How to do visa runs successfully

In this report, I share how to do visa runs successfully.  

I got an email from an American who was deported from a SE Asian country during a visa run. I was thinking he did something terrible that he was not telling me in the email. So I called him and asked him some questions. He did not do anything egregious as far as I can tell.

But it did make me realize some tiny little mistakes he made that I want to share with you. Plus, I realized that I have never shared how I have successfully done visa runs for 17 years now, all over the world, without getting deported.

I will start with a short explanation of what visa runs are.

What is a visa run?

A visa run is when someone exits a first foreign country before the entry stamp in their passport expires and travels to a second country for a short period of time. Then they return back to the first country attempting to get a new tourist entry stamp so they can stay in the first country for a longer period of time.

Why do people do visa runs?

People do visa runs so they can stay longer in a desired country without applying for a visa. A visa run is also called a border run. They leave and return to get a new entry stamp on their passport which lets them stay longer.

What is the most obvious reason visa runs are denied by immigration officials when you re-enter a country?

The most obvious reason visa runs are denied is when someone does what is called a U-Turn visa run. A U-Turn visa run is when someone exits a country and then immediately turns around and attempts to re-enter that country.

When you attempt to re-enter a country after being gone for a very short period of time, the immigration officer will see how long you were gone and may assume that you are doing a U-Turn visa run. So how long do you have to stay out of a country before you do a U-Turn?

When is a visa run time period too short?

Some countries that depend heavily on a tourism economy allow visa runs without objection.

In other countries, they do not allow U-Turn vida runs at all. Countries that allow visa runs rarely publish information about how long you should stay out of a country before you re-enter for a new entry stamp.

More typically, you don’t know how long to stay out of a country before attempting re-entry. So how do you find out the minimum period you must spend in another country to be allowed re-entry to the first country? That is not the only thing you need to know before doing a visa run.

Here are other things you need to know before attempting a visa run.

One: How long to stay out of the country before attempting re-entry?

Two: How many times can I do visa runs from that country before they refuse re-entry?

Three: If they decide to deny re-entry, how long do you need to wait before trying re-entry again?

Four: If they give a limited-time re-entry stamp instead of a full-period re-entry stamp, how long are they likely to give you to wind up your affairs in that country?

Five: Should you bring everything valuable with you on a visa run in case they don’t allow you a short re-entry period to collect any personal property you left behind?

Six:  If they deny you entry altogether, will they arrest you and deport you to your home country, and if so, how long are they likely to keep you in custody?

How do you get answers to these questions?

Don’t take advice from someone who did their last visa run in this country 2 years ago. That information is stale. You need someone that has successfully completed a visa run as recently as possible.

Getting recent information on this topic is the single most important thing you can do to increase your chances of a successful visa run. I will explain exactly how to get that information in a minute, but first I will share the 12 stupid things you can do to ruin your visa run even if you have all the most recent and accurate information for that country.

12 Common Factors that Destroy Visa Run Success

Nothing guarantees visa run success, but following these factors will increase your chances of success. These factors are ordered from least important to most important so try not to sleep through this.

But this is a topic where you are going to have to read the comments below. It is very country-specific information. My audience always shares valuable information in the comments below. There might be a tidbit down there that saves you from being deported. Okay, here we go.

Smile and Nod Politely to the Immigration Official

Smile and nod politely and look into the official’s eyes when you first arrive in front of them for your re-entry stamp into a country. They are just people trying to get through this crazy life and a smile may help both of you. Acknowledge them politely. But do not speak until you are spoken to. Only talk if you are answering one of their questions … especially if there is a huge line behind you.

Politics and Religion

Immigration officials are like everyone else. They have unspoken biases. If they are one religion and you are of another, or they are of one political ideology and you are of another, that may color their final decision. They may not even realize they are doing it.

So consider wearing clothing and jewelry that does not showcase your belief systems in a prominent way during those 60 seconds while you are in front of an immigration official. Freedom of speech, if any, is held by citizens of that country, not you.

Have Your Documents in Order

Most countries post a list of requirements you need to enter that country for a “visa on entry” or for a “tourist visa exemption stamp.” The documents required for you to enter that country without a pre-approved visa are listed on the embassy webpage in your home country. Read that.

Those documents may include such things as (1) where you are staying for the first night or so, (2) proof of a ticket exiting their country before the day your next expected entry stamp is expected to expire, and any other things required for passport holders from your home country.

