So, thinking of living in the “Land of Smiles” but not interested in teaching or working in Thailand? There are visa options for you if you are interested in immersing yourself in Thai culture that will let you stay there for longer than the tourist visa allows.
The non-immigrant ED visa, or education visa, in Thailand allows for someone to live and study in Thailand for up to a year, in most cases. This is a great option for someone who wants to buckle up and learn Thai or to those of you looking to study up on another subject or art. Just be sure the school you choose is recognized by the Thai Ministry of Education and you're good to go. I recommend first deciding what you want to study (for me it was the Thai language!) and with what school.
Once you have those basics covered, your school should help you navigate the visa process but as I'll share, it's really a simple process!
Keep in mind though, this visa is specifically for studying and living in Thailand, you cannot legally work on this visa. If you'd like to work abroad in Thailand, check out the details on teaching English in Thailand.
-Passport valid for at least 6 months
-Proof of financial funds = 20k baht
-2 Photos measuring 4cm x 6cm (they were very specific about this)
-Application form and fee (at the time of this post is $80 USD)
-Acceptance letter and proof of schedule meeting minimum hours (15-20hr a week)
How do I get this visa?
You need to leave Thailand to get apply for the Education Visa. If you haven’t entered Thailand yet, check to see if you have a Thai Embassy close to you that you can apply at. If not, its vacation time!
My language school recommended me to head to Vientiane in Laos to apply for my visa as they know the chance of it getting approved is very high there. You read that right, there is a chance that the visa application can get denied and I’ll speak more about that a bit later.
Since I had been to Vientiane and personally did not like it, I insisted on heading to Hanoi, Vietnam. Though my school was very worried, the whole process turned out to be a breeze. The location of the Thai Embassy in Vietnam is very easy to get to, close proximity to the Old Quarter and near where you can easily find a nice hostel to stay at.
Make sure you have everything you need. The application forms are at the Embassy and you have to fill it out there. Also, the fee is in USD and they don’t accept any other currency there. As far as the staff, they are surprisingly really friendly! I had some silly questions the first time I filled out my form, and they answered them with a smile. Once you are done and have handed over the forms and your passport, they will check everything there for you including your bank statement to verify that your application will be approved. Then they take your fee and let you know when you can pick up our passport. In my case, it was the next day.
Why should I get an Edu Visa vs. a Tourist Visa?
With a tourist visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for a maximum of 90 days. The process is very similar to getting an education visa and you will be stamped for 60 days upon arrival with the eligibility to extend it for 30 more days at immigration for 1900 Baht.
A Non-Immigrant ED visa, or Education Visa, typically allows you to stay in Thailand up to a year, as long as you continually fulfill all the requirements while using that visa. A quick thing to note is that you will also only be stamped for 60 days on arrival and will also need to apply for an extension every two months. If you live in Bangkok, this can be done at Chaeng Wattana Immigration Centre and also costs 1900 Baht but you can do it as many times as your visa is valid.
Do I actually have to learn Thai?
It’s no secret that many people use the ED visa as a means to stay and work in Thailand without attending classes. This is illegal and has resulted in crackdowns across the country on people who carry an education visa. If you're interested in working legally in Thailand, find out more here!
Since you won't be working, it means that you will need to have some actual savings to live off for the year. Luckily, the cost of living is very low and this is possible to do. I also knew a few people who worked online either teaching or doing freelance and remote work, to support their life in Thailand. This happens to be a grey area and I honestly don’t know much about the legality of online work in Thailand and suggest doing extensive research on this topic if that is something you are interested in doing.
I was never asked to prove my knowledge of the language each time I renewed my visa but did feel like they just assume that everyone on an ED Visa can’t speak or understand Thai. I felt this especially at immigration every time I had to renew. Sometimes they would talk about me and the amount of people “learning Thai” in general but quickly realised that I actually could understand them.
At around 6 months, I did have to go to the Ministry of Education in Thailand and take a proficiency test. I was so nervous but I just had to introduce myself and respond to questions that the examiner asked me. It was mostly about my life in Bangkok.
Beyond just having to meet visa requirements, my life changed once I started learning Thai. Although you can get around Bangkok without knowing even a bit of the language, I feel like it opened up a whole new world for me. I could travel to less touristy spots not only around the city but around Thailand with the comfort of still being able to communicate with the locals. And then the locals! Gosh, they way they react to a farang speaking Thai is the sweetest, most heartwarming reaction and really made the hard work of learning the language worth it.
What is it like living in Bangkok?
Honestly, Bangkok seems like a dirty, loud, overwhelming city when you first arrive. Most tourists are directed to Khaosan Road and that becomes their only impression of the city. I can understand why there is a large amount of people who say that they hated their time in Bangkok but they just didn’t give it a fair chance.
Bangkok is so much more than that impression and it grew closer and closer to my heart the longer I stayed there. I’ve talked on my personal blog why I love the city but I think it is the perfect place for new expats who are a bit nervous to live abroad but want to live in SE Asia. Since it is such a westernised city, you can enjoy a lot of the luxuries that you have back home with the ability to absorb the culture.
Where should you live in Bangkok?
One of the many perks about living in Bangkok are all the different areas that are available to live in. If you would prefer to live in a trendy expat area, Thong lo and Ekkamai areas are filled with fellow long-term travellers and are located close to popular bars and restaurants. Expect to pay foreigners rent rates as most places in this area start at around 20k baht for a studio/1 br.
I personally lived outside the city in the next province over called Samut Prakan. It is way more affordable, accessible by the BTS train and living there forced me to speak Thai everyday as most of the locals could not speak English.
If I were to move back today, I would look for a place in the On Nut area. It is still outside the city but only half the distance as my home as in Samut Prakan. On Nut is a cool up-and-coming district with cute, work-friendly cafes popping up all over including my favourite one, Better Moon - Refill Station.
What do the locals do in Bangkok?
Lastly, I wanted to wrap this up with some of favourite things to do in the city. As my Thai got better, I got more confident to check out more local haunts around Bangkok and these things to me are a must-see even if you are just visiting.
Talad Rod Fai Srinakarin - Best night market
It is admittedly a bit difficult to get here, but I cannot recommend this night market enough. If you head to any station between On Nut and Udom Suk, you can take a taxi or Grab to the market. This is a huge market which contains two food areas, a lot of clothing stalls and a vintage market area.
Cocowalk - Chill night out
If you are looking for a place to go out at night, head to Cocowalk at Ratchathewi BTS station. There is a mix of restaurants and bars here that play great live music and are always filled with locals. I like the atmosphere here and everyone is just having a good time, with little to no messiness.
Chinatown - A cool place to walk around
If you are looking to explore some place during the day, my personal favourite district is Chinatown. There is a lot to see such as the Chinatown Gate which is next to The Golden Buddha Temple, the layers of Chinese signs on Yaowarat Road, and Sampeng Market Road. I really loved getting lost in all the little alleys while exploring this part of town as it feels very different to the rest of Bangkok.