staying in paradise city ...
There is a huge variety of visas available to foreigners wishing to enter Thailand - it's really all a matter of making the correct decision as to which best suits your purposes. Some will allow you to stay only 30 days at a time, while others lead to annual extensions and permit you to remain indefinitely (as long as you continually meet the financial and other requirements). For a full list of visas see:
In reality, most expats here will get by on Non-Immigrant Visas (issued on the basis of retirement, marriage to a Thai national, support of a Thai child or work). There are other ways to stay in The Kingdom long-term, but they involve a lot of traveling and are increasingly becoming the object of scrutiny by immigration. Short details of the main visa types are given below. Always read these in conjunction with the above links.
15 and 30 Day Visa Exemptions.
Nationals of 40 countries and one special administrative region (Hong Kong) are allowed to enter Thailand for a period of not more than 30 days, without a visa.
Many foreigners make use of this visa exemption to stay "permanently" in The Kingdom by making border runs to a neighbouring country. Immigration law on this changed in November 2008 and there is no longer any limit to how many of these you can do. However, you will only receive a 30 day visa exemption at the airport. If you cross into Thailand by land or sea you will be given 15 days.
Quite evidently, this method of staying here for any great length of time, or permanently, is hardly ideal.
These must be obtained at a Thai Embassy/consulate outside of Thailand. They permit the holder to remain in The Kingdom for 60 days and the visa can be extended at any Immigration Office for a period of 30 days. NOTE: some Immigration offices are reportedly asking for proof on onward journey out of Thailand within the 30 day extension period. If you don't have any, you may only get a 7 day extension. The cost of an extension is 1,900 Baht.
A Tourist Visa can have one to four entries, although NOTE that the entries must be utilised before the visa itself expires. In cases where the traveler uses and extends each entry to its fullest extent, the visa will normally have expired before the fourth entry can be utilised. Where the visa has more than one entry, the holder must leave the county after the extension date and re-enter to get a further 60 day stamp that can again be extended by 30 days. This process continues until either the visa expires or the maximum number of entries is reached.
Currently, there is no offical limit to the number of Tourist Visas you can obtain "back-to-back", but since October 1st 2006, some Thai Embassies/consulates in neighbouring countries are only issuing single-entries and it's always possible that you might be told to use a different country the next time. It is therefore important to check all the time as to what the current mood is in any particular country. As a result, it is not possible for us to provide a definitive guide to user-friendly missions and it is probably best that you only rely on getting a single entry for the time being (other than your home country). Again, whilst theoretically possible to remain indefinitely on Tourist Visas, your situation will always be somewhat uncertain.
These again must be obtained at a Thai Embassy/consulate outside of The Kingdom. They can be either single entry which allows the holder to remain here for 90 days on arrival, or multiple entry when the visa is valid for a year and the holder can exit and re-enter as many times as desired during that year and receive a 90 day entry stamp each time. At the end of the year/90 days, the visa is "used". NOTE: for those on multiple-entry visas, you can exit just before the year's visa validity is about to expire and benefit from a "bonus" 90 day stay, thus making the original visa work for almost 15 months.
With the exception of some consulates in the UK, Australia and the US, an applicant must have a solid reason for obtaining a Non-Immigrant visa (visiting a Thai spouse and seeking retirement are the usual reasons). The main benefit of holding a visa of this type is that it can be extended for a year at your local Immigration office as long as you meet certain financial and other criteria. The application should be made within the last 30 days of any 90 day entry. The annual extension can be obtained indefinitely, so this is quite simply the best visa option to choose if you are going to live here. You must have some basis under which to apply and be granted this visa and the main three, as mentioned before, are marriage to a Thai national, retirement and working. (Working is dealt with in a separate section).
If you are married to a Thai national, you can extend your Non-Immigrant Visa for a year at your local Immigration office. It is no longer possible to go to any office (say Bangkok) if you don't live there. The financial requirements to qualify for this changed in November 2008. If you are applying for the extension for the first time after the above date, the foreign husband must be able to demonstrate an average monthly income of no less than 40,000 Baht per month. Naturally, your income will have to be derived from abroad (otherwise you would be working in Thailand and need the relevant visa and work permit). Any income earned by the Thai wife cannot any longer be counted towards the 40,000 Baht.
The changes in November 2008 reinstated the option to get a marriage extension if you have 400,000 Baht in a Thai bank account. The first time you apply for the extension on this basis, the 400,000 must have been in a Thai bank account for two months before application and not have fallen below that amount at any time. In subsequent years, the money must be in the bank for three months before application. Proof of income from abroad exceeding 40,000 Baht is quite easily demonstrated by transferring that amount to a Thai bank account each month. The bank pass book will verify it. For those who choose to leave their money in their home country, a certified letter from your Embassy will be required to confirm your income. The supporting documents will then be determined by The Embassy, so you need to contact them first.
Once an application is submitted, your passport will be stamped "under consideration" and you will be asked to go back to Immigration in 30 days to find out if you have been sucessful. The year's extension will start from the time of the original application. During the consideration period, you can expect a visit from immigration to your residence checking that the marriage is bona fide.
The requirements for this type of extension are straightforward. You must be over 50 years of age and able to demonstrate 800,000 Baht in a Thai bank account (this must have been there for at least two months for the first extension and three months for subsequent ones. The balance cannot drop below that amount at any time during these months), Alternatively, you can demonstrate an average monthly income from abroad of 65,000 Baht per month, or a combination of the two as long as the total is 800,000 Baht minimum. As with the above, if you are applying on the basis of monthly income, a certified letter from your Embassy will be required.
As long as you meet these requirements, the extension will normally be issued with less fuss and delay than "marriage" which is an obvious advantage.
NB - when applying for an extension on the basis of either of the above, it is worth thinking ahead about any travel you may want to do over the year outside of Thailand. If you intend going abroad, you will need a re-entry permit to keep your extension and original visa alive. These can cover either single or multiple re-entries. You will need to get it at your local office. The is now no re-entry permit office at Bangkok airport.
It must be stressed that legistlation changes in Thailand, so you must keep yourself abreast of current situations. There are many other ways that you can extend your Non-Immigrant visa here, but the two described above are the most common.
We purposely have not indicated the fees applicable for any type of visa or extension.
The bottom line is that the visa rules change on an almost monthly basis and vary from province to province, and office to office so whatever is written on the internet is likely to have changed by the time you read it.
For the current and latest requirements and experiences at Hua Hin immigration take a look at the Hua Hin visa forum.