The Penang VISA Run (Malaysia)

Georgetown Penang for me is by far the best Thai VISA run from Bangkok as Laos I now find tedious, Cambodia involves lengthy bus treks and flying to Singapore et al. requires bigger budgets. In fact I live near the borders of Laos and Cambodia for much of the year, yet I still choose Penang for my Thai VISA runs. This is mostly because it is stress free, and easy and it has the least complications. Malaysia is also the only country bordering Thailand where a VISA is not necessary to enter. Otherwise I have written my Top Ten VISA Runs here. Anyway, for travel to Penang, the overnight train from Bangkok to Butterworth (1,2oo each way) is my usual route (alternatives below) which is relaxed and even enjoyable. At the border there will be a quick stop for the passport stamp out of Thailand, and then into Malaysia before it continues on to Butterworth. From Butterworth the ferry to Penang Island departs regularly and costs next to nothing, then from the arrival port I would walk to Chulia Street which is the centre of Georgetown’s Unesco area, which is the ideal spot to kick back for a couple of days, with cheap hotels, amazing food and reliable agencies to do the legwork of the Thai VISA application (more on these below). Anyway, here is a video from my previous Thai VISA run to Penang from Bangkok.


The Simple Thai Visa Application

The usual tourist VISA will be for 60 days in Thailand with the option of an extension (90 days in total). Which means an overnight stay is necessary. The 60 day tourist VISA currently costs 150RM and, for convenience, The Thai Visa Application should be made between 09:00am and 11:30am on a weekday at the Thai Embassy in Penang (be sure to check for holiday closures) where the process is quick and painless. Just turn up with the necessary documents (as below), fill in the VISA application form, and wait in line to hand it over. It should take no more than 40 minutes. You then pick up you passport and Thai VISA the following day, between 14:00PM and  16:00PM. Alternatively you can have agencies do the leg work for an additional fee (more on that below). Anyway, here are the necessary  documents for the standard tourist VISA to Thailand. Through 2017 / 2018 Thai VISA Applications will be made in a temporary building opposite the actual Thai Embassy. It’s all easy to work out when there.

  • Passport.
  • A photocopy of main passport photo page.
  • VISA application form which is provided at the embassy.
  • Two passport photos.
  • A copy of onward flight and proof for exiting Thailand (new requirement).
  • 150RM Visa fee in Malaysian Ringgit.

Outside Thai Embassy, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia Best Thai VISA Run to Penang MalaysiaTemporary Thai Embassy, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia


Where to Stay? Chulia vs. Gurney

If planning to make the VISA application in person, the Thai Embassy is found in the leafy back hills of Georgetown (1, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town) which can be reached on foot from two nearish tourist areas. The usual choice for most travellers would be the Unesco and backpacker area around Chulia Street (below left) which is roughly 5km away. I have walked it before and the simplest route is to just follow straight up Burma Road, then take a left onto Cantonment Road until Jalan Tunku which is on the right. The Thai embassy is then found at the beginning of the road, and is simple to spot as there’s normally minivans and taxis waiting outside. A taxi is around 20RM each way. Here for hotels around Chulia Street. Alternatively I prefer to stay in the Gurney Drive area, a more modern and high-rise setting in Georgetown (below right) which is also a lot closer to the Thai Embassy (2km away) by again just following Cantonment Road. A taxi would be 10RM to 15RM. Here for hotel in the Gurney Drive area.

Hostel Life in Southeast Asia- Georgetown at Night - Ernest Zacharevic Gurney Drive Area, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia


Thai VISA Agents in Penang

Alternatively it is possible to have agencies do the leg work on your Thai VISA application for an additional 20RM. There are a whole bunch of these agencies on Chulia Street and the Love Lane are where you just drop in your passport on the day you arrive, fill in the forms, then pick it up the day after. It is definitely worthwhile considering, given it costs around 15RM each way, when taking a taxi from the popular tourist areas to the Thai Embassy. But I do prefer doing the Thai VISA application in person, so I can then pick it up first thing when the Thai Embassy opens at 14:00 the next day, and start my return journey to Bangkok before rush hour traffic. As the agencies normally won’t return your passport and VISA until near 16:00PM the next day, or later.

