a comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia

Probably the least fun part about planning a trip is sorting out your visa. I’ve long hated visa restrictions {cough, New Zealand, cough}. If it weren’t for pesky visas, I’d probably have never left New Zealand, ever. I also probably would not have endured such a headache getting to China had visas not been a thing in existence. But, alas, they are a reality of travel life, so it’s important to make sure you’ve done the work to be respectful of immigration laws. I’m also aware of the privilege that my American passport holds in comparison to many others.

One of my most read posts from the “old blog days” is my guide to Cuban entry for U.S. Citizens. Having traveled throughout Asia extensively, and with plans of completing my Asia bucket list for the most part in the next year, I have quite a bit of experience with visas around the continent.

Southeast Asia is popular for tourists thanks to its affordability, wild landscapes, and the appeal of its “exotic”-ness. It’s because of this, knowing that many people want to travel this part of the world, that I decided to but together a detailed guide on visas for U.S. Citizens traveling through the region. I’ve also included Myanmar, since I was intimidated by the rumours I had heard about strict visa policies. I thought including it might help others rest assured it isn’t impossible.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not an immigration officer. For specific information about your nationality and visa requirements, always check with your government's official foreign travel website.


READ ON FOR DETAILS ON VISA INFORMATION for U.S. CITIZENS ACROSS SOUTHEAST ASIA


a comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia in 2019

HOW TO PREPARE + what you need

have A PASSPORT TO START

Your first step to getting a visa is acquiring a passport. This guide is written with the assumption that, if you’re looking up visas, you already have or are in the process of getting your passport. For a new adult standard passport book in 2019, the cost is USD $110 application fee and a USD $35 processing fee {total USD $145}. Standard passport renewals cost USD $110. If you need to expedite your passport, you’ll be charged an extra USD $60.

Read more about U.S. passport fees here.

GET PASSPORT PHOTOS

As you’ll read, almost all visas for Southeast Asia require several passport photos. For a trip including several countries in the region, I suggest bringing 6-10 passport photos with you. I also recommend having a copy scanned on your computer so that it’s easy to submit online applications for E-visas. Of course, if you’re already in the region and haven’t brought any with you, passport photos can be taken at stores in most places or you can opt to pay a fee at immigration to have the officers make a copy of your passport photo.

photocopy your photo page + print your e-visas before you go

Speaking of copies, bring a few photocopies of your passport’s photo page with you in case you lose it. Having this makes getting an emergency passport easier. Sometimes, you can even use it lieu of handing in your passport at a guesthouse or hotel. Photocopy any visa pages and print out E-visas, even if the website tells you it’s not necessary, as certain airlines require seeing a printed visa before you board {this has happened to me a few times}. It’s better to be safe than stuck in an airport.


THAILAND

free/TOURIST VISA EXEMPTION

Thailand has the most simple 'visa' in Southeast Asia. If you from one of these 55 nationalities, including the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia you are exempt from getting a visa, or rather get a free one on arrival. This visa {or visa exemption} grants you 30 days to explore the country. Immigration can ask you for proof of onward travel out of Thailand if they feel like, so it’s best to have return flight details or train and bus ticket copies on hand.

I’ve never personally been asked to provide proof of self support, which is when the government asks to see your bank balance to prove that you can support yourself, book onward travel, and aren’t looking for a job whilst in-country. If this happens to you, you’ll need to provide proof that you have 20,000 Thai Baht {roughly USD $600} available to you. This is becoming more common since the increase in “begpacking”, where people busk or beg to fund their travels.

I’ve never been asked to provide proof of support or onward tickets in the 6 years I’ve traveled to and through the country. You might get asked for a return ticket when exiting your home country since airlines are responsible for flying you back if you do not meet immigration’s requirements.

YOU WON’T GET A VISA, BUT YOUR PASSPORT STAMP MIGHT LOOK LIKE THIS:

{only it will say “arrived” and not “departed”}

a comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia in 2019

CAMBODIA

$30-45, 2x passport photos

Visas for Cambodia are easy to obtain on arrival and cost between USD$30-$45 depending on the visa and port of entry. You will need two passport photos. Once again, if you do not have passport photos with you, you will have to pay extra. This visa is valid for 30 days and can be renewed once for an additional 30 days. A Cambodian visa costs around USD $35, although this can vary. Many border crossings tack on extra 'fees' and a tour operator will charge you more to arrange it for you.

