Expat · Thailand

I hate the Vientiane visa run.

vientiane-2014
Welcome to Vientiane, 2014

I hate the Vientiane visa run. Even though I’ve done it a few times, and even experienced an unforeseen problem, I still endured a special kind of hell that is reserved for visa runs.

2010 was the last time I went, so it’s been awhile. But because I changed schools, I had to go back again. Remember anytime you change your visa, Thailand requires you to leave the country. And with the latest government, a lot of new rules, crackdowns and regulations have been implemented, much to the “delight” of travelers and expats.

But let’s focus on the visa run, shall we? First of all, I flew. I don’t have the gumption to throw all my money away, so I didn’t fly into Laos, as it is incredibly expensive. Instead, I flew into Udon Thani which is about an hour away from Nong Khai and the Friendship Bridge.

flights-screenshot
Subject to change, but a nice alternative to the 11-13hr bus ride for those of us who reside in the North.

When I flew, Nok Air was the best option, so I knew I would have to make the border crossing at night. After you land in Udon, there is a “Limousine service” sign to the right of the exit doors. Buy your ticket to Nong Khai here. There are mini-vans for 150 baht that take you directly to the Friendship Bridge (Laos-Thailand border). Brilliant.

I travelled on a Sunday, after a long holiday weekend, so traffic was horrible. But the nice young man who helped me said, “It’s always like this on Sundays.” And since he’s lived in Laos for 10 years, I took his word for it. He also said not to pay anything more than 200 baht to get into town. The van driver dropped us off as close as he could and we walked to the Immigration checkpoint, no problem, bypassing tons of cars.

The border is open until 10pm, but you will have to pay an additional $1 “overtime fee” once you are in Laos to receive your Laos tourist visa. I paid in baht and received my change in baht. I read on Thai visa that a British couple paid in USD and had to pay more anyway. Unfortunately, all of us that do this crossing are at the whim of whoever is working.

Normally, I stay in Vientiane proper, but this time I decided to find a hotel close to the Embassy. For 2 nights I stayed at Douang Pra Seuth Hotel which is opposite and just slightly down the road from the Thai Embassy. The room was about 900 baht and then the next night I was forced to upgrade to the VIP room for 1200 baht.

If you are new to SE Asia, these rooms will seem sub-standard, but since I’ve lived here awhile, they were fine. Hot showers, clean beds, and a good breakfast were included, too. And by good, I mean, there were options like fresh fruit, baguettes, omelets and noodle soup made to order, but I chose the rice porridge which was surprisingly tasty. There were also other restaurant options nearby.

Another selling point for me was the three computers with Internet in the lobby, a free shuttle van into the city and the location to the Embassy which turned out to be a life-saver.

embassy-line
Tuesday at 8.30am was the green arrow. Monday at 7.30am was the red arrow. Can you guess which day I was there?

From my hotel window, I could see the cue forming as early as 6.30 Monday morning. I ended up joining the line at 7.30. I couldn’t bring myself to wait any earlier, I mean, either way, you have to wait and it was already hot, so there was no temperature advantage. When I finally got to the end of the cue in the Embassy, a woman briefly looked at my paperwork and handed me a handwritten number on recycled paper. I was 230. There were over 600 that day. And despite the office hours saying 8.30-11.30, the Embassy didn’t stop receiving passports until 3pm.

I had to return to the cue twice that day because they needed a “telex” or transaction number from my school. So, this is the main reason why I love the hotel that I stayed at. I had no signal at the Embassy or the hotel, but I was able to call long-distance to Thailand using the front desk phone, and get the information I needed. Also, they had a fax machine.

After they finally accepted my paperwork, I went to the air-con room and waited for them to call my number again, so I could pay for my visa. There is now an additional 10 baht processing fee. (Of course, there is.)

