official visa granting organizations who would like to charge you for your visa. Some of these sites are more reliable than others but there is no telling if your visa will actually be honored on arrival. Many of these sites look like embassy websites themselves but are clearly not affiliated with the country in question. Be careful. You always want to get information directly from the source of the sponsoring country.
In this post I will give a run down of what is required of Americans for several South East Asian countries, but be sure to follow the links to the embassies to make sure all your questions are answered before applying. This post will cover visas to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Look out for later posts on Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others.
Thailand offers citizens of the US and many other countries a 30 day visa on arrival. A visa on arrival means that you can fly into the country and as you clear customs you will pay the visa fee (if applicable) and be given a visa on the spot. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us, 30 days was not going to be enough. Looking at the Thai embassy’s website we found that we could apply in advance for 60 day tourist visas. We were required to show that we had plane tickets into and out of the country and that we each had at least $500 in the bank. For a limited time the Los Angeles Consulate is waiving fees for tourist visas. After March 4, 2010 the fee will return to $35. Unless you have an embassy or a consulate in your area you will usually have to mail in your application. That means dropping your passport in the mail as well. It can be pretty disconcerting to drop off that envelope at the post office and hope your passport returns in time for your departure, so give yourself plenty of time. Most embassies will give you an estimate of the time needed to process your application. Don’t wait until the last minute.
We are currently planning to head to Cambodia once our Thai visa expires. In fact, we purchased a cheap Air Asia flight to Cambodia to prove that we were exiting Thailand. Looking at the Cambodian embassy’s website it appears that Americans need to apply in advance for a tourist visa. After digging a little further I found that Cambodia also offers a visa on arrival. Whether you apply in advance or on arrival the visa is good for 30 days. The fee on arrival is $25 compared to the $20 fee for advance applications, but shipping your passport securely and time spent doing so will definitely be more costly than the $5 difference. For most people it will make sense just to get the the visa on arrival. Note that you may need to show sufficient funds and a return ticket to be admitted to the country.
Here is where it starts to get trickier. The Lao embassy’s website is pretty confusing. The site doesn’t mention the availability of visas on arrival. I even tried calling the phone number listed on the application, surely they get this question all the time. They didn’t even have a voicemail service saying that I had reached the Lao Embassy. Instead I was greeted with an automated Verizon mailbox and was unable to leave a message. The tourist visa available by mail is good for 30 days of travel and must be used within two months of the date it is issued. Because we will certainly not be in Laos within the next 60 days we are going to worry about the Lao visa later. Several sources online say that the visa is available on arrival, though you many be given only 15 days. It is also likely that we will be able to apply from another major South East Asian city such as Bangkok. Look out for future posts on this.