Love Lane Area, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia Georgetown, Penang, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia


Travel to Penang / Alternative Routes?

Flights to Penang are of course the quickest route but they are normally expensive and flights to Kuala Lumpur are often cheaper. Personally, most of my journeys between Penang to Bangkok are by train (full details here) but this was made harder recently when the Malaysia trains were upgraded and Thai trains could no longer cross the border. So now it is necessary to transfer at Padang Besar. But there are many alternative routes, my own preferred being via Langkawi (and Satun), making it a holiday, but this is also the longest and most uncomfortable route when it comes to the long-haul bus journey from Satun. Otherwise the cheapest and easiest route from Penang to Thailand would be by minivan which have a pickup outside the embassy, and leave soon after the VISA collection time (shown below left). There are normally touts waiting around to help you at the entrance to the Embassy. The minivans also go to various destinations throughout the south of Thailand, first crossing the Thai Malaysia border at Danok, and a good option here is Hat Yai where cheap flights are almost guaranteed through both Air Asia and Lion Air. This is the option I went with recently with a last-minute 1,000 Baht flight to Chiang Mai which is similar to the overnight train to Bangkok. So it is always best to check flight options.

Minivan Times, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia Hat Yai Train Station, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia


Georgetown: Worth the trip alone

Georgetown is easily one of my favourite Asian cities with its unique cultural harmony and mixed heritages of Chinese, Indian and Malay. One of the better examples is in the Unesco area, not far from Chulia Street, where three prominent temples sit side-by-side, Sri Mahamariamman Temple (Indian Hindu), Han Jiang Temple (Chinese Ancestral) and Kapital Keling (Muslim Mosque), near the corner of Queen Street and Kapitan Keling. The food is also unbeatable and my VISA runs tend to centre round the local Mamak Restaurants and Nasi Kandar stalls. And there’s also the delightfully garish nightlife of Red Garden Food Paradise. Otherwise the picturesque backstreets are what drives the tourists, the wall art, and wall caricatures can be found dotted throughout Georgetown’s Unesco Heritage area (and beyond). There is other stuff.

Red Garden Food Court, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia Wall Art in Georgetown, Best Thai VISA Run to Penang Malaysia

51 Comments

  • Thanks for writing this! Are you American? If so what documentation did you have to supply along with your passport to get the visa? Did you get a 90 or 60 day? Was it single entry? Is it ok to cross back into Thailand by land or do you have to fly back. Thanks so much!

    • I have a British passport but it is no different for US citizens. All I bring is my passport and 2 passport photos. The VISA forms are available (free) from the agencies in Georgetown Penang. On two occasions I got the 60 day tourist VISA which can later be extended inside Thailand for a further 30 days. Costs 1,200 (i think) for the 30 day extension. I never stick around long enough. The 60 day tourist VISA is single entry and you can cross back into Thailand overland. Twice I’ve travelled to Langkawi and up through immigration at Satun pier. Other option is Butterworth to Thailand by train. Best of luck 🙂 A

  • Excellent post, an option we would have never considered. Just a few of questions when you have time.
    Are the agencies easy to find? Are they located on Chulia street?
    I’m traveling with my wife so I’m a bit more cautious than usual, did you feel safe there (assuming you act like a normal person and use common sense and respect the culture)?
    We only need to bring the passport photos, we don’t need to show a bank account info or departure tickets?

    Thanks.

    • Yes agencies are very easy to find on Chulia Street. Every tour and travel agent should offer the service. Banana Travel & Tours likely the most famous; it recently relocated to a couple doors up from the 7/11 at Love Lane on Chulia Street. 100% safe in fact I rarely feel safer when travelling. I’ve been there a couple of times with my wife and she loves it. Even in early hours 2am / 3am I was happily stumbling down backstreets. A cool city to see at this time. Only need passport photos and passport for the 60 day tourist VISA. Best of luck 🙂

  • Does this have to be done on a weekday? We’re on a time crunch in that my husband has to leave Thailand by Dec 30. We’d like to go to Penang together, but the only time both of us have off is Dec 28/29, which is a Saturday/Sunday.

