How to get a student visa for Thailand?
(‘non-immigration ED visa’)
The process in five steps
Apply for the program of your choice
The application procedures differ from university to university. While you can apply for some programs simply by sending application form and copies of your transcripts per e-mail, others request the complete documentation with certified copies and proper photographs.
The same applies to paying the application fee. Legally, your application is fully submitted only after the university received the application fee. Since the transfer of a quite small amount of money from a foreign bank might cause considerable costs, some universities offer you to pay the application fee at the day of registration.
The registration has to be done in person anyway. Very few exceptions occur for distance learning or e-learning programs.
Although the application fee might appear ridiculously low to you, it is well justified. Even an application with only a few pages attached causes effort. Thai students traditionally apply for many programs (often for over 50 programs per student) and choose at the end one from those where they were accepted. For all other universities, this causes an enormous effort in dealing with all the applications for nothing.
The acceptance letter (Letter of Admission)
Once your application is accepted (usually it’s merely a technicality), you will receive an acceptance letter, commonly called ‘Letter of Admission’.
This Letter of Admission will be printed on the official letterhead of the university departments and signed by the officially assigned managing official. It confirms that you are accepted for the program and invites you to begin your studies at a certain date. It will also state the number of courses you will study in the particular semester. Both details are important.
Since the Letter of Admission is the legal prerequisite for obtaining a non-immigrant ED visa (student visa), you cannot apply for a program that you want to start in ‘June or July’, even when some universities offer to begin at any time. The Immigration Bureau cannot issue a visa for ‘June or July’, it needs definitive dates.
The student visa is a 1-year visa. It is granted only to those who will seriously study and is not intended to be a backdoor for a long and lazy holiday. You therefore need to register for at least 3 courses per semester (even then, you will sometimes have a problem to get the visa – with 4 courses for the semester you are on the safe side).
Therefore, you will want to make sure that your application shows you’re a serious student. At most universities, courses are stretched over the whole semester, which usually is 5 months long in Thailand. Even if the university welcomes you for a single course, you will not get the necessary visa to stay that long in the country. In such special cases you need to contact the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate in your country first. There were exceptions from these rules in the past, but only few and far between.
Apply for your visa
With this Letter of Admission, a photocopy of your passport (which must be valid for at least 6 more months), and recent passport-size photographs, you now can apply for your student visa at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate in your country.
If you are already in Thailand when you receive your Letter of Admission (for example, you applied in person), be careful. Citizens of some countries can enter Thailand without a visa, citizens from other countries get a 60-day visa. If you arrive in Thailand without any visa, be prepared that you need to leave the country in order to apply for a non-immigrant ED visa from outside the country.
If you are in Thailand with a 60-day tourist visa, you can change your visa without leaving the country within the first 30 days of your visa – the other 30 days might be needed for processing your non-immigrant ED visa. The tourist visa must be valid for at least 21 more days in any case.
The photocopies need to carry your signature. Make sure to sign with blue ink to highlight that your signature is original and not photocopied as well.
On the photographs, don’t carry anything what might change your face, such as sun glasses or a baseball cap. Don’t smile too much either. Although Thai people love to smile so often that many call Thailand ‘The Land of Smiles’, any official photograph is a serious thing. A look on a Thai ID card will show you that no one smiles. To be on the safe side, don’t smile on these photographs, which have to show your full face (no profile or half-profile, please).
The number of photographs to submit is not clear. Some embassies say two Galleries, some say four. With four photographs, you’ll be fine. Don’t worry; you’ll need more for any paper and permission you will request in Thailand. Fortunately, getting passport Galleries is very cheap in Thailand. Experienced foreigners always carry some photographs in different sizes with them, where ever they go.
Some universities and colleges don’t use the official government letterhead for their Letters of Admission. In such case it occurs that the embassy or consulate requests the Letter of Admission again, but this time per fax sent from a fax number of the issuing organization or department.
Your first one-year visa is valid only 90 days
The Kingdom of Thailand doesn’t mind to give you a full one-year visa based on papers showing that you will study at least one semester at a Thai university, college.
Be aware, however, that your application alone doesn’t make you a student. Therefore, the student visa is only valid for 90 days when you get it the first time.
Within these 90 days, you need to register and pay your tuition fee for the respective semester. With a confirmation letter about your registration, you can then apply for extension to the full period of time. During this time, you don’t need to leave the country in order to ‘refresh’ your visa. Even extension for the next year of study is a simple technicality, which needs the same documents as named above.
Due to several questions, let’s make clear what you can do with a non-immigrant ED visa: You can study. It’s not a teaching visa, and it does not permit working in Thailand in any way. It allows you to learn (study) here, nothing else.
The idea to finance your studies by jobbing around is therefore, at least following Thai laws, not a safe way. Reportedly, there are cases of students who, for instance, teach in order to finance their studies. Please be aware that this is illegal even if doing so is possible.
It’s not over yet – the 90 Days Notification
Independent of how long you stay in Thailand, you need to notify the Immigration Bureau every 90 days and tell them your current address. It’s a simple form you need to fill in, and there is no fee. You get a slip from this form noting the next date when you have to do it tagged into your passport.
For this notification, you can go from 7 days before the date to up to 7 days after the date. If you miss the date and come only one day later, you will be fined 2,000 Baht. If that happens more than once or twice, you risk your visa. So, be careful. You can go to any immigration bureau anywhere in Thailand for the 90 days notification. There is no need to return to the location where your visa was originally issued. You can even do it by mail. That, however, means to send you passport per mail to the immigration bureau – something experienced foreigners in Thailand would never do. Too many letters never arrive.
Working when on a student visa
Unfortunately, there’s no way to work legally when you are in Thailand on a student visa. If you get an official job with the according visa, you can also study on this visa, but not the other way around. We recommend to have a look at the discussion forums for foreigners and students in Thailand. All we know is that there are plenty of students financing at least a part of their studies by some jobs, legally or not…