$36, E-VISA prior to arrival

Cambodian E-visas are also available. These are valid for 3 months and cost USD $30 + USD $6 processing fee, but they are only accepted at some entry points {the airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap}, so make sure you know exactly where you are entering Cambodia from.

THE CAMBODIAN E-VISA WEBSITE SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS:

E-VISA SCREEN FOR CAMBODIA

MYANMAR

$50, E-VISA PRIOR TO ARRIVAL

As the government has seen the benefits of tourism, the process of obtaining a tourist visa to Myanmar has become much easier. Those flying into the country can get a 28-day tourist visa online that costs USD $50. You will need to upload one passport photo to the form and it can take up to three working days. You will be sent a letter of approval, which you should print out and bring with you on arrival. With your letter and passport in hand at the airport, you’ll go through immigration and be issued a visa on arrival there. If you are entering at an entry point that doesn't accept the E-Visa you can pre-arrange your visa with a Burmese embassy or travel agent before arrival.

Apply for your E-visa for Burma here: MYANMAR GOVERNMENT WEBSITE

THE BURMESE E-VISA WEBSITE SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS:

Myanmar Government Website

TOURIST VISA for Laos

$35 + fee, upon arrival

Laos offers a 30 day visa on arrival to Laos for a fee paid in cash. For U.S. Citizens, the fee is USD $35 plus a USD $1 “administration fee”. Only cash is accepted, and paying in U.S. dollars will get you the best rate. If you are paying with Thai Baht, you will get an atrocious exchange rate. There is an ATM at all airports, but fees will vary. Lao kip {the local currency} cannot be bought or sold outside of Laos, so Immigration will not expect you to have any to pay the fee. It works out cheapest to pay in U.S. dollars. My recommendation? Bring U.S. Dollars with you and exchange what you don’t use for your visa at a reliable vendor in town.

Lao Visas require one passport photo if entering via airport, all of the land crossings with Thailand, and some of the land borders with Vietnam. You can have a copy of your passport photo made if you don’t have any spare photos with you, but the Immigration officers charge additionally for this {USD $1}.

$35, prior to arrival via embassy

If entering from any of the crossings not listed above, you will need to purchase a pre-arranged tourist visa. This takes around 3-5 working days and costs approximately the same amount. You can arrange your visa with the Embassy or consulate wherever you are.

To be honest, as someone who feels truly in their depth as far as Lao visas go, I would recommend just getting it on arrival at the airport if you are flying in. It’s really straight forward and only takes up a few extra minutes of your time after landing.

YOUR VISA WILL LOOK LIKE THIS:

a comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia in 2019

VIETNAM

$25, e-visa prior to arrival

An online visa for Vietnam is now available and, honestly, is the most hassle-free way for a U.S. citizen to obtain their tourist visa. The E-visa for Vietnam costs USD $25 and is valid for 30 days of travel. The process is as follows:

  • Go to  this website

  • Follow the prompts and fill out your application form— you will need a passport photo file to uploadProcessing takes 1-3 working days. {weekends and Vietnamese holidays excluded.} This is now the recommended visa method for any visitors eligible.

  • Pay with a major credit card

  • Take a screenshot of your receipt and the E-visa number. You’ll need to this check back using the portal if you haven’t heard anything in a few days time.

THE VIETNAMESE E-VISA WEBSITE SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS:

E-VISA SCREEN FOR VIETNAM VISAS

E-VISA SCREEN FOR VIETNAM VISAS


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ta comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia: how to get your visa for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, + Myanmar in 2019
Everything you need to know about visas in Southeast Asia! Southeast Asia is popular for tourists thanks to its affordability, wild landscapes, and the appeal of its “exotic”-ness. It’s because of this, knowing that many people want to travel this part of the world, that I decided to but together a detailed guide on visas for U.S. Citizens traveling through the region.  #southeastasia
a comprehensive guide to visas for U.S. citizens traveling Southeast Asia: how to get your visa for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, + Myanmar in 2019