I really would hate it for anybody to think my blog was boring…but sometimes we’ve got to talk about the serious stuff; it can’t always be fun and games (unfortunately).
Quite a lot of people have been emailing me with questions on; visas, travel insurance, vaccinations etc. I hear you, when I was in the early stages of planning my Asia trip I was seriously in over my head. I was so overwhelmed with the lack of information out there; most of the blogs I found where American so weren’t too helpful, were out of date or lacked the detail I really wanted. All I wanted was somebody to give me a step by step guide on how to travel. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted; sometimes you need to head into the big, scary world alone and see how you fare…BUT I do wish someone had helped me out, so although I physically can’t provide a step by step guide for you all; A. because everyone’s plans are different and I wouldn’t be able to lay them out for you individually and B. because much of the fun is sucking and seeing how it goes- I am going to help you cut through the bull and give you the basics.
Which South East Asian Countries require a visa for UK citizens?
- Thailand (if you intend on staying longer than 30 days)
- Vietnam (if you intend on staying longer than 15 days)
- Malaysia (if you intend on staying more than 90 days)
- Indonesia (if you intend on staying more than 30 days)
- Singapore (if you intend on staying more than 30 days)
So you’re saying I can enter some of these countries without a visa?
Yep! That’s exactly what I’m saying. As long as you don’t overstay you’re welcome, (which I’ve pointed out above) as this can result in some hefty penalties- you show your passport to border control on arrival, they’ll give you a stamp and off you go. No need for any nasty paperwork, no trips to embassies necessary simply turn up and off you pop- much like visiting EU countries (for now anyway, damn you Brexit!)
Cool! So what if I did want to stay longer? How much would these visas cost me?
- Laos- $35 (Tourist visa, single entry*, valid for 30 days) + $2 for ‘processing fee’
- Myanmar- $50 (Tourist visa, single entry, valid for 30 days)
- Thailand- $40 (Tourist visa, single entry, valid for 60 days)
- Vietnam- $25 (Tourist visa, single entry, valid for 30 days)
- Malaysia- Wow, you’re staying longer than 3 months? Look into this yourself buddy.
- Indonesia- $35 (Tourist visa, single entry, valid for further 30 days)
- Singapore – Kinda complicated, contact the Singapore embassy
*Single entry means once you’re in, you’re in. You can’t leave the country and return again on the same visa. You can apply for multiple entry visas meaning you can go and come back a limited number of times, but I’m afraid if you’re heading down that path you’ll have to research into it yourself.
So can I just turn up to that country with my money and get a visa there and then?
This is where things get a little tricky, my answer-some countries yes, some countries no. I’ll try and make it as simple as I can for you all. Also, I’m going to stop talking about Myanmar, I haven’t been so above the basics I’m as clueless as you are and I’d hate to give you the wrong information.
- Laos- Easy. Fill out an application form at selected land crossings and all airports, hand over your money and you can get a visa on arrival. yey!
- Thailand- If you want to stay longer than 30 days you must apply for a tourist visa OUTSIDE of Thailand. Meaning you must apply through your local embassy (doesn’t have to be UK, I got mine in Phnom Penh, Cambodia).
- Vietnam- Vietnam is a massive pain and the bane of my life. If you really must stay longer than 15 days you have 2 choices; first apply through your local embassy. Second pay a fee (usually $20) to an online agency for an approval letter. The letter allows you to get a visa on arrival, fill out an application form, pay your fee, give them your approval letter, wait for around 1 hour for your name to be called and you’re good to go. I’d recommend taking the 15 days for free, Vietnam isn’t too special anyway. I used myvietnamvisa.com for my approval letter so I KNOW they’re legit.
- Indonesia- Another goody! You can get a visa on arrival by filling out an application form and paying the fee. Alternatively you can apply through your local embassy beforehand if you want to be really organised, but there’s really no need to do that. You can also apply to extend your visa again once in Indonesia (totalling 90 days stay including your free 30 days on entry)
I almost forgot, for every application form you fill in for a visa you need a passport photo of yourself. If you’re planning on getting visas on the go like I did, be sure to take PLENTY of photos with you or it will cost you an absolute fortune out here.
Entry requirements are really, REALLY annoying for us backpackers. I can only tell you what I personally experienced but know that these requirements can differ person to person, so it’s always better to be prepared and have documents with you at all times so you don’t get turned away at border control.
Proof of onward travel in particular can really limit the free nature of backpacking-how can I go anywhere I like or change my mind if I have a flight booked? There’s a website where you can pay a small fee (usually £10) to ‘hire’ a plane ticket. You simply enter the country you will leave from and they will provide you with a legitimate ticket you can use. Be quick though the ticket only lasts 24 hours, so if you want to do this make sure you book it the day before you need to cross the border. For more info click here!
Thailand- I entered via plane. Land crossings may vary
Proof of onward travel (plane or train ticket proving how and when you’re getting our of the country). I’ve heard many stories of travellers saying they simply explained they were going to get a slowboat to Loas, but I don’t really believe them (no offence if you’re reading). From what I saw the Bangkok border control was really strict so make sure you have an onward ticket booked BEFORE you board the plane.
Proof of address I was asked to show proof that I’d reserved somewhere to stay in the country. No idea why but there you go. Print out your booking before hand and take that with you too.
Proof of finance I didn’t get asked to show this, BUT I know that border control can request this from you so better to be safe than sorry in this case. To enter Thailand you need to have $1000 or $2000 per family in your bank account. This is to prove to the government that you can afford to provide for yourself whilst on holiday and can also afford to actually leave the country. Make sure you take a print out of a bank statement with you-there’s a chance you may not get asked, but if you do and don’t have it with you…it’s back to England for you.
