How to Not Be Denied Entry to Thailand
BFS Priority Lane service
In the Philippines it’s easy to be a perpetual tourist, you can extend your stay within the country for 3 years at a time, without working there, being married to a local, or being retirement age. Then repeat.
Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia are also easy places to live for a young single digital nomad.
Thailand is more complicated, especially lately. In 2017 four guys I know have been denied entry at the airport, put in a detention cell, and had to buy expensive last minute flight tickets out.
Then there were half a dozen more reports of denials on the Thaivisa.com forums and Bangkok expats Facebook group. Others were allowed entry but pulled aside and asked questions first.
All affected were under 50 (so not eligible for retirement extensions – Thailand is easy if you’re over 50), not married to a Thai, and were digital nomads that work online / live off savings. I’m also all those things.
In this post I’ll talk about how to avoid being denied entry to Thailand and why it happens. I may be getting lucky but I haven’t been denied entry yet in 8 years.
#1 – Carry 20,000 Baht
Almost all of those denied entry were unaware of an archaic Thailand immigration requirement – being able to show 20,000 baht cash (about 600 USD) as ‘proof of funds’ to support your stay.
So as well as being under 50 / unmarried / no work permit with a Thai entity – and therefore using tourist visas – they also didn’t have 20k baht cash on them, or the equivalent in another currency.
Can’t blame them for not knowing because it’s not really talked about anywhere, Thailand has had it in their rules for many years but it’s very rarely enforced for western foreign tourists. Until now.
It recently made international news, e.g. The Sun linked it to a possible crackdown on ‘begpackers’ – backpackers without money to support their travel that went viral on social media. So did The Independent.
If you spend over 180 days in Thailand per year, I’d say start carrying 20k baht every time you enter.
No ATMs Before Immigration
What makes this requirement annoying is there are no ATMs airside between getting off the plane and passport control, at any of Thailand’s airports. There are only currency exchange booths.
According to most reports IOs will not escort you to an ATM even though it’s 10 metres away past immigration. Sometimes they will, but usually not.
Nor will they usually accept you showing them your bank balance on a smartphone, any kind of bank book or printed statement, or traveller’s cheques. Only cash.
Any major currency that can be exchanged in Thailand is said to be ok, but there are never any definite answers when it comes to Thailand. Ideally you’d show Thai Baht.
If you’re flying in with foreign currency you could get 20,000 THB worth at the exchange booth airside, then any more than that use the Super Rich branch at Asoke BTS station for a better exchange rate.
Or if you’re already living in Thailand and have a Thai bank account, what I do is withdraw 20k when I leave the country, stash it in my luggage, and pull it out again when I re-enter Thailand.
10k Baht on Visa Exemption?
The proof of funds requirement is said to be 10,000 baht if you enter visa-free (without a visa, for a 30 day ‘visa exemption’ stamp), 20,000 baht if you have a tourist visa already before entering (see sign below).
That may be technically true but I’d still personally just carry 20,000 baht. If you’re going to go the hassle of carrying 10k, might as well make it 20k. And you never know with Thailand.
Some IOs don’t care and just stamp through everyone, some actively want to deny people and make up the rules. Some people still get denied even if they have 20k baht on them. So I wouldn’t risk carrying 10k.
#2 – Dress Smart & Use the Priority Lane
Some signposts at Thailand borders make reference to the financial requirements and also warn tourists with ‘hippy characteristics’ like long hair, wearing shorts and singlet, flip flops etc.
Notice to dress smart and carry funds
These are outdated signs – today 20,000 Baht is more like $600 – but some IOs do still think this way.
As silly as it may seem, Thailand is a developing country and to some of the older generation – who work in immigration – appearance matters.
No need to wear a suit and tie but I’d recommend wearing trousers, shirt, having well kept hair and being clean shaven. Thais also think the color white is ‘clean’, so go for a white shirt or polo top.
Fast Track Immigration
One guy I know who was denied entry to Thailand got back into the country using the priority lane.
Bangkok Flight Services charge 850 baht for one of their reps to meet you as you get off the plane, then escort you through a fast lane in a separate section of immigration.
I read about that service on SingleMansParadise forum, used it myself and everything went fine. The Thai girl that meets you is really cute as well.
It may not be foolproof but it gives you the appearance of ‘wealth’.
I also felt like in that separate part of immigration the IOs were less likely to send you away to a room for extra questioning because there are no supervisors standing around the booths. Harder for them to call someone over if they want to escalate things.
#3 – Use Land Borders
With the exception of Poipet (one of the Cambodia borders), IOs at land borders don’t seem to be as picky as airport IOs. The easiest border is at Nong Khai (Laos).