Vientiane bicycle cart
Vientiane bicycle cart

The following day, I waited until 1.30 to pick up my passport and visa, but the doors actually opened at 1pm, unlike the day before where the doors don’t open until the actual time they say they will, 8.30am. I had to grab another cue number. It’s easy to walk by the guy in the guard shack who isn’t paying attention because I did and then I read the small print out sign that said I needed a number.

Because Monday was insane, they were still putting on visa stickers on passports and processing the paperwork. It was the slowest pickup I had ever experienced despite the smaller numbers. I was 114 and I showed up at 1.25. The changes the Embassy has made has not helped it despite attempts to give numbers to people according to when folks line up. I think part of the problem is the vast numbers of tourists applying for visas.

I overhead someone say, “For 2,000 baht, you’d think we’d get better service.”

Interestingly, I knew from a previous visa runner that you could pay to “jump the cue”, but based on the taxi conversation I was privy to, there had been a clamp down on paid cue jumpers. The price a month or two ago was 500 baht, this time it was 1,000 for someone to stand in line for you.

By the time I had picked up my visa, and jumped through the various hoops at the border, I would have missed my return flight to CM due for takeoff around 5-6pm. But I deliberately chose a flight back the following day for this very reason. Even on a quiet day, you have to not only pick up your passport, but make it back through both the Laos and Thailand checkpoints and navigate transportation. I’ve done the mad dash, but this time I decided I wasn’t going to chance it.

When you do arrive back in Thailand, don’t take any of the tuk tuk drivers hovering around, they overcharge, just keep walking towards the 7-11 and you’ll find someone more reasonable. My travel companion went to Nong Khai bus station for 30 baht. And I went on to my guest house for 70.

I spent a day in Nong Khai, and for those who are delayed for whatever reason, I’d recommend it, too. I’ll write about that later. Now to sum up:

  • Holidays. Pay attention to when they are for both Thailand and Laos. And while you are at it, if you can avoid the Embassy around these times, do. I wish I did.
  • White background. My friend had a blue background for his pictures and the gatekeeper promptly ripped them off his forms. Both Thailand and Laos require white backgrounds for now, no smiling, etc. See the Embassy site for updates.
  • Changing rules. I was somewhat surprised by how much things had changed. I mean, just look at Chiang Mai’s Immigration. Whatever has been posted that is not within a month is already horribly out of date. Do your research and expect the unexpected.
  • Don’t fill out form in advance. Well, you could, but the forms everyone was using was not the same as I had gotten online. I had to fill everything out again, but that’s okay because I had all of the info handy.
  • Cross reference. It is common to get conflicting information, as is for folks to have different experiences depending on Mercury retrograding or the size of your stool that morning. I met a guy who said, a gatekeeper rejected his school’s paperwork saying it was all wrong. When he called his school, they said, the GK was full of shit and so the next day he went to a different GK and everything was fine.

And anyone who tells you they had a pleasant experience doing this, can you punch them in the face for me? Thanks.

Abandoned, neglected, up for demolition, Vientiane, Laos.
Abandoned, neglected, up for demolition, Vientiane, Laos.
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39 thoughts on “I hate the Vientiane visa run.

    1. Why are you so lucky? Are you on a spousal visa? Did you do it before coming to T-land? I went to KL too, and it was so much more civilized. Envious. Don’t make me go back. I’m still recovering.

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  1. I’m on the non-immigrant permanent residence visa. Just means that my school (massive international place in BKK) deals with it all. Which is nice.

    I’ve heard good things about KL but not been. At least you got to drink Beer Laos by the gallon (I assume). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a bit of a wait for your visa, Lani. A whole day set aside for it. At least you got it out of the way when the sun’s still shining – and you had some time to enjoy Vientiane in the evening. This sort of experience is similar to getting a passport in Malaysia. You have to get up at 5a.m, get to the embassy by 7a.m weaving through all the traffic and join the relatively short queue already at the door. Worse is that they don’t tell you when your documents are ready. It’s one big hassle, one big headache, one big waiting game.

    I’m with you on not filling out forms in advance. Sometimes when you get there you’ll discover they have a new form, or they have even more forms for you to fill out. Confusing.

