One of the most stressful things for many people when planning a big trip, such as backpacking Southeast Asia, is working out which countries require a visa, which don’t, how much they cost, where to apply, when to apply and a million other visa-related questions. I will try, as best I can, to answer these questions in this blog post but as visa requirements differ depending on what nationality you are, I HIGHLY recommend you check each countries embassy site before embarking on a trip. This post is mainly for my Irish readers! Rules also change quite regularly so when when country introduces a visa waiver, it doesn’t necessarily apply to citizens of all countries, such as what recently happened in Vietnam.
My friend (I better not name her as she might kill me) actually got DEPORTED from Vietnam because she didn’t have her Vietnam Visa on arrival. She got sent to Thailand, and then as she had no visa for Thailand they tried to deport her from there too. It really was the stuff of nightmares and I had to wonder if she would ever make it over the border! Thankfully due to some quick thinking and the ability to apply for visas online (while stuck in limbo!) she got sorted and was back on Vietnamese soil within 24 hours. It was a lesson for her, and a lesson for me. ALWAYS do your own research!!
I have essentially been backpacking Southeast Asia three times within the last 3 years, so I will include information on all the countries I went to during this time which include; Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I’m afraid I have not been to Lao or Myanmar so cannot give advice on those two countries.
It should act as a quick (but by no means complete) guide to visas in Southeast Asia – or at least the main tourist destinations anyway.
Indonesia – Easy Peasy. Just remember you $$$.
Tourist and Transit Visas on Arrival are available for nationals of these 52 countries and territories. A tourist visa for up to 30 days costs US $35.00. (This seems to increase every few years!) Visa Free Entry on arrival for 30 days free of charge is available for nationals of the following 11 countries and territories: Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Overstay visitors incur a penalty of US$20 per day for under 60 days over-stay. Stay any longer and you could end up in an Indonesian prison!! These penalties can add up quickly so it might be better option to fly out on a cheap AirAsia flight then re-enter the country for another month.
Personal experience I did not have US dollars on arrival in Bali and this caused A LOT of hassle as there is no ATM inside the customs area. I had to beg them to let me outside to get the money, then come back inside to pay for the visa then exit again. I am now always sure to travel with at least 100 US dollars in my wallet for times like this!
Singapore – Most peeps don’t need a visa.
Most nationalities (North Americans, South Americans, most of Southern Africa, Europeans, and Australians) do not need a visa for Singapore for the first 30 days and in some cases 90 days. (You would want to have A LOT of money to be a tourist in Singapore for longer than that!)
You simply need proof of onward travel, proof that you have sufficient funds (print out a bank statement before you travel), and a passport valid for at least 6 months. If you are from North Africa, the Middles East and few other destinations you will probably need a visa and can find more information HERE.
Malaysia – Free and easy for 30 days.
Similar to Singapore, many nationalities (most European countries, North Americans, South Africans, Australians etc) do not require a visa for Malaysia. You are permitted to stay within Malaysia for 90 days (although this differs depending on nationality.)
Thailand – Best to enter by air.
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in South East Asia, you will be happy to know that things should be pretty hassle free for you here when it comes to visas. Most of the Western world can enter without a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.
If you wish to stay in Thailand for MORE than 30 days, you can apply for a 60 day visa in a Thai embassy before you arrive. If you are already in Thailand and need an extension, you can go to the nearest immigration office, pay the 1,900 baht fee and have your visa extended by 30 days in a few short hours.
I arrived in Thailand overland by bus from Cambodia and they only gave me a 15 day visa. I am unsure if this is still the case but it was as of August 2014 (15 day visas if you arrive overland, 30 if you arrive by air). This meant I had to go to the immigration office in Koh Samui (I was in Koh Tao when I decided to stay longer) and it cost me 1900 baht to renew my visa. While the process was hassle fee, 1900 baht is quite a lot of money when travelling on a budget in Thailand. Travel Dave has a pretty good post about renewing your visa.
Cambodia – E-Visa with ease.
I went to Cambodia twice and both times were relatively hassle-free. Relatively!! Nearly all visitors to Cambodia require a visa. Unless you are from South East Asia, you will probably need one. I found the e-visa process pretty straight forward. You just apply online, pay the 30 dollar fee, and your visa is emailed to you. You then print this out and give it to immigration on arrival. In Phnom Penh, tourist visas can be extended (only once), giving you an additional 30 days at a cost of around 30 dollars.
Whatever you do, make sure you print TWO COPIES of your e-visa and keep them in a very safe place where they won’t get damp or torn (yes, this is exactly what happened to me – and could happen to you if travelling during the monsoon season!!) When you exit the country, they won’t let you leave until you hand then the second copy of your e-visa. I literally nearly got stranded at a dodgy border post thanks to this slip up.I eventually handed them a ball of wet paper that they could (just about) verify was a copy of my e-visa!! Lesson learned!!
Vietnam – Get it before you arrive – or be deported!
Pretty much EVERYONE needs a visa for Vietnam unless you are lucky enough to be from one of its neighboring countries…or Russia. Pretty random, I know.
Vietnam is definitely the country that causes the most hassle when it comes to getting the visa. The first thing you should know is that they DO NOT issue a visa on arrival unless you have an invitation letter from a travel agency.
It is very important to decide what type of visa you need as this also happens to be the most expensive visa in South East Asia. The stamping fee for a visa on arrival at the airport is fixed: US$45 per person for single entry and US$ 65-95 per person for multiple entry visa. This fee is paid in cash, USD or VND, at the visa-on-arrival counter. You can only get this Visa-On-Arrival stamp if you already have your visa invitation letter for about 20 dollars before arrival. So you are talking about 65 dollars minimum if you do it yourself, more if you do it all through a travel agency and get your visa stamp before arrival.
I found the easiest thing to do was to apply online for a visa invitation letter which means you can then apply for a visa on arrival at the airport. It only took about 20 minutes from when I handed in my letter and passport photos to getting my passport back with the visa inside. It cost $45 so be sure to have US dollars cash on you, preferable the exact amount. Make sure you have lots of empty pages, by the way, as the visa takes up an entire page.
I hope this was helpful, let me know if I can answer any more of your questions regarding visas in any of these countries! Please, please, PLEASE leave a comment below if you feel my information is wrong or outdated. :-)