I moved to Thailand! This has been a fantastic adventure and I am not ready to settle into the workforce just yet. I plan to spend my time studying and exploring. In order to do those things, however, I do need a visa. There are people who live in Thailand for years by exiting the country every 30 days and coming back in on a new tourist visa, but that sounds exhausting. Below is my guide to getting a student visa for the Land of Smiles.
Obviously this was written pre-Covid. All procedures will surely be subject to change once travel becomes possible again.
As of February 2019 the Thai Consulate in Vientiane now requires appointments for visa applications. The below information regarding queueing up and just showing up at the embassy is no longer correct, if you arrive without an appointment you will be turned away and could be stuck in Vientiane for several weeks. You may wish to go to an embassy in Penang, Cambodia, Singapore or KL instead. To make an appointment at the Vientiane consulate, check their new website here.
Step One – Enrol and Pay
Enrol in a school. Choose one which has the experience and legal ability to sponsor your ED visa. I chose Language Express just because of the location and because when I walked in they made it very easy and clear.
The school will ask you to pay for a course. Mine was 36,000 THB (US$1000) for 8 months of study. You will fill out a lot of paperwork and provide the school with 12 passport photos. They will make 12 copies of the paperwork (Yep, 12. Excessive) and submit it all to the Ministry of Education. It will take 4 to 6 weeks to know if you have been approved or not. If you are approved, you will get a call from the school to collect the papers needed to apply for the ED visa.
Step Two – Get Ready For Laos
You will get a huge pile of papers. All of it will be in Thai, and it will include a copy of the school owner’s ID card, letters of invitation, sponsorship, and other official-looking documents. Keep all of this safe and then book a ticket to Vientiane, Laos.
You don’t have to go to Laos, but you do have to leave Thailand and apply at a Thai consulate in another country. Vientiane is one hour from Bangkok and very cheap, so it is a common choice. I got a package with a hotel for 2 nights and airfares for $500. I got a really nice hotel though (coz I’m fancy like that). There are packages for as low as $200 on sites like Wotif.com. Some really savvy people even travel by bus or train from Bangkok which can take up to 12 hours, but cost as little as 500 THB.
You can’t do anything when you arrive in Vientiane, as the consulate only accepts applications from 8:30 to 11:30 am. So go to your hotel, chillax, or explore the city.
Step Three – First Visit to the Consulate
EDIT: The consulate in Laos now requires appointments. See the note at the top of this article.
Note that the Thai Consulate and the Thai Embassy are not the same and they are in different parts of town. Don’t accidentally end up at the embassy. The consulate is at 316 Rue Bourichane.
Get there early. I was there at 7am and there were already 6 people in line before me. The gates open and let you inside at 8am, by that time, there were about 40 people in the line.
When you arrive, there will be dudes prowling the line, looking dodgy and asking if you have an application form. I was suspicious, but I had time to kill, so I followed a guy to the little shop next door where he filled out the application form for me. This involved searching through the stack of papers to find the right names and things. He checked through the paperwork, made sure I had everything, made some copies of my passport for me, glued my passport photos to the form. For this service, he asked for 30,000 Kip (US$3.60).
I thought it was totally worth it and my feelings were confirmed when a young, American fratboy type was going up and down the line asking people for an application form. I told him I got mine from those dudes in the shop, he ignored me and asked someone else who told him the same thing, he then shouted with great irritation; “I’m not going to PAY someone for something that is FREE!”
Cool, bro, whatever.
Once we were inside, most of us were sitting in line, ready to hand in our completed applications while he ran about frantically looking for a form and then a pen, and trying to fill it out in a rush as the line moved quickly without him. But hey, at least he deprived some Lao people a few bucks, right?
Inside the Consulate
The line that formed outside, will move inside at 8am and people will sit in chairs in the order they were standing in. At 8:30, consulate staff will come out and set up a table near the front of the line, everyone will stand up and one by one hand in their forms and passports. The staff will put the stuff in a basket, people getting a tourist visa can leave then, those getting an ED visa need to wait and have the paperwork checked. Everyone will get a ticket like the one below.
You will wait until your number is called at the office windows, then go to the window and the girl inside will look over your stuff, then if it is okay, she will put a highlighter mark on your form and tell you to come back the next day between 1:30 and 3:30pm. Because I was there early and ended up with ticket number 7, the whole process took ten minutes, I was out of there by 8:40am.
Step Four – Collect Your Passport and New Visa
The next day, timing is less important. You can pretty much go anytime during the two-hour period, walk straight in, go up to the windows, hand them your ticket, and collect your passport after paying the 2000 THB fee. The visa will have no duration of stay written on it, but when you enter Thailand, the customs agents will stamp your passport giving you three months, after those three months, you will need to apply for an extension as long as you are still going to school.
This city is really sweet. It has a lovely country town vibe, is full of French influence, has cafes and bakeries on every corner, amazing strong coffee, beautiful architecture and lovely people. Go and watch the sun set over the Mekong River, see the Patuxia Monument, check out some temples, or follow in Obama’s footsteps and visit the COPE Visitors Center to learn about the problem Lao has with unexploded bombs leftover from the Vietnam war. Make a donation to help people who need prosthetic limbs and other assistance.
Things to Know
- When you enter Laos (by air or land), you will need to pay a fee for your visa on arrival. For Australians, this was US$30. You can pay in baht, kip, or dollars. Make sure you have this cash on you, as there were no ATMs or anything around. They also ask you for a passport photo, but they were fine that I didn’t have one.
- The school can not guarantee that you will get the visa or even approval to try to get the visa. Their school fee is non-refundable. So if for some reason, you are rejected by the Ministry of Education or by the Thai Embassy in Laos, you will forfeit the money you have invested, or you will have to try again or get another kind of visa to attend classes.
- Yes, you really do have to go to school. You can’t get a student visa then get a job. You need to attend classes for at least 8 hours per week. My school has a wonderfully flexible schedule, so I could, in theory, complete those 8 hours in three days, then take the rest of the week off. The school is required to report your attendance to the Ministry of Education, and they will cancel your visa if you are not going to class.
- Vientiane is small and transportation is super easy, with plenty of tuk-tuks on every street and enough English to get you to the right places. You do not need to stay really close to the consulate, but if you wanted to, there was a passable looking hotel directly across the street.
Total Estimated Costs for an ED Visa
School Fee – 36,000
Package to Vientiane – 10,000
Laos Visa on Arrival – 1000
ED Visa Fee – 2000
Spending Money in Vientiane – 4000
Total = 53,000 THB or US$1600.