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    1. Yeah, it’s the waiting that kills me. So much waiting and the stress of not knowing what is going to happen as there as been a lot of recent problems for people trying to get their visas here in Thailand. Some are forced to leave and others, well, they are going elsewhere.

      Later we will see if the tourism that has dropped 10% will pick up during the high season. And if the “crackdown” that Thailand has implemented will do what the country intended because many of us are scratching our heads.

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      1. That is a pity to hear. After all that waiting and some don’t get their visas. I’m sure money’s wasted to in the process, and their lives get turned around.

        The worst part is indeed waiting and when you’re not given an explanation or an answer about why things are the way they are. Bureaucracy.

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      2. Yes! You totally understand. And they make a lot of money with these visas and as far as I can tell, many Thais are not seeing the benefits.

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  3. I haven’t experienced it myself, but that sounds like something you would experience here as well, given the bad system we have. You might even wait in line much longer than you did there.

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  4. Just awful, but congrats on getting another one done and over with – I also despise the visa situation here as well. The information that supposedly is up to date seems to be up to the Immigration employees discretion. One must always hold their breath to hope that all goes well each and every time you approach the glass window!!
    ~ Andrea ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. I just assumed it was better everywhere else. I know that Thailand has one of the worst immigration/visa situations for SE Asia. It’s super frustrating for many people. And if it isn’t then they just haven’t been here long enough. Everyone has a story or two…

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  5. Sorry you had to go through that. Ugh! Sounds like your hotel made it a little more bearable. You offer some really good advice here too for others who have to do a visa run!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As I sit in my hotel in Vientiane, prepping mentally to go there tomorrow morning (the day after a holiday today), I feel your pain.

        It really is a “ridiculous and expensive marathon of stress.” What a nightmare just to get a piece of paper stamped.

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  6. Doing this early next week. Is it possible to get visa and get flight back same day? Also I was recommended same hotel but Is there cheaper locally there and do I book it before or just show up. So scared 😦 your writing helped

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many people get their visa and leave the same day. Flying is expensive so I’m sure you could also get a flight back, but I don’t know as I’ve only flown once out of Laos and that was years ago.

      I’d err on the side of safe and book what you can. And there are definitely cheaper hotels in Vientiane, if you are looking for the best price, I’d wander around and ask. If you are arriving during the day, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place to stay.

      Don’t forget, this Monday, June 1st is a major Thai holiday.

      Good luck!

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    1. Flights are very expensive, but you might be able to get a good last minute deal. Bus seats fill up fast. They usually leave in the evenings, and if you decide to take the bus, buy in advance. As I mentioned, Monday is a holiday, the Thai embassy will be closed and many travel during longer weekends.

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  7. thank you for that public holiday info. Flying nokair is only 1200 baht each way so just makes sense and from udon thani im reading various but 200 baht for a bus to city then another one. i dont know im still confused. I was just going to follow the crowd. I was told around the embassy to stay but read there is and isnt accommodation around there. with all this headache i might just sleep in the gutter but need this for work visa/permit. im new to all this rubbish 😦 quite scary for me

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many folks do the visa run and many will be able to point you in the right direction. You’ll most likely run into an expert runner and he/she will give you tons of stories and advice.

      It sounds like your NokAir flight will most likely take you to Udon Thani and then they will bus you over the border. Just ask a lot of questions, be humble and try to find a friend you can stick with b/c it will be easier to get a taxi into the Vientiane for a fair price with a buddy.

      You’ll be fine. There are many doing the same thing as you.

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  8. Thanks for this info, very helpful. Any tips for traveling there with 2 small children?

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  9. Things are even worse now. The multi entry visa will kill lots of tourists. Gone Double entry. Vientiane is for the hack tourists–there are better places (not disclosing I don’t want hundreds there)

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    1. Double entry is gone, eh? Well, I heard they are starting a 6month visa in order to get tourists to come back…always changing, always something…

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