Have those documents ready to show the immigration official. They don’t always ask for these documents but you should have them in case they do. Saying things like, “I already have a rented apartment here,” or, “I don’t have a ticket exiting your country because I will just do another visa run when this one expires,” are a bad idea.

Dress And Act Appropriately

When I first started traveling the world, I didn’t have so many country stamps on my passport. Things are different now. I have been to 67 countries now and I never overstay. So when I walked in front of an immigration official, without all the stamps I have in my passport, I recommend the best presentation of you. Look like someone who can afford to visit their country and would not cause any trouble there.

As an American, I had been to Mexico at least 10 times before I started traveling the world. When people from America go to Mexico, some start drinking as soon as the plane lifts off in America. So Mexico is used to this kind of behavior and attitude when people land in airports at tourist beaches.

But most of the world is not so accepting of that kind of party atmosphere at immigration entry points. It is okay to have a few drinks if you can maintain yourself, but don’t show up obviously drunk. Dress and act respectably and save the big party until you clear immigration and your feet are in the sand.

This is especially true in countries where social norms are more subdued.

Exit and Re-Entry by Land, Air, or Sea

Read the rules on the Embassy webpage in your home country. They should say what passport holders from your country must do to get a visa on entry or a tourist exemption stamp on entry. The rules change so don’t assume they haven’t changed since your last visit to this country.

For a time, Thailand had a rule in effect that entries by land (train, ferry, or bus) were only given 2 weeks entry stamps, but 30 days if they entered by air. If there are any quirks like that, you need to know so your “exit ticket” is dated before the date you are required to exit the country.

Onwards Flights

At the time of this writing, there are services online that will rent you an exit ticket for about 48 hours for about $12 USD. That means they will put your name in the system for a real airline for the 48-hour period from when you check in at the airport to board your flight until you clear immigration in the country you are entering.

You can print out the booking to show your exit ticket in the system, but it was only rented so it will expire after you have cleared immigration. This will save you money rather than buying an exit ticker that you don’t intend to use.

To get one, just Google the words “Onward Flights” to get a list of travel agencies that provide this service. So you can get an exit ticket for around $12 to show for boarding and immigration entry purposes. This has only failed us once in 5 years, so get to the airport early so you can book a real exit ticket in case there is any objection when you try to check into your flight.

Get Extensions Before Trying Visa Runs

Many places allow one or more extensions of your tourist entry stamp before they make you leave the country. In general, you should visit the closest immigration office to you and get those extensions before you leave the country. This shows a pattern of rule-following.

Those typically allow only a limited extension time before you leave the country. But other countries purposely allow multiple extensions of tourist entry stamps before they make you leave. Like in the Philippines, passport holders from many countries can extend their tourist entry stamp for up to 36 months total before they are required to leave the Philippines (and do a visa run).

Malaysia will allow some countries 3 months on entry plus a 2-month extension, and Thailand allows 1 month on entry with a one-month extension. Every country is different and they change the rules from time to time. So don’t assume these numbers are still true today. You have to check the details on the webpage for the embassy in your home country since those rules are for passport holders from your country.

Some Countries Allow Visa Runs

Some countries that depend heavily on a tourism economy allow visa runs without objection. In that case, you are not trying to hide anything from the immigration official. However, allowing visa runs may not last forever.

That is why it is essential to get the most current information when you will be doing a visa run. You need to find out the most current information for visa runs for passport holders from your target country. Visa runs your friend did 5 years ago (or six months ago) may not work today.

For example, Mexico had been notorious for decades for allowing Americans multiple consecutive visa runs. But a few years ago, they suddenly and temporarily started denying visa runs for a short period of time when a new political party entered power in Mexico.

Mexico lost substantial tourist revenue during that period of time which caused them to start accepting 180-day visa runs again. But do update your visa run information before trying now. I will explain how in a minute.

Bring Valuables With You

No matter how certain you are that you will be able to accomplish a visa run without any trouble, I recommend not leaving your most cherished personal possessions in a country when you do a visa run.

I have heard stories where people leave their laptops, USB hard drives, drones, camera equipment, and jewelry when they go on a visa run. If you are not allowed to re-enter into the country, and those valuables are with you, you will be much happier.

Have A Believable Story

Visa runs might be perfectly acceptable at this moment in whatever country you are in today. So that is why I later explain how to find this out in advance. But until you have found that out from a recent credible source, don’t assume that you will be allowed to do a visa run to stay longer in that country.

When you arrive in front of the immigration official, have a believable story about why you love their country so much and you want to see a couple of more things before you head back to your home country.