    • Unfortunately it is only weekdays (mon – fri) which is the same for (I think) all Thai embassies. They also close during Thai and Malaysian holidays. I turned up during Thaipusam in Penang once and I was forced to wait 4 days.

  • I am on Koh Lipe and must go somewhere to get a 60 day tourist visa before my 15 days run out. I thought to go to The Immigration office in Satun. Any experience with that?

    • Hi Roksvag. I think you need to leave Thailand to get a new tourist VISA and Penang is easily the closest Embassy for the 60 day tourist VISA. You can cross the border (travel to Langkawi) and return at Satun but this will only get the 30 day tourist VISA (or 14 depending on nationality). Your best option is travel direct from Lipe to Langkawi if the ferries run at this time of year (i think they do). Then from Langkawi a ferry to Penang. If the ferries aren’t running then you will have to travel to the mainland and either do the same route via Satun to Langkawi and Penang or travel inland to Hat Yai then travel to Butterworth / Penang by train. Not 100% on this area but close to certain this is the situation. If you find alternatives do get back to us. Best of luck 🙂 Allan

  • Hi, great article. Quick question. Can I renew a 90 day Non Immigrant O visa for Thailand in Penang? Many thanks for your time and invaluable info. Tim

    • Hi Tim. I’m not 100% on the ins and outs of different VISAs but will try. Is it a 1 year VISA which needs to be renewed every 90 days? If so you maybe able to just cross the border, stamp in / stamp out. Visiting an embassy may not be necessary. If it is a non immigrant VISA issued within Thailand it may also be renewed at internal immigration offices. Again not 100% on this so best to double check. Hope this helps.
      A

  • Can any of the mods or other readers tell the names of specific guesthouse or tour agencies (names and location if possible) that they used to.

    It may be true that ‘any’ of the shops can help, but some actual experience would be appreciated. You can’t be too careful with passports; some owners are more trustworthy than others.

    Also, what is the fee for non-immigrant single entry visa?

  • hello , im from vietnam and i would like to do visa run on next tuesday . can u tell me more information about this pls ?. becuz my visa will be expire on 15/4.

    • Hi Andy. You asked on probably the worst day possible. Today the VISA situation changed and multiple land border crossings are no longer allowed. If you haven’t arrived via a land border to date you should be fine and rules maybe different with Asean countries. Sorry I can’t be of use and I’ll update when situation is clearer…

  • Thanks for the info. I’m gonna hit Penang for a 60-day single-entry visa next month. I’m flying to Hat Yai from Chiang Mai – planning to arrive in Hat Yai early in the morning to make the bus from Hat Yai to Georgetown by the afternoon. Do you know what time the visa services close at night? I can just hand off my passport at night and get it back with the visa the next day at 4pm?

    • Sorry Zach I only got this. Hope I’m not too late. Most tour operators open late in the Chulia area so my guess would be 9pm+ although Banana also operate as a guesthouse and they may process them even later / all night. I’m not certain on this but worth a try if you’re desperate.

  • Hi Allan, I am flying Chiang Mai, KL, Penang.

    Do I clear immigration in Penang or KL?

    My travel document is Apec Business Travel Card.

    Any idea how long a permit Malaysia gives/ Some countries, ie Thailand and NZ are 3 months but it varies country by member country.

  • Hi Allan, your post has convinced me to check out Penang for my next visa run.
    With the current restrictions on land crossings, do you have any idea if it’ll be an issue if I go to penang by overnight train but return to thailand by aeroplane?

    • You’ll have no problem flying back into Thailand and if you’re planning on getting a tourist VISA your fine for land border crossings. The restrictions are for the ‘Visa Exempt’ stamp on arrival to Thailand when travelling overland where you cannot be stamped twice back-to-back. Best of luck 🙂

  • HI Allan,
    love the post. I checked a few times but couldn’t find any indication of exactly how long your train ride was departing from Bangkok and arriving in Butterworth. Also not sure what time the train arrived in Butterworth (approximately)? We’d (Canadians) like to leave this week and mirror your trip. We have about 5-7 days to spare.
    Any help appreciated, Thanks!

