Hated by some for the inconvenience and expense, welcomed by others as a chance to travel to another country, however briefly, visa runs are common “procedures” that long-term travellers do when they want to remain in a country legally.
A visa run is when a non-citizen of country A travels to country B for a short trip across the border before returning to country A. The intention is to reset the clock on the number of days they can stay in country A. Essentially, a visa run is a way of spending extended periods in a country.
Where do people generally do visa runs?
Thailand is synonymous with visa runs among the digital nomad community. As one of the world’s most popular tourist, expat, and digital nomad destinations, many people wish to stay longer in the country than the 30-day or 60-day tourist visas permit. But the rules state that once you leave Thailand and return, immigration will give you another 30-days. You can also apply for a 60-day visa at any of the Thai embassies worldwide. Applying for an extension at the immigration office in Bangkok is not really a visa run so I won’t talk about it here.
Thai Visa Runs
Digital nomads and long-term expats living in Bangkok often opt to fly to a nearby country like Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia to renew their visas. Many people take the opportunity to spend a few days in Hanoi, Vientiane, Phnom Penh before returning to Thailand.
Is there a limit to the number of visa runs?
In theory, the answer is yes. But with many countries, the rules are not clear cut. It’s best to check with the embassies for the most up-to-date details.
In Georgia (an excellent digital nomad destination, by the way), most visitors receive a 365-day tourist visa on arrival. To renew the visa, you merely have to leave the country and come back again. And as far as we know, this can happen indefinitely.
What’s a border run?
You might hear this phrase bandied around a bit and note that there’s no “official” recognition of either of these practises and many people use “border run” and “visa run” interchangeably. Others believe there’s a difference.
A visa run:
A trip to another country in order to apply for a visa at an embassy of the country you wish to return to. This is a more involved process and will take at least two days.
A trip to another country in order to get another tourist visa on your return.
A border run:
A trip across a border in order to get a tourist visa when you pass through immigration on the way back.
A trip across the border to validate a visa you already have but which requires you to leave.
Again, many people use the terms interchangeably and in the end, it makes little difference. Going the embassy route saves any problems at the border and can also be the best way to secure a longer-term visa (as in the case of Thailand).
The border crossing by land is the most problematic, as in many cases, travellers do not spend the night outside of their base country. And in some countries (Thailand again), the ability to use multiple land-border crossings is limited.
What are Schengen visas?
Visiting Europe as a non-European gets you a 90-day Schengen Zone visa.
The Schengen area comprises 26 European states (22 EU members and 4 non-members). There are 27 states in the Euro Zone but Ireland maintains an opt-out (this used to be in conjunction with the UK but since early 2020, the UK is not longer and EU country but still maintains the opt-out).
Tips for Visa Runs
- Try to spend longer than a day on your visa run. Take a month out or even a few months to explore other destinations before returning. If the authorities in places like Thailand, for example, see that you live in the country on a tourist visa with only a couple of weeks in total of time outside the country (from multiple visa runs) you may run into trouble. Note: This is the voice of experience talking here. I was not working in Thailand and was not breaking any of the rules, but my visa was denied thanks to an extended period of visa runs of short periods.
- Check forums and Facebook groups where long-term expats and digital nomads talk about the rules and various problems they have encountered.
- Read the official rules from the immigration department. The information can sometimes be unclear and hard to digest, but it’s worth arming yourself with as much knowledge about the procedures and laws before
- Carry onward travel tickets in case immigration officials refuse you entry to the country. With these tickets you can then argue that you will be leaving anyway (handy when you’ve left belongings behind in the country and need to collect them). In this case, make sure that you do actually leave and find out when it would be safe to return. A further visa run will land you in trouble.
- Try the budget airlines for cheap flights to a destination that you would like to visit. If possible, extend your visa run for more than a couple of days.
- Research land-based border runs to see if they are cheaper and more convenient based on your current location.
Which countries have the best tourist-visa policies?
The winner is Georgia, with a generous 1-year tourist visa, renewable on re-entry. There are few stipulations and the Georgian government makes it relatively easy to even work in the country legally.
Here’s a list of countries whose citizens may enter Georgia without a visa for one year. (Travellers from these countries are issued a visa on arrival)
Argentina has a 90-day tourist visa policy which can be extended indefinitely by doing a visa run to Uruguay, 1 hour across the Rio De La Plata river. If you’re interested in spending longer in the country, check out this guide to visiting and living in Argentina.
Albania is another country with a generous visa policy. Americans are eligible to stay in the country for a year if they renew the visa every 30 days.
Vietnam’s tourist visa is normally 15-30 days, but it’s relatively easy to obtain a 3 month visa for tourism purposes. Essentially, you need an invitation from a travel company. There are several online businesses that will process this for you at minimum cost and fuss.
- My Vietnam Visa (I used this service twice. Easy and fast. Costs less than USD $30)
- Vietnam Tourist Visa
Check out this full list based on your destination and country of citizenship.