If you want to study in Thailand you will need an education visa, officially known as a Non-Immigrant O Visa (ED).
This visa applies to those studying at university, learning Thai at a language centre, training to become a Buddhist monk, interning at a company, or attending a training or university course.
While there are multiple things you can do on an ED Visa in Thailand, learning Thai at a language school is the most popular.
This is a great option for those who want to stay in Thailand long term but aren't eligible for a marriage or retirement visa, and don't want to shed out for a costly Thailand Elite Visa.
That being said, if you do apply for an education visa to study Thai, you will need to actually attend class, otherwise you'll be breaking the rules.
Education Visa Requirements
The only requirement to qualify for the ED Visa is that you legitimately want to study or participate in training of some kind.
Additionally, the company or organization you are training or studying with must be recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the organization is not registered with the MFA they won't be able to obtain the letter you require to apply for your visa.
Part of the application requires a letter from the organization to confirm that you will be given a placement.
We will use attending a language school as an example for the application process, since this is the most common Education Visa use case.
The process starts with the language school presenting a receipt for course payment and a copy of your passport to in the Ministry of Education.
They do this in order to obtain a letter certifying that you are a genuine student. This process takes between 1-3 weeks.
If you are already in Thailand, then, once processed, you will collect this letter and leave Thailand to apply for a Non-Immigrant Education Visa from an overseas Thai Embassy or Consulate.
You could visit a local country such as Laos or Malaysia to obtain the visa.
Nationals of certain countries are only allowed to apply for an ED Visa at an embassy or consulate in their home country.
Those countries are as follows:
- Middle Eastern countries
- African countries
If applying from your home country, the language school can send you the letter to present to your local embassy.
The documents required for the Thailand Education Visa may change from year to year, so be sure to check the latest requirements on your local embassy's website.
The requirements also differ for different types of study, as seen here on the London Thai Embassy website.
However, generally speaking, here is what you will need:
- Passport or travel document with validity not less than six months
- Visa application form completely filled out
- 4cm x 6cm photo taken in the last six months
- Recommendation letter addressed to the Thai Embassy or Consulate
- Letter of acceptance from the academic institute or organization
- For those wishing to study in a private institution, an official letter from the Ministry of Education of Thailand, or other sub-authorities concerned, approving the enrollment of foreign students, and a copy of registration certificate of the academic institute
- Academic record and the student ID, if currently studying
- For those wishing to attend seminar, or training session, or internship, a recommendation letter from the institution addressed to the Consulate is also required
The initial Non Immigrant O Visa (ED category) from your home country will cost £60 (UK). Prices vary in different countries due to exchange rates.
Extending your visa inside Thailand costs 1,900 Baht.
Arriving In Thailand
When you return to Thailand with the Education Visa in your passport, an immigration officer will stamp your passport with a 90-day stay.
You can study for the 90 days (3 months) given on your ED Visa, if that's all you need.
Alternatively, you can go to your language school and they will prepare your documentation to visit an immigration office and get the Education Visa extension to cover the total length of your course.
Just make sure you extend before the initial 90 days expires. The extension can be done up to one month in advance of the expiry date.
The visa will be issued according to your course requirements, as advised by the language school.
The initial 90-day visa can be extended to a maximum of 8 months.
Courses usually run for 3, 6, 8, or 14 months, so if you enroll in a 14-month course, you will be required to apply for a new ED Visa after 8 months to continue the remaining 6 months.
Finding a Good School
Note that the Ministry of Education does not recognize some language schools, so check first that your school of choice has the accreditation required to obtain the Education Visa.
Generally speaking, a good school will make it clear that you must attend a minimum number of classes. This could be two lessons a day, five days a week, or less.
The reason for this requirement is that Immigration officials can do spot checks on schools and the language proficiency of students reapplying / extending ED Visas to ensure they are really studying.
The reason for this is that many years ago some schools enabled people to get an ED Visa with little intention to study Thai. People would get back-to-back visas and stay long term, without learning any Thai.
So the Ministry of Education clamped down on the practice by asking immigration officials to do the occasional spot check on someone coming through at the airport.
Imagine the scenario: You've been studying Thai for two years and arrive at the airport on your third ED visa. The immigration officer says “So you're studying Thai. How long have you been doing that?” Your face goes blank, as you haven't got a clue what he is talking about.
Bear in mind that Thai isn't your only language learning option in Thailand. You can study Chinese, Russian, and even English. So if one were looking to cheat the system, these would be a better option.
Study Options on an ED Visa
In addition to learning a language, there are a number of other options for obtaining an ED Visa. Here are a few of the most popular.
Muay Thai is an alternative route you can take to get an Education Visa. There are many schools around Thailand offering courses, and you can pretty much take your pick of location.
For example, Santai Muay Thai in Chiang Mai offers all supporting documents to obtain an initial 3-month Non-Immigrant ED Visa. Training is twice a day, 6 days a week.
Or how about learning hand-to-hand combat from the Thai Military Police? This is a seriously cool option for a 12-month stay in Thailand. You can apply through Chiang Mai Locals, who handle all the necessary paperwork. It costs 34,000 Baht.
Chiang Mai Buddy also offers a self-defense program for 33,000 Baht.
Learning the art of Thai cooking is another option for getting an ED visa.
The Thai Chef School in Bangkok offers a 6-month part-time chef training course, which takes you from beginner to chef. You can learn Pan-Asian cooking or become a Pastry-Baking professional.
Or try the Bangkok Cooking Academy, which has fully air conditioned culinary training classrooms.
You can also get an education visa for:
- Thai massage
- Yoga courses
- Scuba diving
Education Visa for a Child
Children can also be issued Education Visas for studying in Thailand. In fact, it is a requirement that all non-Thai children obtain a Non-Immigrant ED Visa to study in Thailand.
It may be the case that you are relocating for work, or that you are studying in Thailand yourself, and you would like your child to attend a school in Thailand.
In this case you can apply for an ED Visa, in exactly the same way at your local Thai embassy. Your child will also need to fulfill the 90-day reporting requirement in order to record your residential address. This means attending an immigration office once every 90 days.
How to Extend Your ED Visa
Extending your ED visa is similar to the process of first applying.
What's different, for those who have been studying Thai a while, is that the immigration officer may throw a few Thai questions your way to see if you really have been learning Thai.
You may get an informal written test if you're considered an advanced student.
If you flunk the questions you may get a lesser extension period, and potentially no extension at all.
Leaving & Re-entering Thailand
If you need to leave the country at any time during the validity of your visa, then you will need a re-entry permit.
This permit stops your visa being invalidated by you leaving the country.
These permits are available at the airport and can be purchased prior to a flight, or at an immigration office.
There is a comprehensive re-entry post here.
To study Thai, martial arts, Buddhism, massage, yoga, Thai cooking or any other discipline in Thailand, you will need to find a school or organization accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The majority of schools provide help to students with the initial ED Visa application and with in-country extensions.
The Education visa route is still a very cost-effective way to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time, albeit that you will need to commit to a mode of study and the requirements attached to your visa.