There are some restrictions on visa-free entries by land – you can only have two visa exemptions per year if entering by land, as opposed to 6 at the airport.
Just get a tourist visa from e.g. Vientiane consulate, the easiest one to do so at, then proceed over the Nong Khai border to Udon Thani, then fly domestic to Bangkok from the airport there.
Another option is to take the train into Thailand from Malaysia ,then fly domestic from Hat Yai.
At land borders you don’t get detained, you’re just turned around and you can then try again the next day, try another land border (e.g. Savannakhet is another Laos border), or fly as a last resort.
Also land borders sometimes don’t even put a denied entry stamp in your passport.
The Reasons IOs Use to Deny Entry
‘Being a tourist too long’ isn’t a reason to be denied entry to Thailand. There aren’t any official limits on how many days in your lifetime you can spend in Thailand on tourist visas.
The possible reasons they can use to deny are listed in section 12 of the immigration act:
Section 12 : Aliens which fall into any of the following categories are excluded from entering:
1. Having no genuine and valid passport or document used in lieu of passport.
2. Having no appropriate means of living following entrance into the Kingdom.
3. Having entered into the Kingdom to take occupation as a laborer or to take employment by using physical without skills training or to work in violation of the Ministerial Regulations.
4. Being mentally unstable or having any of the disease as prescribed in the Ministerial Regulations.
5. Having not yet been vaccinated against smallpox or inoculated or undergone any other medical treatment for protection against disease and having refused to have such vaccinations administered by the Immigration Doctor.
6. Having been imprisoned by the judgement of the Thai Court ; or by a lawful injunction ; or by the judgement of the Court of foreign country , except when the penalty is foe petty offense or negligence or is provided for as an exception in the Ministerial Regulations.
7. Having behavior which would indicated possible danger to the public or likelihood of being a nuisance or constituting any violence to the peace or safety of the public or to the security of the public or to the security of the nation , or being under warrant of arrest by competent officials of foreign governments.
8. Reason to believe that entrance into the Kingdom was for the purpose of being involved in prostitution, the trading of women or children, drug smuggling, or other types of smuggling which are contrary to the public morality.
9. Having no money or bond as prescribed by the Minister under him.
10. In the instance where for reason of national welfare or safeguarding the public peace, culture, morality, or welfare, or when the Minister considers it improper to allow any alien or any group of alien to enter into the Kingdom.
11. Being deported by either the Government of Thailand that of or other foreign countries ; or the right of stay in the Kingdom or in foreign countries having been revoked ; or having been sent out of the Kingdom by competent officials at the expense of the Government of Thailand unless the Minister shall consider exemption on an individual special case basis.
Most of that is obvious stuff, like people who have previous criminal convictions, those who are already blacklisted, or if you start a fight in the airport or something.
For the vast majority of normal cases there are only 2 reasons you’ll be denied entry – lack of proof of funds, or suspicion of working illegally.
Denial of entry stamp
On the above stamp you see the number 3 and 9 in parentheses, these refer to reason (3) and (9) on the above list – suspicion of entering Thailand to work, and not having money.
The stamp also has ประกอบอาชีพ, ไม่มีเงิน written in Thai which means ‘way of earning a living, no money’. Then the date, flight number and IO’s signature.
That guy was detained then flown to Singapore on the next available flight, which is where he flew in from.
Usually lately they seem to be flying people back to where they flew in from, so I’d recommend not flying in direct from your home country if you’re likely to be denied entry.
Instead fly in to somewhere nearby – Manila, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh, etc. – then fly to BKK from there. A lot cheaper that way if you only have to pay for a short hop flight when denied.
Who is Likely to Be Denied Entry to Thailand?
You have nothing to worry about until you attempt to live in Thailand for over 6 months in a year. If you’ve spent <180 or so days in Thailand in the last 365, this post won’t apply to you at all.
You can also probably get away with 8 – 9 months a year in Thailand, I’d say a greater than 50% likelihood of never running into problems, although there are still things you can do to minimize it.
It’s only when you start getting to close to living 365 days a year in Thailand, because all your trips outside Thailand are very short in duration – basically just ‘visa runs’ – that you risk being denied entry.
To minimize risk carry 20k baht, dress smart, and use the priority lane at the airport or land borders.
Then it’s less likely they’ll use lack of money / suspicion of working to deny you entry.
I still think Thailand is relatively easy to live in long term, and people shouldn’t be put off trying to do so. While some immigration officers (IOs) might be unfriendly, once you’re in it’s a great place to be.