  • We just completed our visa run to Penang and enjoyed it very much. We were not able to complete the journey by train unfortunately as it was a bit too difficult to co-ordinate (neither me or partner speak any Thai) and H.I.S Tours now has a disclaimer on their site saying “We do not handle the Malay railway ticket from the Butterworth station now.”

    We took the cheapest bus to Phang Nga, spent a couple days in Khoa Lak and took a minbus from our hotel in Khoa Lak across the border and directly to Chulia Street (1150 Baht/person). We stayed at Chulia Heritage Hotel one night and then the Sentral Seaview Hotel which I highly recommend for anyone looking to fall asleep to the sound of waves and lay about on the beach to get away from the city hustle. It is on the main route of Bus 101 making it very easy to get to Gurney Drive and Georgetown Center. It was costly by backpackers standards (approx $45US/night) but came with an enormous free buffet breakfast. We walked to Little India one day and it was a long but very enjoyable walk.

    We flew back to Bangkok via AirAsia which was fairly reasonable as well. This choice was non negotioable as my partner had to fly back to Canada the following day.

    Thank you very much for your post about Thailand/Malaysia Visa run. We referenced your blog continually throughout our trip for places to stay and eat.

    • Cheers for the update and info Ryan. Will update the HIS part. The last time I travelled I turned up at Hua Lamphong and sorted it from there. Means turning up on the day which is always risky.
      I really have to check out the beaches in Penang at some point. Langkawi is on the cards with most visit (for duty free) so I generally skip past.
      We flew Bangkok to Penang before for 2000 Baht return but it was booked long in advance. Cheaper than the train journey but then add in the 50RM taxi ride to the airport and it evens out more.
      Thanks again Ryan. Will update the full blog again at some point with more of this. A

  • Can anyone recommend a tour agency on Chulia Street in Georgetown that can complete the thai visa run for me. I am thinking of using Banana Travel and Tours and will be dropping my passport off this weekend so that they can process it on Monday/Tuesday. I just want to be sure that my passport will be safe as start volunteering in Thailand in less than a week and my flight to Krabi is already booked. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.

    • Banana will be the safest I would say. I was actually there earlier this week and walked to the embassy and back, but it does take around an hour each way. Taxis are 20RM each way. Banana will have a pile in their hands as most people would use them. They are reliable. Hope this helps. A.

      • Thanks Allan! I dropped my passport off with them today and will be off to Ko Lanta on Thursday. In fact, I just read your post about visiting there out of season so looking forward to relaxing times ahead 🙂

  • Hello im i was thinking of doing this visa run in around 8 days dose anyone know the price for the 60day visa? (acually i only need 25days) this post is from 2013 i figured they have prob changed the visa prices?

    • Prices are still the same 🙂 If only 25 days is needed then it isn’t necessary to apply for a VISA at all (with most western passport holders). 30 days, VISA exempt, will be granted on entry for free on crossing the border.

  • Hey, verry helpfull article. I will travel to bangkok on 1st of April, and I am thinking to go directly to Malaysia for my visa run, so when I return to bangkok to have the visa solved. My question is, if I do that, I will get the visa for 2 months since the moment of stamp, or since my 2 weeks visa will expire? An other question would be, if I stay in Malaysia for one month, will I still be able to get the 2 month visa when returning to thailand? Thanks!

    • Hey Claudio. I think you will be arriving to Thailand originally on ‘VISA exempt’ status for 30 days? In Malaysia you will need to apply for a 60 day tourist VISA which will start on the day you cross the border to Thailand. Yes you can apply for the 2 month VISA at any time. It will only be a single entry VISA which means once in Thailand you cannot cross borders again without losing the VISA. Beat of luck. A

  • Hello. Is visa run to Penang still available? Because I read that it was ruled to be illegal last Sept. 2015.

  • Thanks for this helpful guide! My husband Nate & I are planning to do a visa run to Penang so that we can stay longer in Chiang Mai. We stayed in Penang for three months in 2015 and really loved our trip. Can’t wait to go back. I’m glad to hear that acquiring a 60 day visa is possible in Penang. Sounds like the perfect option for us! 🙂

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