Do not volunteer information. Wait until they ask. When they do ask, do not tell the full story right away. Just start with something simple like, “I love it here so much I want to see more before I leave for good.” But if they push you again, have a slightly longer story to tell that sounds like reasonable tourist behavior.

Bad Story: I have rented an apartment in your beautiful country and I need to get back to see my girlfriend. She is living in my apartment here. I miss her and I can’t wait to get back to see her. If you are doing a U-Turn visa run, this story might get you departed.

You are not a tourist. You live here. You are doing a visa run not to see more of their beautiful country. You are going back to live your normal life here.

Example better story 1: Well, I was in the middle of touring X, Y, and Z in your beautiful country, when some friends from my home country emailed me and said they were in a nearby country for 2 weeks. So I flew over there to enjoy that country with them for 2 weeks. But now I am back to see the remaining places in your beautiful country.

Example better story 2: I have been spending time in Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia trying to decide which one I like best before applying for my retirement visa. I think I have made my final decision to retire in your beautiful country, but I am back to visit and decide which city I like best before applying for my retirement visa.

If the immigration official decides that you are not really a tourist, you are only leaving and returning just to get another temporary tourist stamp, that is when they may start questioning you more.

They may even try a trick question like, “It seems like you have been living mostly in our country. So are you just returning from a long weekend vacation in this other country?”

If an immigration official decides that you only left their country in order to return and get a new entry stamp, they could deny you re-entry. The problem is that a country’s visa-run policy is rarely put in writing.

Ideally, Have Multiple (Recent) Countries in Your Passport

If you are on your second visa run from a country, consider changing what country you go to for your second visa run. Don’t keep doing your visa runs to the same country. If your passport has multiple countries “you are visiting” you look more like a tourist.

If you are on your third visa run, consider going to multiple countries during a visa run before you return to the country again. And, stay in each country for more than a week if possible. A real tourist usually doesn’t just go to a nearby country for 24 hours and come right back.

Once you have spent the money to go to a new country, spend some time there. Okay, now I am going to share the top 2 things you can do to increase the likelihood that you will be allowed re-entry.

Stay Away Longer Before Returning

Let’s say you were in Country A for the maximum period of time you could stay on a tourist entry stamp. If you go to Country B on a visa run, stay for 2 to 3 weeks, or even a month, before returning from your visa run. You will look more like a tourist and they may not even ask you why you are returning so soon.

Since you really are a tourist now, if they ask you why you are coming back so soon. Just say, I love it here so much I wanted to see more of your beautiful country before I fly home.

The general rule is, that the longer you stay in Country A on your permitted entry stamp time (75% or more of the time allowed on your entry stamp), the longer you may want to stay out of Country A before returning for another tourist entry stamp in Country A.

For example, if Country A gives you 3 months on a tourist entry stamp, if you stay for more than 75% of that 3 months, you should stay at least two weeks in Country B before trying to re-enter Country A.

But, if you stay for less than 75% of the allotted time in Country A, you probably only need to stay in Country B for a week before returning to Country A. Okay, now I will share the most important thing you can do to prepare for a successful visa run. But this is an art, not a science, so be more conservative in your decision-making to stay out of trouble.

Most Important Thing Before Doing A Visa Run

Find someone who has done a visa run very recently and pick their brain about why they think they were successful.

Someone who did a visa run 12 months ago may be able to help you, but it is better to get more recent information. Look for someone who completed a successful visa run in the last 30 to 90 days.

So how do you find people like this?

Option 1: Find one or more Facebook Expat pages in the country you are exiting on a visa run. For example, go to Facebook and search for “Expats in Country Name.” After joining the Facebook groups you find, post a public message to the group:

My tourist entry stamp in my US/UK/EU passport expires in 10 days. Can anyone that has done a successful visa run and been able to re-enter Countryname and get a new tourist entry stamp in the last 30-90 days, please private message me? I have some questions about how to do my visa run successfully. Beers are on me if you can or we can just private message if you are too busy.

Option 2: Do a Google search on things like: (A) “Are visa runs legal in country name in 2024?” (B) “Are border runs legal in country name in 2024.” (C) “How to do a successful visa run in country name in 2024.” (D) “Best tricks foreigners use to stay longer in country name.”

Option 3: Do a Google search and a Facebook search such as (A) “Visa agents in countryname.” They often know little tricks that will allow you to legally stay in the country longer. For example, I have friends who stay longer in various countries by getting student visas for such things as martial arts, language school, etc.

Begin all three options well before your time is about to run out.

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