Proof of vaccination I’ve read a few blogs saying you need to bring your travel card with you, which shows all of the injections you’ve had. I did bring mine along but didn’t get asked to show it once in all of the continent- nor did I see any information saying it may ask for it. Bring it along just in case if you wish but it won’t be the end of the world if you forget it.
Vietnam-I entered via plane. Land crossings may vary
Proof of onward travel (plane or train ticket proving how and when you’re getting our of the country). We were asked before boarding the plane and had to show it again when getting our Visa on arrival.
Visa approval letter If you are planning on getting a visa on arrival like I did then make sure you bring your approval letter with you or you won’t be entering the country.
Proof of address- If you’re flying into Ho Chi Minh City from another country, it’s a requirement that you HAVE to spend at least 1 night there (unless it’s a connecting flight). You’ll be asked (either on your application form, or at border control) the address of where you’re staying so make sure you have this with you.
Malaysia-I entered via plane. Land crossings may vary
I didn’t have to provide anything woohoo! They simply stamped my passport and I was allowed to cross through. I didn’t have proof of onward travel (I hadn’t even booked anything) so you’ll be safe with this one.
Indonesia-I entered via plane. Land crossings may vary
Proof of onward travel-I’ve looked this one up extensively- I’ve read everywhere that you don’t need proof of onward travel, point blank. So if that’s the case, then why was I asked for mine? I flew in to Semarang which is a pretty secluded airport, hardly any travellers go there; but it was cheap so that’s what we did. We were the only white people in the entire airport so I think that’s what made border control a little suspicious. We didn’t have anything booked we just told them we were planning on getting the ferry back to Singapore after a little travelling- this was enough to get us through, But I wouldn’t recommend following our lead.
Laos-I entered via plane. Land crossings may vary
I didn’t have to provide anything! They simply stamped my passport and I was allowed to cross through. I didn’t have proof of onward travel (I hadn’t even booked anything) so again, you’ll be safe with this one. You do need to write down the address of where you’re staying in Laos on your application form though.
Cambodia- I entered via land crossing. Flying may vary
I didn’t have to provide anything! They simply stamped my passport and I was allowed to cross through. I didn’t have proof of onward travel (I hadn’t even booked anything) so again, you’ll be safe with this one. You do need to write down the address of where you’re staying in Laos on your application form though. If you can get a yellow, Cambodian health certificate and take a print out with you, you’ll save yourself $1. Not the end of the world if you don’t have one though.
This was possibly the trickiest thing to plan and find information on, and I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m going to be a HUGE help either.
My best advice would be to make an appointment with the travel nurse at your local GP and discuss your options with them-they know best after all. Make sure you book your appointment around 6 months in advance- some vaccinations require 3 or 4 jabs and they must be taken within 2 weeks of each other. You don’t have as much time as you think you do.
Go with a loose plan or countries you want to visit, or you’ll get a bollocking like I did when I said ‘I don’t know where I’m going in South East Asia’. Apparently that isn’t an appropriate response as each country require different vaccinations. You can get a select few injections free on the NHS, any obscure ones you need you’ll need to pay for out of your own pocket (sucks right?!) And don’t be fooled, those things are PRICEY! Joe and I got most of our vaccinations through a Superdrug travel clinic and we paid about £450 for our courses so make sure you put some money aside for that.
So what jabs did I get?
- Tetanus- My jab was still valid from school but you can get this free on the NHS. Most SE Asian countries require you to have this jab.
- Typhoid- I got this jab free on the NHS, most SE Asian countries require this one too.
- Hep A- Again, free on the NHS.
- Hep B- I paid for this course with Superdrug. Most countries require you to get this one so you simply have to pay for it. Hep B is a course of jabs, make sure you get it in good time. I had to get an accelerated course and need to get a booster in a years time as I got them done so close together.
- Meningitis C- Free on the NHS (God love the NHS)
- Japanese Encephalitis- I paid for this course, and you don’t necessarily need it. I’m going to be living in Thailand and at the time I didn’t know where that would be. Japanese Encephalitis can be really dangerous and is carried by mosquitoes. If you’re going to be spending an extended period of time near a boggy wasteland or swamp and a farmland- I’d strongly recommend this one.
- Rabies- Again, I paid for this course. You don’t need it, most people don’t bother. BUT rabies can be deadly and if your local hospital doesn’t have the medicine to treat it (and most don’t) it doesn’t matter how quickly you try and get it treated, there’s nothing you can do. If you have the jab, you still need to be treated but you already have the cure in your body. Better safe than sorry right?
What about Malaria tablets?
This may seem irresponsible but I haven’t taken one during my entire trip…and I’m fine. I was originally going to buy them out here as they’re way cheaper than in the UK but I never got around to it. I did briefly look at affected areas before I came out here but to be honest I don’t know if I’ve been in high malaria areas. Some of my fellow travellers have taken them and its made them seriously poorly which has put me off. Most tourist spots- Thailand for example are completely fine unless you’re doing some really obscure jungle treks. Check with your travel doctor before hand, or just don’t bother like I did.
And I think that’s just about covered it. THANK GOD! I’m so bored writing all of this, so I applaud you if you’ve got this far. I hope this gives you a basic insight into all of the boring, admin side that goes into backpacking (the rest of it is super fun I promise). If there’s anything else you want to know write it in the comments section or contact me here!
Much love from wherever I am,